INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Andrew Luck is trying to take the high road this week.
Rather than talk about his own feats, his predecessor in Indianapolis or the best playoff performance of his career, Luck has honed in on the one thing that matters most to him: Winning at Denver.
“I think in the playoffs, it’s just get a win - no matter what,” he said Wednesday. “I’m not worried about barriers. It so happens that our next game is on the road against a very good team.”
For Luck, this is more than just another road show.
It’s a potential breakthrough moment for a quarterback who has been chasing records and exceeding expectations almost from the second Indianapolis drafted him No. 1 overall in 2012.
The Stanford grad has thrown for more yards (12,957) and has the second-most touchdown passes (86) of any three-year quarterback in league history.
His 33 wins over that time are tied for No. 2 with Dan Marino and Matt Ryan, and Luck is just the seventh starting quarterback since 1950 to lead his team to the playoffs in each of his first three seasons, according to STATS.
Still, Luck has plenty to prove in the playoffs - and particularly outside Indianapolis (12-5) where things have not gone well the past two years.
His rookie season ended with a 24-9 wild-card loss at Baltimore, a game in which Luck was 28 of 54 with 288 yards, no touchdowns and one interception.
In last year’s 43-22 division-round drubbing at New England, Luck was 20 of 41 for 331 yards with two touchdowns and four interceptions.
Luck’s combined rating in those two games: 56.4, a number that must improve dramatically Sunday if the Colts are to beat the defending AFC champs on their home turf.
“I like to think I’ve gotten better with it, managing games, understanding what it takes to win,” Luck said when asked if his game is better suited to postseason success now.
The timing couldn’t be better.
Luck just turned in the first turnover-free performance of his postseason career, going 31 of 44 for 376 yards with one touchdown, no interceptions and a passer rating of 104.0 in a 26-10 wild-card round victory over Cincinnati. Coach Chuck Pagano called it one of the best games of Luck’s career.
Indy also has won six of its past seven, and Luck can tie Dan Fouts’ NFL record for most consecutive playoff games (four) with 300 or more yards passing as they head into a high-stakes rematch with Luck’s predecessor, Peyton Manning.
The winner goes to the AFC championship game against either New England or Baltimore. The loser goes home for a long and introspective offseason.
But the Colts’ recent playoff history has taken them on an ugly journey.
They’ve lost three straight games outside Indianapolis, including the 2009 overtime game at San Diego that Manning started. Indy’s last true road win in the postseason was a 15-6 game at Baltimore seven years ago, a game that featured no touchdowns and helped propel Manning to his only Super Bowl win.
How can they turn things around this weekend against the Broncos (12-4)?
“It’s important to have a fast start, to have a good start,” Luck said, recalling the 24-0 deficit the Colts faced in their season-opening loss at Denver. “You realize in the red zone you try and put seven on the board and try not to settle for field goals.”
That’s never easy on the road, where crowd noise can become a real problem.
“A lot of it has to be hand signals and silent stuff, so there are some real tangible things,” backup quarterback and former Super Bowl starter Matt Hasselbeck said. “Because of that, things are going to be a little slower when plays start.”
Experience should help this time.
Luck has been working with the bulk of his receiving group for three full seasons, and the Colts have a glimpse of what to expect after visiting Denver in September. Injuries, however, have forced Pagano to use 11 different starting combinations this season.
Having the same starting line for a rare second consecutive week would certainly help. So would some good luck.
“I really think the best is yet to come with him,” team owner Jim Irsay said of his quarterback. “It’s exciting to watch because he’s a guy who you know when all of a sudden that magic moment comes, when everything breaks down, he makes a decision and makes a play that’s just incredible.”
Notes: Cornerback Greg Toler (knee) and linebacker Henoc Muamba (back) both missed practice Wednesday. Linebackers Jerrell Freeman (abdomen), Andrew Jackson (hamstring and Erik Walden (knee) and backup center Jonotthan Harrison (concussion) were all limited in workouts. … Linebacker D’Qwell Jackson rested, and backup offensive lineman A.Q. Shipley (ankle) was a full participant at practice.
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