For The Tribune
His career is less than three seasons old, yet Andrew Luck has nothing to prove.
Few quarterbacks in NFL history share that distinction. After all, Luck has been to the playoffs three times. He also has three Pro Bowl nods, has chipped away at Peyton Manning’s franchise records and has won two division titles.
He’s led the league in touchdown passes and is 1-1 in head-to-head matchups against Manning and Denver — whom he’ll see again in Sunday’s AFC divisional playoff game.
By any measure, Pro Bowls, franchise records or otherwise, Luck has arrived as an NFL quarterback.
All that’s left is to win championships — the gold standard by which, fairly or unfairly, elite quarterbacks are measured.
For his part, Luck doesn’t approach his job with legacy building in mind. Nor does he ever feel a heightened sense of urgency to perform, based on opponent or what’s at stake.
Excellence is his objective every time out, be it preseason, regular season, postseason — or Peyton Manning showdowns.
Luck doesn’t have a different gear for the playoffs — or for matching wits and skills against icons like Peyton Manning. He always operates in overdrive.
“I don’t approach it that way. I have not approached it that way,” said Luck, who led the NFL in touchdown passes this season with 40. “I think for me, the approach has always been, ‘All right, how can I be the best that I can for this team today? What are the coaches asking of me? What do I need to do for my teammates?’
“I think vice versa, that’s all the guys in the locker room.”
And if the Colts are destined to win a championship, that’s exactly what it will take — a concerted collective effort, with little or no margin for error.
For the most part, that’s how Luck performs. Not entirely flawless, but always at an accelerated level, especially in pressure situations.
To date, Luck’s ability to rise to the occasion hasn’t translated into a Super Bowl bid. The Colts lost in the first round of the playoffs in 2012, were blasted in the second round in 2013 and are heavy underdogs this time around.
But Luck is still in the very early stage of what he and the franchise expect will be a lengthy career. Manning didn’t win a playoff game until his sixth season with the Colts. In the Luck era, they are in the divisional round for the second-straight year.
There is still plenty of time to win a championship or championships. The window is far from closed. It is, in many ways, just starting to open.
All because of Luck.
“He’s just so big and physical and also so smart and so dedicated to his craft, to the game,” Colts owner Jim Irsay said during a Wednesday news conference. “He can use his feet to beat you, to get out of pressure, to get yardage when he needs it. He can throw on the run. His arm strength is at a really high level in this league. … His magic, when you watched him in college, when the play breaks down, in that half-a-second, he does things that are so innate and so unusual. That’s when the magic happens.
“He just decides in a split second, and he has the athletic and the physical skills to do that with his arm strength, with his feet. So really the sky is the limit. You hate to bring up comparisons with John (Elway), … but John was that way, of course, at Denver. He could move, he could run, he could throw and he could really take over a game. In our (Colts) legacy, Bert Jones was like that, as well.
“Of course, Peyton is so great in his own right,” Irsay continued. “You’re talking about the greatest players to ever play the game at that position when you start talking about Elway, Peyton, and (for) Andrew to be (mentioned with them) … but we don’t know how far the sky is for Andrew. He’s still a young guy, and that’s the thing that’s exciting.”
Young but polished, accomplished and unflappable in the heat of a pressure-packed moment.
“I think it’s much like everything else, he just kind of focuses on what he can control and what he can get better at,” said Colts’ tight end Coby Fleener, who was also Luck’s teammate at Stanford. “He’s been the center of the NFL world, or at least part of it, for the last three years. So I don’t think the spotlight is something new to him.
“He’s done an awesome job thus far, and I don’t think that’ll change.”
Manning, speaking to Denver media Wednesday, echoed Fleener’s view.
“It’s not surprising at all,” Manning said of Luck’s development. “When you combine somebody with as much ability as he has with, from what you hear about, just a great work ethic, it’s not surprising that he’s had the success he’s had, and he’s had such a big impact on their offense playing so well.”
By all outward appearances, Luck isn’t concerned about his legacy. Nor, after only three seasons, does he seem concerned about his place in NFL history. Winning is his obsession. Winning championships is his mandate. History will take care of itself, if and when he fulfills it.
His only goal is to play at his highest level and win. Not just in the playoffs but every time he plays.
“What do I need to do today to get the job done and ultimately get the win? I think that’s for me the only way to approach it because you can’t devalue another game on a schedule,” Luck said. “I think at the end of this week, after practice, that we’ll be as prepared as we can be to out and try to get a win.”
Name: Andrew Luck
Size: 6-foot-4, 240 pounds
Experience: Third season
How acquired: Selected by the Indianapolis Colts in the first round (No. 1 overall pick) of the 2012 NFL Draft
Pro Bowls: 2012, 2013, 2014
NFL records: Most single-game passing yards by a rookie (433); most single-season passing yards by a rookie
Franchise records: Most single-season passing yards (4,761)
Career totals: 86 touchdown passes; 43 interceptions; 12,957 passing yards; 905 rushing yards; 12 rushing touchdowns