EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. —Andrew Luck had the type of first regular-season NFL game that many rookie quarterbacks have endured of the years; too many mistakes, too many turnovers contributing to a loss.
Luck wasn’t expected to be just any rookie starter though. Luck was supposed to be the sure-fire, once-in-a-generation talent that would transcend the position. He was considered the most NFL-ready quarterback, perhaps in decades, when he was taken by the Indianapolis Colts with the top pick in the draft.
The NFL isn’t usually very kind to rookie quarterbacks. There’s going to be some growing pains, even when it comes to Luck.
“I knew there was going to be some things I wasn’t going to be prepared for and there were, just little things,” Luck said Wednesday in a call with Minnesota media in anticipation of this week’s game against the Vikings. “It was fun. I think I definitely got over the fact that it was my first NFL game, all that stuff. It felt just like another football game after about the first series.”
When it was finished, Luck had committed four turnovers in a 41-21 loss on the road to the Chicago Bears. Luck threw three interceptions and lost one fumble on a sack. He was 23 of 45 passing for 309 yards and had a short touchdown pass to Donnie Avery.
No surprise, Luck’s favorite targets were the player he has the most comfort with and the veteran member of Indianapolis’ offense. Longtime Colts receiver Reggie Wayne was targeted 18 times by Luck and caught nine passes for 135 yards. Rookie tight end Coby Fleener, who played with Luck at Stanford, had six catches on 10 targets for 82 yards.
Luck was one of five rookie starters, four of which suffered similar fates. Only second draft pick Robert Griffin III was able to lead his team to a win. Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden, fellow first-rounders, and third-rounder Russell Wilson also were turnover-prone in losses.
Having one game under his belt, Minnesota is expecting to see a more polished Luck on Sunday in Indianapolis’ home-opener.
“I think he has a bright future, just seeing him control their offense the way he did,” Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. “He went against a pretty good defensive line against Chicago. I think overall he handled himself pretty good. He showed the poise and composure we had seen in the preseason and going back to his collegiate days as well. His accuracy, the way he can manage the game, there are some qualities that you look at and say, ‘This guy has a chance to be a really good quarterback in this league.'”
In between a completion on his first throw and an interception in his final one, Luck showed the expected mix of rookie mistakes and promise for the future.
He had seven completions for more than 20 yards. He also led a last-second drive at the end of the first half, completing four straight passes to get the Colts into position to kick a field goal with six seconds left, but Adam Vinatieri’s attempt went wide right.
Luck also had three of his turnovers in the second half as Chicago put the game out of reach.
“Disappointed because we didn’t get the win, and I committed four turnovers,” Luck said. “So, definitely an overall feeling of a little disappointment, but it’s good motivation for this week and try to keep improving.”
One of this week’s opponents, Minnesota running back Toby Gerhart, knows Luck well from their days at Stanford. Gerhart recalls seeing Luck in practice as a true freshman and knowing he was bound for greatness.
“I was standing back behind the huddle with coach (Jim) Harbaugh, and he was picking apart the defense, whether it would be back foot, on the run, 10 to 15 yards on a rope hitting the receiver out of his break,” Gerhart said. “He’d make plays like that and coach Harbaugh and I would look at each other and just shake our heads with a smile because we knew he was going to be something special.”
Gerhart understands what it takes to make the move to the NFL, too, and knows Luck will be able to make the transition quickly.
“As a quarterback it’s a giant step, I think, as evident with any rookie quarterback,” Gerhart said. “He’ll learn. He’ll learn quick. He’s a smart guy, and he’ll continue to make strides and make plays.”
Luck’s unexpected workload could aid his development too. Luck said he didn’t expect to throw 45 passes on Sunday, but with Indianapolis in catch-up mode, the Colts had to put the game in their rookie quarterback’s hands.
If Luck can learn from those first-game mistakes, the day that Indianapolis prefers the game in Luck’s hands isn’t far away.