Andrew Luck had himself a Star Wars type of day in Detroit on Sunday.
Like many of the Colts’ road games this year, it started out with a new hope, as Luck completed the longest pass of his career and then a touchdown to put the team up 7-3. But the evil empire would strike back, as the Lions led 33-21.
Rather than turn the ball over again for another loss, the young Jedi returned just in time with 4:02 left to rescue the Colts and lead one of the best comebacks in team history. He only had to use the Schwartz, taking the offense on drives of 85 and 75 yards.
Here is the full saga of how a quarterback can throw 30 incompletions, three interceptions, and still grow his legend.
Drive No. 1
Drive Stats: 13:32 left (1st quarter), tied 0-0. 3 plays, 1 yard (three-and-out punt).
Speaking of evil empire, the game started for Luck with Ndamukong Suh cashing through the line for a sack and 7-yard loss. Though Luck was not kicked in the groin, it set the offense back. Luck’s bubble screen to Donnie Avery took a weird bounce and hung in the air before falling incomplete. The drive would end with a running back screen to Vick Ballard for eight yards. The Colts had to punt.
Drive No. 2
Drive Stats: 8:49 left, trailing 3-0. 6 plays, 80 yards (17-yard touchdown pass to Donnie Avery).
On a 3rd and 6, Luck found T.Y. Hilton on a pass that Pierre Garcon should have caught in Super Bowl XLIV. Hilton made one player miss and gained 60 yards. The play picked up 45 in YAC alone, which is easily the biggest pass play of the season for the Colts. Now imagine that in the Super Bowl.
But no more sad memories, it’s back to the present. Luck overthrew the returning Coby Fleener in the end zone, but on 3rd and 11, Luck beat the 7-man blitz with a pass over the middle to Avery for the 17-yard touchdown.
Drive No. 3
Drive Stats: 1:48 left, trailing 10-7. 3 plays, 3 yards (three-and-out punt).
Reggie Wayne had his most quiet day of the season, and got in on the action with a 6-yard gain on a little screen. After Donald Brown lost three yards on the ground, Luck was nearly intercepted, but the Lions failed to make the play. It was another three and out.
Drive No. 4
Drive Stats: 11:27 left (2nd quarter), trailing 17-7. 3 plays, 80 yards (26-yard touchdown pass to Coby Fleener).
Now down by 10 points, Luck started the drive with a rare TE screen to Dwayne Allen. It was a nice one with good blocking, allowing Allen to gain 40 yards. The Lions were then flagged for encroachment and defensive holding. After a 4-yard run by Ballard, Luck used play action and threw a good pass to Fleener, who used his height to snatch the ball for a 26-yard touchdown; the first of his career.
Fleener did an odd jackhammer celebration, which really made me laugh when Allen joined in for a split second, and then Avery tried it, but was too slow and late. That’s likely a group celebration penalty if they had better choreography.
The score basically validates Luck and Fleener as the best QB/TE pairing that went from college to the NFL together.
Drive No. 5
Drive Stats: 8:32 left, trailing 17-14. 1 play, 5 yards (Andrew Luck interception returned to IND 20).
With Detroit jumping offsides, the Colts had a free play, but Luck was intercepted. No worries, it was 1st and 5 after the penalty. However, Luck’s next inside slant was also intercepted, and Luck made the tackle by pushing Drayton Florence out of bounds.
Hate to bring it up again, but this play also had a XLIV flashback to Peyton Manning and Tracy Porter. It was a similar timing pass thrown to the same spot and Florence had a good read on it. Fortunately the defense held and Detroit only kicked a field goal.
Drive No. 6
Drive Stats: 7:17 left, trailing 20-14. 3 plays, -4 yards (three-and-out punt)..
Going right back to the slant, Avery was hit as he caught it, causing him to drop it. Ballard lost four yards on the ground, and on 3rd and 14, Luck avoided two sacks (from Suh and Nick Fairley no less) but was unable to make an accurate throw to Allen. It was yet another three and out.
Drive No. 7
Drive Stats: 3:46 left, trailing 23-14. 5 plays, 29 yards (Andrew Luck interception returned to DET 43).
Hilton picked up four on a screen. Under pressure, Luck flipped another pass to Brown for five more yards. He hurried to the line for the sneak, but Detroit was offsides, resulting in a first down.
