“There are a bunch of positives that we will take out of this game,” Luck said. “It was truly a team win — fast start by the offense, fast start by the defense. Then the defense holds us in there, and a big drive by the offense, and special teams pinning them down. Guys creating turnovers. It was a team win, and that’s what we want. . . . It feels good when it’s balanced and we’re complementing each other on the field.”
Luck is playing well enough to believe that his surgically repaired right shoulder is sound and he can be the player he once was. If that is the case, the issue becomes whether the Colts have a competitive team around him.
On this day, at least, the Colts could answer in the affirmative. They rebounded from a season-opening loss at home to the Cincinnati Bengals and gave Frank Reich his first win as an NFL head coach. Reich was hired after the Colts’ tentative deal with New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels unraveled following last season’s Super Bowl, with McDaniels choosing to remain in New England.
“It means a lot,” Reich said. “We understand in this game, the great thing about this game is the team aspect of it. So it’s ours together as a team. As a new era of Colts football, we share in this one together.”
For much of the early portions of Luck’s NFL career, the Colts could only dream of winning games in which Luck put up ordinary passing numbers. Last year, with Luck sidelined for the entire season after shoulder surgery, they could only dream of having their franchise quarterback on the field again.
Luck’s regular season return came with a 39-for-53, 319-yard passing performance in Week 1. That was the Colts of old, with too much being asked of Luck. Things were far different Sunday.
“That’s the way we want to win,” Reich said. “We talked about it as a team this week, playing with conviction. When you have conviction and you believe in each other and you believe in what you’re doing, it just gives you some extra juice, right? And I think we had that for 60 minutes, even when we faced adversity, even when we came out as an offense and didn’t play so good in the third quarter, we hung in there. The defense played great, kept us in it. And then we came through at the end and we finished the game the way we wanted to finish it.”
Luck played the game behind a makeshift offensive line that was missing injured left tackle Anthony Castonzo. But Luck was sacked only once and the Colts ran for 104 yards. The offense got off to a good start, with first-half touchdowns on Luck’s pass to tight end Eric Ebron and a run by rookie tailback Nyheim Hines. But the offense went stagnant in the third quarter and the Redskins drew to within 14-9 early in the fourth quarter.
“There’s probably a moment in there where some people are saying, ‘Oh, here we go again’ when the third quarter starts. Right?” Reich said. “That thought probably went through everybody’s mind. That’s fair. And that’s fair until we prove otherwise …. We’re gonna finish the right way when we can. And today was the first step to that.”
Luck and the offense could thank an Indianapolis defense that limited the Redskins to three field goals. Rookie linebacker Darius Leonard led the way with 18 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. The Colts limited tailback Adrian Peterson to 20 rushing yards on 11 carries in his second game with the Redskins.
“That was the main thing for us that we had an emphasis on, running to the ball,” said Colts safety Malik Hooker. “We know AP is a great running back. We had to get all the guys to the ball.”
Luck, after being intercepted twice by Redskins safety D.J. Swearinger, basically sealed the outcome with a touchdown pass to wide receiver T.Y. Hilton midway through the fourth quarter.
“I feel two games in,” Luck said. “I feel like I’ve come a long way [from] the first day of training camp until now. And I think this team has come a long way. But we have to continue to improve. We have to keep that attitude. We have to go back to the process tomorrow when we get back in the facility. Certainly there are things that I need to clean up. One of the interceptions — bad read, forced it in there. You can’t do that on third down. And a couple calls here and there that I bungled up, that put our offense in a tough situation and our team in a tough situation. So I feel like I’m two games in and keep on [needing] to improve.”