Hold your horses on Luck

Andrew Luck

Forgive me if I just can't quite see it yet.

No doubt I'll soon snap out of my stupor, update my Lasik surgery and view Andrew Luck the way seemingly everyone but me does: as the next Greatest Quarterback Ever and even (beware lightning strike) the NFL's Michael Jordan.

Yes, this week, Luck's general manager, Ryan Grigson, compared what his second-year quarterback has done in fourth quarters to -- Dramamine, please -- the NBA player with six rings and six Finals MVPs in six tries.

"It's like Jordan when he'd take the last shot -- he wants the ball," Grigson told NFL.com after his Colts had come from 38-10 down to mortify the Chiefs in last Saturday's very wild-card game.

And yes, Colts coach Chuck Pagano merely suggested that Luck "is probably gonna go down as one of the best, if not the best, ever to play when all is said and done."

If not THE best. Holy Joe Montana.

Understand, Grigson went MJ and Pagano reached for Greatest Ever soon after Luck had thrown THREE interceptions in his home dome against a Kansas City team that had lost five of its final seven games, had lost to injury early in this game its best offensive weapon ( Jamaal Charles), then its fastest receiver ( Donnie Avery), then its backup running back ( Knile Davis) … while also losing both starting cornerbacks, Brandon Flowers and Dunta Robinson, and eventually losing its best pass rusher, Justin Houston, whose bookend, Tamba Hali, was sadly limited on a knee that had to be drained the week before.

Once the Chiefs' pass rush disappeared, and they were down to third-string running back Cyrus Gray, and they had no one left who could cover T.Y. Hilton, I (for one) would've been disappointed in Luck if he HADN'T finished off the comeback. The Chiefs' luck went from bad to worse when a Colts fumble at the 2 bounced right back to Luck at the 5 and he hurtled through the shell-shocked Chiefs into the end zone.

Andrew was really good, but Andrew was Lucky.

I'm sorry, but THAT game -- Luck's first playoff win in two tries -- is being viewed by many as Luck's Canton-bound coronation? What exactly is it about this kid that inspires so many to race to proclaim him the This or the That while stumbling blindly past obvious negatives?

I see a big, smart, fairly athletic, remarkably resilient QB who throws a nice deep ball -- a fine young player. I do not see a lock first-ballot Hall of Famer. Not yet, at least.

But no, I did not hop the runaway train full of nodding sages who saw greatness in Stanford's Luck and, to a degree, bet their reputations on him as the no-doubt first pick in the draft and who now reach for every little flash of greatness to say, "See! Told you."

I watched Luck a lot in college. On an ESPNU show, I picked Stanford to win at Oregon when Luck was a redshirt sophomore. Stanford led 31-24 at half … and lost the second half 28-0 as Luck threw two interceptions.

When Luck was a junior, I saw the late interception returned for a touchdown that nearly cost Stanford the game at USC, and while Luck played pretty well in the Fiesta Bowl, I watched Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden outplay him.

Now Luck still throws from something of a low-rider crouch, without much style or flair. I see no Elway or Favre or Marino in his game -- no wow factor. While his teammates all seem to love him -- how could they not? -- I don't see dynamic leadership. I see consistently, solidly unspectacular.

This season, Luck has thrown for 300 or more yards only three times -- all spectacular losses, 38-8 to St. Louis at home, 24-20 to Miami at home (when Ryan Tannehill outplayed Luck) and 42-28 at Cincinnati.

Peyton Manning, the Colts' legend replaced by Luck, has thrown for 300 or more 12 times this season, winning 11. His only loss? Naturally, his wildly anticipated return to the House That He Built in Indy. That Sunday night, Peyton threw for 386, three touchdowns and an interception. Luck: 228, three touchdowns, no interceptions.

That's Luck.

At his best, Luck has turned into more of a Pro Bowl game manager. At his best -- and worst -- he's actually more Eli than Peyton. Like the Manning brothers, Luck grew up the son of a former NFL quarterback (Oliver Luck played for the Houston Oilers from 1982 to '86). But like Eli, Andrew has an unsinkable, almost oblivious confidence. High football IQ but no ability to remember mistakes. Luck knows he was born to play QB, so if he screws up, so what, he just shrugs and keeps playing, as Kansas City will attest.

