It started early.
In fact, it started the first time he ever took the field as an NFL quarterback. On Andrew Luck’s first five drives in the first half of his first career game, he passed for only 78 yards. Then he flipped a switch. Beginning with the sixth drive, on which he marched his team 59 yards in 38 seconds to set up a short field goal attempt to end the half, up to the game’s end, Luck passed for 231 yards to close his debut with 309.
When the switch was flipped on, Luck was a game changer. When it was off, he made Colts fans change the channel.
Luck continued flipping that switch on and off throughout his rookie season. He was almost like two totally different people: Bad Luck and Good Luck (c’mon, who doesn’t love a terribly obvious pun once in a while?) He completed only 54% of his passes, which was good for (or bad for) second worst among qualified starters just behind the incomparable Mark Sanchez. He also tossed 18 interceptions, second most in the league. That was Bad Luck (okay, okay I’ll stop). In his best moments he led the team to four fourth quarter comebacks and seven game-winning touchdown drives. His proclivity for inept play early in games followed by miraculous and inexplicable game-winning drives late was almost Tebow-like.
Luck continued on a consistent pattern of inconsistency in year two. He was often ineffective throughout large portions of games yet still managed another four fourth quarter comeback wins. This tendency of his level of play to drastically fluctuate during games crested during the team’s playoff game against Kansas City. The Colts were down 21 at the half then 28 after the Chiefs scored following a Luck interception on the third quarter’s first play. Somehow, some way, Andrew Luck transformed his game. The Colts scored 35 points in the second half as Luck led the team to one of the most improbable comebacks in NFL history.
In his third season, Luck seemed to have finally broken away from the bad or brilliant pattern. He topped the league in touchdown passes with 40, set a new career high in passing yards, and won two playoff games. Then they played the Patriots. And lost 45-7. Luck was awful in the game, completing just 36% of his passes for 126 yards.
This year he began anew. The New England game figured to be an aberration. Until it wasn’t. Season four has been a trainwreck for Luck. He is now 1-5 as a starter and has already thrown 12 picks. To make him look even worse, the 96 year old Matt Hasselbeck is 2-0 as starter this year in Luck’s absence.
To Luck’s credit, he has actually come up with a handful of his patented second half heroics. If he had managed to put up one more score in overtime against the Panthers I may not even be writing this right now. But he didn’t. And I am.
It’s all so confusing. What happened to Luck? Perhaps nothing happened; we were overrating him. Or maybe we were right to lavish him in praise and this is just a weird phase that he will snap out of soon. There have been many reports of Luck’s injuries so that is one possible explanation for his poor play this season. But the word has been that he was hurt in week 3 so that doesn’t explain his sub-par play in the first two games. It also doesn’t explain his inconsistency throughout his career. Maybe this is what Andrew Luck is as a quarterback: an erratic performer who is capable of thrilling comebacks, but doesn’t play at a superb level often enough to be considered one of the game’s true elites.
The one certainty with Luck is that there are a lot of uncertainties. Questions have swirled around him since his college days, like “is he the greatest quarterback prospect ever?” or “does he really think that neck beard looks good?” If he was supposed to be such a sure thing then why does he leave me feeling so unsure?
I see three basic mysteries with Andrew Luck.
1. Why is Luck so inconsistent?
2. Has he really carried the Colts as much as the narrative suggests?
3. Why isn’t he the subject of more ridicule when the team struggles?
The first one I already covered in briefly recapping his career to date. I don’t have an answer to this mystery, as I don’t have a definitive answer to any of these (hence the mystery). Still being a relatively young quarterback, he is likely still progressing. The inconsistencies are simply growing pains. He will either work his way through the struggles to become more dependable, or he will continue to tease us with his potential forever.
A common belief around the NFL in recent years is how impressive Luck has been in carrying a mostly dreadful supporting cast to 11 win seasons and playoff appearances. The staggering number of passing yards and comeback wins seem to support his belief. Everything added up. I was accepting of this belief too until Luck missed the first two starts of his career this season. It was then that the Colts won both games without Luck, I became dubious of the narrative, and began to explore this idea. Granted the two opponents (Jacksonville and Houston) were less than formidable, the team still won without the man who had allegedly been carrying them.
In Luck’s absence, Hasselbeck had been relegated to the role of game manager. His duties: execute precision pass plays, milk the clock, and avoid turnovers. By not doing too much, Hasselbeck led the team to consecutive victories. He didn’t try to carry the team, and it turned out that he didn’t need to.
Is it possible that Luck hadn’t been carrying the team all this time? If he had been trying to do so, maybe he didn’t need to. Maybe many of the deficits faced by the Colts were at least partially Luck’s fault. If he had learned that he didn’t need to force the issue and make big plays on every single possession, he could have avoided costly turnovers and left his team in positions that didn’t necessitate a big comeback.
I don’t mean to ridicule Luck too harshly—the guy has accomplished a great deal in the NFL already. 33 regular season wins and 3 playoff wins are impressive. But if the Colts are 1-5 with him and 2-0 without him then he clearly isn’t carrying the team.
Andrew Luck and Colts had huge expectations entering this season. They were viewed by many as legitimate Super Bowl contenders. Thus far they have completely flopped. With Luck playing not just poorly, but arguably as poorly as anyone quarterback in football (30th out of 32 in Total QBR), he should be receiving more blame. Instead fans, analysts, and players around the league are quick to mention his injuries, his porous offensive line, and struggling defense.
If any other star quarterback was playing this poorly, he would be put on the chopping block every week. Think back to early last season when the Patriots and Tom Brady were off to a slow start. People were saying Brady was done. He’s too old. Time for Garoppolo. Now, obviously those critics were wrong. Yet the point remains, Brady was criticized when the team struggled, and rightfully so. Luck should face the same blame. And he doesn’t because…
I’m not quite sure.
For all the uncertainty that comes with Luck, there is enough certain good to make him an effective player. With him, you have to take the good with the bad. He is going to keep grinding every week, battling for a playoff spot. The rest of us will watch, uncertain about what we will see. He is unpredictable. That’s the just the nature of Luck.