With 2:44 left in the half, the Colts had zero rushing yards. That changed when Brown had consecutive runs for seven yards. At the two-minute warning, Luck stepped up in the pocket, but his pass for LaVon Brazill was badly underthrown and intercepted at the DET 20.
Drive No. 8
Drive Stats: 1:05 left, trailing 23-14.. 3 plays, 8 yards (three-and-out drive).
Luck came up short to Wayne, then found him for eight yards, getting out of bounds. But on 3rd and 2, Suh got another pressure and Luck was off the mark. It was the fourth time in the half the Colts went three and out.
Drive No. 9
Drive Stats: 15:00 left (3rd quarter), trailing 23-14. 7 plays, 80 yards (Vick Ballard 11-yard touchdown run).
On his first play of the half, Luck dropped in a perfect pass to Avery for 42 yards. He put it right in there down the right sideline. Pass interference on Detroit was declined. Luck’s next pass was not so accurate to Avery, but Ballard cleaned up with an 11-yard touchdown on the next play.
Drive No. 10
Drive Stats: 7:17 left, trailing 23-21. 3 plays, 5 yards (three-and-out punt).
A false start on Anthony Castonzo and loss of two yards by Brown set this whole drive back. Luck found Hilton for 12 yards, but on 3rd and 5 he just missed out on another big completion. If Hilton’s foot was an inch smaller, he would have been in bounds, but the big toe was on the white. Bruce Arians challenged, but the Colts lost.
Drive No. 11
Drive Stats: 4:50 left, trailing 23-21. 3 plays, 4 yards (three-and-out punt).
The three and outs continued. Hilton gained four on a screen, Luck had a pass batted up into the air at the line, and on third down, Luck had the time but his check down to Ballard was low and incomplete. He would have been tackled short anyway.
Drive No. 12
Drive Stats: 0:02 left, trailing 30-21. 5 plays, 11 yards (punt).
Now down 30-21, the Colts tried another screen, but with a little more Luck action in the backfield to it, and it ended as a 7-yard gain to Hilton. Into the fourth quarter, Luck’s deep ball to Hilton was overthrown, then Brown lost three yards on the ground. On 3rd and 13, Luck threw well short of Allen, who was a long way from the first-down marker.
Drive No. 13
Drive Stats: 11:44 left (4th quarter), trailing 30-21. 3 plays, -12 yards (three-and-out punt).
Wayne thought he was held on first down, but it was mostly just tight defense. Luck had the ball knocked out of his hand from behind again, but he was able to fall back on it. The key to the play was Cliff Avril getting a great jump at the snap. On 3rd and 22 he just threw up a deep ball for Brazill, but it was out of bounds.
Drive No. 14
Drive Stats: 8:41 left, trailing 33-21. 7 plays, 40 yards (Andrew Luck interception returned to DET 45).
Now needing two touchdowns, the Colts went to a no-huddle, hurry-up offense. Luck hit four straight completions to get to the DET 40, but things then stalled. Allen dropped a pass after taking a hit. Luck was then hit as he threw and the ball came up short. Then on 3rd and 10, Luck threw his third pick of the day, overthrowing Hilton.
It looked rather bleak at this point.
Drive No. 15
Drive Stats: 4:02 left, trailing 33-21. 8 plays, 85 yards (42-yard touchdown pass to LaVon Brazill).
Here we go. The game was not clearly out of reach like some of the past road losses this year, and we know Luck comes up big when the game is there for his taking.
After an incompletion to Brazill, Luck was just 17/39 for 279 yards, 2 TD and 3 INT. But as the clock hit under 4:00, it was a whole new ballgame.
On a 4th and 2, Luck scrambled ahead for eight yards, and you can tack on 15 more for a horse collar tackle. That also stops the clock. After a check down to Brown for five yards, Luck nearly had a “game over” moment, but Florence dropped the interception. “Major Luck factor.”
Luck would then convert with a pass to Ballard. Now at the DET 42, Luck scrambled to his left, and while being taken down to his knees on the throw, he put enough on it for Brazill to make the touchdown catch in the end zone with 2:39 left. The Colts had moved it 85 yards in just 1:23. We still had a game.
Drive No. 16
Drive Stats: 1:07 left, trailing 33-28. 11 plays, 75 yards (14-yard touchdown pass to Donnie Avery).