Peyton seems keenly aware of the moment and its historical perspective. Eli and Luck sometimes appear to forget where they are, whom they're playing against and what the stakes are. They just keep playing, as Eli did twice to Tom Brady's everlasting torment in Super Bowls against the Patriots.

But Luck will let his pedigree get the better of him -- he will occasionally go Eli and try something he shouldn't. In the past two seasons, he has had four three-interception games in the regular season, second-most in the NFL to … Eli, with six. Last season, his rookie year, Luck had the NFL's second-most turnovers, 23, just three fewer than Mark "Butt Fumble" Sanchez. At New England last year, Luck threw two interceptions returned for touchdowns and lost a fumble at his 24 that Brady immediately turned into the break-it-open touchdown. Patriots, 59-24.

I doubt Luck has lost a second's sleep this week dwelling on last season's nightmare in Foxborough, Mass. Back on that field for a playoff game this Saturday night, Luck is just as likely to outplay Brady as he is to throw the same interceptions he did last Saturday against the Chiefs.

The kid can be as hard to figure as his team. Not only did the Colts beat AFC top seed Denver 39-33, but they thoroughly whipped the 49ers in San Francisco, 27-7, and Luck played his best game as a pro in a comeback win at home over NFC top seed Seattle, 34-28.

Luck now has nine fourth-quarter comebacks and 11 game-winning drives -- hence "Michael Jordan." Yet nearly all are of the slow, steady variety. Against Seattle, the Colts took the lead for good at 31-28 after a 14-play, 86-yard drive produced a touchdown (and two-point conversion) with 8 minutes, 55 seconds left. Yes, the Colts' defense still had to stop Russell Wilson and Co. twice more to preserve Luck's "Jordanesque" heroics.

And, forgive the objectivity, the Colts nearly lost their opener at home to Oakland, struggled twice with Tennessee and at Houston (which finished 2-14) and on top of the Miami, St. Louis and Cincinnati losses, stunk it up on a Monday night in San Diego (19-9) and fell 40-11 at Arizona. The great news Saturday was the second-biggest comeback in NFL history. The bad news: The Chiefs led 38-10 without Jamaal Charles.

Yes, the Colts' defense ranks no better than 20th, while they're tied for 20th in rushing. And yes, Luck lost a mentor and go-to receiver, Reggie Wayne, for the season on Oct. 20. But seriously, is Luck having Jordanesque impact? His QBR ranked 11th last season but did improve to ninth this season (while falling from 65 to 62). Does that, as my "First Take" debate partner Stephen A. Smith says, qualify Luck as a "game-changer who just oozes greatness"?

Maybe I'd be more sold if Luck acted more like a star. Maybe so many rush to lionize Luck because he's just so ordinary-Joe likeable. He seems impossibly unassuming and humble, and with that mountain-man beard of his looks more like an offensive lineman than a quarterback. This is as starless a star as I can remember.

I was on record before Luck's draft that Robert Griffin III would prove to be the better NFL QB. He certainly made me look right last season with his 20 TD passes to just five interceptions, fifth-in-the-NFL QBR, division title and 14-0 lead over Seattle in his first playoff game before aggravating, then wrecking, his knee. But this season, RG III made the Luck-lovers beam when he let his stardom go to head, rushed back from knee surgery and forgot how to play quarterback.

Now the tortoise has overtaken the hare.

The day the Colts eased Peyton out the back door in favor of Luck, I said they were making a monumental mistake. The NFL is a win-now business and Peyton, I said, would give the Colts a better chance of winning a Super Bowl for the next three seasons (last year, this year and next). For the second straight year, Peyton has lifted Denver to a 13-3 record and potentially two home playoff games, this time with a record-shattering 55 TD passes and 5,477 yards.

But last year, of course, Peyton's postseason record fell to 9-11 and he lost his third straight playoff game thanks to a Hail Flacco that forced the overtime in which Peyton threw the killer interception.

Advantage, Andrew? Maybe he IS just blessed and destined. Maybe I'm asking for it to dare to doubt this kid as he returns to face the Patriots (my Super Bowl pick) and the pretty-boy quarterback who got Eli-ed twice in Super Bowls.

Maybe, late Saturday night, you'll tell me, "Told you."

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