You know that 13-play touchdown-scoring drive you saw at the end of the Colts’ win over the Packers on Sunday? That’s what a franchise quarterback is supposed to look like.
Andrew Luck, the No. 1 overall pick who had the biggest pair of shoes to fill in the NFL when he took the place of Peyton Manning as the Colts’ quarterback, did every single thing you’d want a rookie quarterback to do if you’ve just put all of your faith in him as the man to lead your franchise for the next decade or so. He ran the no-huddle offense, he managed the clock, he checked down to tight end Coby Fleener when he needed to, threw deep to receiver Reggie Wayne when he needed to, even took off running and picked up a big first down on a third-and-7. Overall, Luck went 8-for-10 for 90 yards and a touchdown on the drive, which gave the Colts a 30-27 lead with 35 seconds to play.
This was a game in which the Colts, who were heavy underdogs, fell behind 21-3 at halftime. Coming after an impossibly difficult week in which they found out their coach, Chuck Pagano, was hospitalized with leukemia, it would have been easy for the Colts to go into the tank. But Luck wasn’t going to let that happen. He was simply great, completing 31 of 55 passes for 362 yards with two touchdowns and one interception, and adding 24 yards on the ground and a rushing touchdown.
Although Manning’s Broncos lost in New England on Sunday, he was outstanding again, with 345 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. And yet no matter how well Manning plays, I doubt there’s anyone in the Colts organization who would take back the decision to release Manning and draft Luck.
With 1,208 yards this season and a 2-2 record, Luck is the first rookie in NFL history to average more than 300 passing yards and lead his team to at least two wins in his first four games. Luck is doing things rookie quarterbacks have never done before. This is what NFL teams dream their rookie quarterback might be able to play like. Luck looks like a star.
Luck was the player who impressed me most on Sunday, but there were a lot of other things I liked, and a few things I didn’t:
The other rookie quarterbacks are pretty good, too. All five of the NFL’s rookie starting quarterbacks — Luck, Washington’s Robert Griffin III, Miami’s Ryan Tannehill, Cleveland’s Brandon Weeden and Seattle’s Russell Wilson — have shown a lot of promise. Griffin was knocked out of the Redskins’ loss to the Falcons early on Sunday, but he’s coming off a September in which he was named the league’s offensive rookie of the month. Tannehill threw for 223 yards and had no turnovers as the Dolphins beat the Bengals. Weeden’s Browns are 0-5, but he’s on pace for 4,121 yards this season, which would break the rookie record of 4,051 that Cam Newton set last season. And Wilson is the one rookie quarterback whose team has a winning record, after the Seahawks improved to 3-2 with a win over the Panthers on Sunday.
I love the intentional safety. What a smart call by Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, leading 16-10 and facing a fourth down on his own 18-yard line with a minute left in the game. Instead of punting, which would have given the Panthers the ball somewhere around midfield, Carroll called for an intentional safety, which allowed the Seahawks to take a little more time off the clock and then take a free kick from the 20-yard line. Whether the score was 16-10 or 16-12, Carroll knew that his defense just had to keep the Panthers out of the end zone to win the game. And taking a little more time off the clock and moving the Panthers back a little bit farther would make that a little bit tougher. A smart strategic decision by Carroll.
Let’s eliminate the term “mild concussion” from the NFL vocabulary. That’s how Redskins coach Mike Shanahan described the injury Griffin suffered on Sunday, and I know Shanahan was just trying to say that Griffin has a good chance of playing next week, but still: The NFL needs to make it clear that there are no “mild” concussions. It was also disconcerting that the Redskins at first only described Griffin as “shaken up” before later acknowledging that he had, in fact, suffered a concussion. The NFL is investigating whether the Redskins’ handling of Griffin followed league protocols for players who suffer head injuries. If nothing else, the Redskins would be wise to stop brushing off concussions as “mild,” or as just a player being “shaken up.”
Chris Johnson stinks. I don’t know what on earth is wrong with Johnson, the Titans running back who held out from training camp last year until the team gave him a $53.5 million contract, but the reality is he’s just not a good football player anymore. Yes, he still has speed and is capable of breaking long runs, but NFL teams need a running back who can gain yardage consistently, not just break long runs occasionally. And when Johnson gained just 24 yards on 15 carries on Sunday against the Vikings, it marked the fourth time in five games this season that Johnson was held under 25 yards. Johnson is averaging just 2.9 yards a carry, a number that gets usually gets NFL running backs cut. He’s terrible.
Take a minute to appreciate Johnny Unitas. When Drew Brees threw a touchdown pass on Sunday night, making it the 48th consecutive game in which he had done so, he was breaking a record that Johnny Unitas set in 1960 — 1960! Think how different the NFL passing game was in 1960. In 1960, Unitas led the league with 25 touchdown passes. In 2011 there were nine different quarterbacks with more than 25 touchdown passes. The game has changed so much that it’s amazing any passing record could last for more than half a century, but Unitas’s record did. The Colts sure have had some great quarterbacks.