Down to 1:07 and no timeouts left, it was 75 yards for the touchdown or bust for Luck. Not the easiest of drives, but it is possible. We have seen this offense move quickly all year long.
It started with Luck managing to bounce off a tackle near the line, and pick up nine yards on the scramble. He spiked it quickly. Then came a beautiful 26-yard pass right down the seam to Wayne, who caught it between three defenders. Another spike, and the Colts were in business at the DET 40.
Luck then showed more athleticism by scrambling to his right, outrunning Suh, and picking up 16 yards as he got out of bounds to stop the clock. Luck wisely threw his next pass away with no one open.
Allen was now open for a 10-yard gain, and he got out of bounds on a well-designed play. With the ball at the DET 14 and 0:18 left, this felt like it was going to happen now.
Luck thought he had it right away with a perfect pass to Wayne in the back of the end zone, but Wayne was unable to hold on after Don Carey got a hand in there to knock it away. Luck’s next pass was thrown just too hard to Wayne in the end zone. His third-down pass was way too high for Avery.
Was the Wayne play going to cost the Colts a win? With just one play left on 4th and 10, the Colts did something very smart. They sent four receivers deep and brought Avery across the field. Luck stepped up and flipped a short pass to Avery at about the 10, but continued running after him, and Avery raced into the end zone with no time left.
The Lions were so busy with the receivers in the end zone that they could not react in time to Avery, who had a great game.
Thirty incompletions for Luck, but with the game on the line, he delivered once again. How many “legend starts here” games can one player have in his rookie season?
Andrew Luck finished 24 of 54 for 391 yards, 4 TD, 3 INT, and a 70.8 passer rating. He was sacked two times and had three runs for 33 yards. Indianapolis had a season-high 16 drives to go along with a season-best 35 points.
Here is the summary of Luck’s 30 incompletions:
- 6 underthrown passes
- 5 overthrows
- 4 passes defensed
- 4 passes defensed-dropped by the receivers
- 3 passes thrown wide
- 2 spikes
- 2 passes that came out lame as Luck was hit on the arm when he threw
- 1 pass batted at the line of scrimmage
- 1 pass caught out of bounds (Hilton challenge)
- 1 “drop” on an inaccurate pass to Avery
- 1 intentional throw away
The Colts called Luck’s number on 30 consecutive pass plays in the fourth quarter. Talk about putting the game in his hands. This was Luck’s fifth game-winning drive of the season, which ties the all-time regular season record for a rookie.
Getting it done in the clutch is becoming a habit for Luck, and he is doing it better than any rookie QB this season, and probably ever.
Detroit brought the blitz on four of Luck’s first eight drop backs. It was not working, so they abandoned it, calling just one more blitz the rest of the game. Excluding the spikes, the Lions rushed four on 44 straight drop backs from Luck.
But like last week with Buffalo, the pressure was still working, as Luck was pressured 21 times, and for the most part struggled with it.
The shotgun was used just about exclusively as the game went on, which was a function of the deficit and time. That also means a lot of empty backfield.
Three of Luck’s first 11 drop backs used a play-action pass, but it was a forgotten play after that point, calling just four all day, and one of those was an early screen.
The screen pass was in vogue this week, with Luck completing 6-of-7 for 69 yards.
Receivers came through with a season-high 203 YAC, which is the first time Luck has had more than half of his passing yards result from YAC (51.9 percent to be exact). Two huge plays gaining 45 YAC each by Hilton and Brown did much of that damage.
The receivers really did not have any legit drops this week, though there were several passes they had in their hands and lost after being hit. None would have been bigger than Wayne in the end zone at the end, but that just set us up for the most dramatic of finishes.
So no reason to complain. The Colts are 8-4 and doing it in miraculous fashion.
Next game: Tennessee was the site of another of Luck’s game-winning moments, and he will be expected to play another good game at home as the Colts look to clinch a winning record. He will also likely pass Peyton Manning in passing yards by a rookie quarterback in the process, but Luck has bigger goals in sight this season than just that.
I've gotten to the point where every time I see the headline for this pop up on twitter, I have to take a second to figure out if the title is referring to Luck following a legend, Peyton, or merely following the actions of Luck, a legend.
Ahh, but that is the double-meaning of the title and why we went with it in the first place.