There was nothing out of the ordinary for Andrew Luck following his NFL debut.
No game ball from the head coach. No congratulatory phone calls from anyone besides those he usually hears from.
"It was a preseason game," Luck said.
The impact still resonated far beyond the typical exhibition contest.
Luck’s two-touchdown, 188-yard passing effort during a 38-3 rout of St. Louis didn’t just showcase the skills that helped make him the top overall pick in last April’s draft. It also allowed the Indianapolis Colts to further accelerate the healing process following the decision to cut ties with future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning during the offseason.
"We needed that," said Rebecca Purkey, a rabid 67-year-old Colts fan who lives in Anderson, Ind., where the team holds its training camp.
“Last year was so awful for us. We love Peyton so much, but Andrew seems like a great kid. I’m so excited!"
For the long term, she should be.
One preseason game doesn’t guarantee Luck future NFL success. He understands that. The Colts, too, are in the process of rebuilding after overhauling the roster following a 2-14 season. Plenty of lumps are in store.
But as Indianapolis prepares to enter Sunday night’s second preseason game at Pittsburgh, Colts fans still devastated by Manning’s departure have something to cheer about once again.
Even with Indianapolis and St. Louis playing starters for limited minutes and not doing any extensive game-planning, Luck displayed savvy that few – if any – rookies have displayed since the Colts selected Manning atop the 1998 draft.
Luck’s first play – which resulted in a 63-yard touchdown by running back Donald Brown on a slip screen – has gotten the most attention. But where Luck shined even more was on his second score. Luck looked to his left to freeze the safety, then methodically shifted to the right for a 23-yard strike to wide receiver Austin Collie in the end zone.
Luck laughed when telling FOXSports.com that he “fell into” the touchdown. Colts first-year head coach Chuck Pagano knows better. Having a defensive background, Pagano is well aware that rookies are rarely advanced enough to patiently follow through on their progressions and allow a play to unfold like that.
"That’s what he does every day in practice,” Pagano said. “It’s not a surprise for us. He just has the uncanny ability to feel pressure, slide in the pocket, keep his eye downfield and find open guys.
“Most of the time for rookies, it’s, ‘Here’s your first read.’ They’re going to stare that sucker down. If it’s not (open), they’ll hit the check-down or run. Andrew is way ahead of the learning curve.”
Luck was satisfied with his performance. But he also was quick to point out the negatives from his six incompletions on 16 attempts. Luck said he took some unnecessary hits because he failed to call the proper protection or throw to the hot receiver.
Those mistakes can be fixed. What isn’t going away: The intense scrutiny Luck will continue to face as Manning’s replacement and the ongoing comparisons between the two.
Luck, though, is as prepared to handle this as anyone in his situation can be. Like Manning, he is the son of a former NFL quarterback (Oliver Luck). Andrew Luck also has long heard his name mentioned in the same breath as Manning while playing at Stanford University.
“I don’t want to say he’s dry, but he just goes about his business,” Pagano said. “There’s probably nobody that is more mature for a rookie player coming into the situation he’s coming into and handling the pressure.
“He’s heard everything – from filling Peyton’s shoes to being the No. 1 pick. He’s the perfect guy to handle the situation because he doesn’t let any of the outside distractions affect his preparation. He’s a tireless worker. It’s just football 24/7. He’s wired the right way.”
Colts center Samson Satele said the impression Luck made upon his teammates when entering the huddle for the first time went a long way toward earning him respect.
“The way he said the play and having the huddle hush-up when he’s in there, it was awesome just to have that confidence coming from the quarterback,” Satele said. “It makes you play a little better.”
Luck’s modesty and affable personality also have gone a long way toward endearing himself, especially with his offensive line.
“We’re trying to take the pressure off him,” said Satele, whose locker is located next to Luck’s. “We know the kid is under so much pressure not just because of being the No. 1 overall (pick) but the guy who was here before.
“But it’s good. He’s handling it very well. He’s a pro.”