Michael Conroy/Associated Press
The best pass from Sunday’s games came from one of the best stories in football. A story that’s been almost forgotten.
While we have all focused on the accuracy of Drew Brees, the explosiveness of Patrick Mahomes, the nuclear-powered scoring of the Rams and a hundred other stories, Colts quarterback Andrew Luck has steadily and quietly stormed his nerdy ass into the MVP race.
Midway through the second quarter Sunday, Luck showed why. Against a Titans team that entered Week 11 as one of the best defenses in football, Luck dropped back and saw receiver T.Y. Hilton had a step on cornerback Adoree’ Jackson. But it was only a step.
Luck then unleashed the football with such a beautiful arc it was almost hypnotic. It landed right on Hilton’s hip, and Hilton bounced off Jackson and ran in for a 68-yard touchdown and 16-0 lead. The Colts went on to win, 38-10.
Indianapolis Colts @Colts
A great play, yes, but it also represented something bigger. It was a symbol of where Luck is, and how far he’s come, after having lost all of last season to a shoulder injury. He’s traveled from a place where he was once a tackling dummy, a punchline for offensive line jokes. Speculation ran from doubts about whether he could throw deep anymore to fears he may never play again. Well, yeah, he’s playing again, and you bet he still can throw the deep ball.
While Luck, without question, deserves to be in the MVP conversation, it’s hard to imagine him winning. He just isn’t as much on the radar right now as the Rams’ stars or Mahomes or Brees. The Colts aren’t as flashy as those teams and, despite winning four straight games, are just 5-5.
Still, make no mistake, what Luck is doing now is one of the more incredible stories of this season or any other. Luck isn’t just throwing accurately, he’s producing huge numbers. He’s thrown for at least three touchdown passes in seven straight games. His 67.3 completion percentage is a career high. And against a Titans defense that had previously allowed just 16.8 points a game and had not given up three touchdown passes in a game all year, Luck connected on 23 of 29 attempts for 297 yards, three scores and a 143.8 passer rating.
Of course, Luck isn’t doing this alone.
Bobby Ellis/Getty Images
Finally, it appears the Colts have a solid offensive line, one that has allowed Luck to be sacked only 10 times this season. (In his last full season, Luck was sacked 41 times.) Now we can see that when Luck doesn’t constantly get pulverized, he is as good as there is in football.
Luck also has the benefit of playing under new coach Frank Reich, who has long been considered one of the smartest people in the game by those who have followed his career from savvy backup quarterback to Eagles offensive coordinator to coach of the Colts.
Reich created an imaginative offense in Philadelphia and brought that same creativity to Indianapolis. Also, as he did in Philly, Reich has put a high value on protecting the quarterback, and according to the team, the Colts haven’t allowed a sack in 217 straight pass attempts. That’s five games, a streak that ties the 2010 Giants and 2008 Titans for the third-longest since 1982.
To really understand just how good Luck and the Colts offense have been, we have to remember how bad it was.
Seemingly on the run every time he dropped back, Luck was sacked more than 30 times per season over his first five years in the league. Then there was surgery on his throwing shoulder in 2017, and he didn’t recover in time to play. He even traveled to Europe to seek treatment for it.
But now the Colts have an offense that is thriving and fun again, after years of gloom and doubt.
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
And while those dark seasons have left some waiting for the bottom to fall out on Luck and the Colts again, this feels different. This feels like Luck is back to the Luck who was one of the most promising quarterbacks we’ve ever seen. The three-time Pro Bowler who was seen as one of the prototypes of the position. Consider that, according to the Colts, his 161 touchdown passes put him with Dan Marino (182) and Aaron Rodgers (160) as the only players in league history with 160 or more in their first 80 career games.
Yes, that pass to Hilton was gorgeous, but it was more than a simple pass. It was a statement.
Andrew Luck is back.