Colts strong start makes playoffs real possibility
One day after the Colts won their second straight road game, 27-10 at Jacksonville, interim coach Bruce Arians described some of the hits that way and urged his quarterback to protect himself. Arians also asked for officials to keep a watchful eye on his star QB.
''I can't say they are purposefully (hitting Luck), but there sure are a lot of them happening,'' Arians said when asked to elaborate on the shots on Luck. ''You put yourself in harm's way out there. He's done a good job of sliding and hopefully the referees will do a good job of protecting him when he does slide.''
Luck has done just about everything Indianapolis asked this season. He's won six games, accounted for 13 touchdowns, reduced his rate of interceptions and is on pace for a record-breaking season. He'll need to do one more thing to keep the surprising Colts in the playoff hunt: stay healthy.
Luck has been able to slip tackles and slither his way through oncoming pass rushers all season. He's already run for 159 yards, ranking among the league's top rushing quarterbacks. His two scoring runs Thursday gave him five this season, breaking the franchise record set by Bert Jones and matched twice by Peyton Manning.
Add that to his passing totals - 208 completions in 362 attempts for 2,631 yards with 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions - and it's easy to understand why Luck has the whole league debating whether Indianapolis can make an astounding run into the playoffs.
Losing Luck would change everything.
He spent much of Thursday night's game under duress and twice gained 15 yards after the Jags (1-8) were called for illegal hits.
One interception was erased in the second quarter when Jacksonville defensive end Andre Branch hit Luck helmet to helmet. The two-time Heisman Trophy runner-up took advantage of the second chance by leading the Colts to their first touchdown of the night - a 5-yard TD run on a bootleg that was intended to be a pass.
Luck scored again when he powered in from 1 yard on fourth-and-goal, a play on which he nearly lost control of the ball. Jags coach Mike Mularkey lost control of his temper, drawing a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.
But the play that really bothered Arians came in the fourth quarter when Dawan Landry hit the sliding Luck high after a 9-yard run for a first down. It appeared Landry also hit Luck in the head, though the replay seemed to show Luck was hit in the right shoulder.
After a timeout, Luck and Landry shook hands.
''It was a little bootleg play with four guys flooding the zones. He kept the ball up, kept the ball up and as big and strong as he is, once he got the 1-yard line, he was going to score,'' Arians said when asked about the first TD run. ''Same with the late one where he got cheap-shotted.''
Colts players are off until Monday and were not available for comment.
Protecting gifted running quarterbacks has long been a concern in the NFL.
Eagles coach Andy Reid has suggested the last two years that officials allowed his quarterback, Michael Vick, to take more dangerous hits - hits that could have drawn penalties with less mobile quarterbacks.
The Colts, of course, would put Luck under armed guard on the football field if they could. Instead, all Arians really can do is urge Luck to slide more often and avoid putting himself in more danger by making tackles.
After throwing an interception late in the first half, when his arm was hit, the disgusted quarterback sprinted up the field and threw his shoulder into the lower body of Landry, who lateraled the ball to Chris Prosinski. Arians tapped Luck on the helmet when he got to the sideline.
On Friday, the rookie got advice from all corners.
ESPN analyst Bill Polian, the former Colts vice chairman, said he wouldn't want his quarterback making those kinds of tackles. Former Colts backup Jim Sorgi told a local radio station he probably would have done the same thing, though having quarterbacks backing up 10 to 15 yards and only making tackles on a touchdown-saving play wasn't not unusual in the NFL.
Arians didn't seem to have a problem with the tackle itself. He just wants his quarterback protecting himself then, too.
''No right shoulder tackles,'' Arians said, drawing laughter. ''And don't get in a reason to have to tackle.''
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