Andrew Luck’s comeback did not exactly pick up speed Monday night. He made relatively conservative throws as the Indianapolis Colts hosted the Baltimore Ravens in their second preseason game. He didn’t play all that well, squandering one scoring chance with an eyesore of an interception.
But at least he was playing. And that, for now, is good enough as the Colts welcome back their franchise quarterback after he missed all of last season following shoulder surgery.
“I know personally I’ve got a lot of things to work on,” Luck said in a second-half sideline interview with ESPN. “At the same time, we did some good things. If we continue to improve every day as a team and as individual players, we’ll be all right.”
Luck played into the second quarter and completed 6 of 13 passes for 50 yards. He was sacked twice and threw that interception as he rolled to his right on a play soon after the Colts recovered a fumble on a punt deep in Baltimore territory.
He stuck mostly to short throws in the middle of the field. There was no signature moment with an eye-catching throw zipped to a distant sideline or lofted deep down the field on time and dazzlingly on target. Any determination about whether Luck is really back — whether he’s back to being the quarterback once thought to be well on his way to becoming the NFL’s next big thing — will have to wait.
“It’s a process that’ll go on forever,” Luck said during the ESPN interview. “But I’m enjoying that process. I really am. There’s things today that I did better. There’s things today that I’ve got to work on. And we as a team did some good things, and hopefully we’ll continue to do some more good things.”
The expectations for Luck and the Colts could not have been higher when the franchise said farewell to Peyton Manning and made what was supposed to be a seamless transition to Luck, the draft’s top selection in 2012. Luck was supposed to amass Pro Bowl selections and MVP awards. The Colts were supposed to be annual Super Bowl contenders and collect a few more Lombardi Trophies.
For three years, that’s the direction in which the team seemed headed. Luck was a Pro Bowler in each of his first three seasons. The Colts reached the playoffs in all three seasons and advanced a round further each year. They reached the AFC title game at the conclusion of the 2014 season but lost in lopsided fashion at New England.
Everything has unraveled for the Colts from there. They haven’t had a winning season since. They haven’t even reached the playoffs. Luck has played a total of 22 games over the past three seasons.
After the franchise’s regression, owner Jim Irsay ousted Ryan Grigson in favor of Chris Ballard at general manager. Ballard, after initially trying to hire offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels from the Patriots, tapped Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich as the team’s head coach.
Now it’s up to Ballard and Reich to put a team around Luck capable of keeping him upright and helping him win. But that only works if Luck’s shoulder is sound and he gets back to being the player he was drafted to be.
The rest of the AFC South has left the Colts behind. The Jacksonville Jaguars reached last season’s AFC championship game. The Tennessee Titans were a playoff team. The Houston Texans probably would have been respectable if quarterback Deshaun Watson’s rookie season wasn’t cut short by a knee injury. The Colts need Luck to be Luck again to get back into the mix.
“To a certain degree, I appreciate this game way more,” Luck said Monday night. “I’ve always loved playing football. And when you can’t for whatever reason — I know a number of players go through this — and you get a second chance per se, I certainly appreciate it more. I love being around the guys. I love going out there, playing football. I’m really enjoying it.”
Luck turns 29 next month. That’s not old for a quarterback. But he’s not exactly a young player anymore, either. Luck was asked during his ESPN interview whether he believes his best football is still ahead of him.
“I’ve got to believe that,” he said. “I feel it in my heart. And I do think that at the end of the day, what I’ve gone through over the past couple of years, I think will actually help my career.”
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