It's impossible to not be impressed by Andrew Luck and the Colts' Wild Card comeback win Saturday. Indianapolis was down 38-10 to Kansas City in the third quarter before storming back to a 45-44 victory.
Luck threw for over 300 of his 443 yards in the last 28 minutes of regulation. He also had seven carries for 45 yards on the night.
The Patriots certainly took notice.
"Andrew Luck is an extremely good athlete, someone that can extend plays, not only to run, but in the passing game," defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said Tuesday. "I think he's someone that has a dual threat about him where, he has the ability to tuck the ball down, run, and gain substantial yardage. He's a big guy, a fast guy, so he's quick to get vertical into the defense when he makes those decisions.
"The other part of him, in the passing game, is if there is a breakdown in protection or it's a designed play where they're trying to move him from the pocket, he has that athletic ability to be able to get out, get into some open space, get his eyes downfield, find some of his receivers, and turn some of those scramble plays into big passing plays."
Within a solid 11-5 season, Indy notched head-turning wins over Denver in Week 7 and San Francisco in Week 3.
Imagine the feather in young Luck's cap if his team now beats the Patriots.
New England and the Colts clash next Saturday in an 8:15 p.m. divisional playoff. The teams last met in November of 2012. Tom Brady outplayed the rookie by a wide margin, throwing three touchdown passes to Luck's three interceptions, and the Patriots prevailed, 59-24.
But Bill Belichick isn't anticipating an easy go of it this time around. The coach praised Luck for his growth between freshman and sophomore seasons, complimenting him with comparisons to two other talented, mobile QBs.
"[Pittsburgh's Ben] Roethlisberger is not that dangerous to run for a lot of yardage, but he's very hard to bring down and extends plays in the pocket," Belichick said. "Whereas [Carolina's Cam] Newton can gain a lot of yards if he gets some space. Luck's maybe somewhere in between. He's certainly capable of making plays with his feet and gaining yardage, but he's also good at extending plays. giving his receivers a chance to scramble, get open, uncover.
"He does all those things, uses all those tools. Doing a good job on him, trying to force the ball out, will be a lot of work as it always is."
One sign Luck has improved since 2012: He threw as many touchdowns (23) in 2013, but halved his interception number (18 to 9) from one year to the next. Another? His poise. Saturday against the Chiefs Luck handed off to Donald Brown on second-and-goal. Brown fumbled, but Luck stayed calm, scooped up the ball, and dove across the goal line.
"There’s no question he’s a complete football player and one of the top quarterbacks in this league already," Belichick said. "He has a great career in front of him but I think he’s already established himself as a very talented player that can do a lot of things to beat you, and he manages his team well, and plays good situational football."