For all that’s been made of Andrew Luck’s matchups with Peyton Manning, the third-year quarterback’s remaining room for growth might be most evident when facing another future Hall of Famer.
Tom Brady, coming off a bye following a win over Manning, will try to again show Luck that he still has things to learn Sunday night as the New England Patriots look to distance themselves from another of the top AFC contenders.
"Their offense is doing a great job this year. They score a lot of points, especially at home, and he’s kind of the ringleader," Brady said of Luck.
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"… When you play another great offense, you’re going to have to put up a lot of points, similar to our last game. We realize we have a big job, too. You’re right, my focus is on the other side of the ball, but you also know you’re not going to be able to score 13 points and win the game."
Despite his stretch of dominance through the air, Luck has struggled in matchups with the Patriots.
He’s posted a 51.6 completion percentage with seven interceptions in two games against New England (7-2), a 2012 regular-season loss and last season’s 43-22 playoff defeat for a rating of 58.2 – his lowest among teams he’s faced more than once.
Brady had three TDs, no INTs and a 106.9 rating in those games.
"You think about it," Luck told the team’s official website. "Especially when you come back from the offseason and you’re watching cutups of games, what went wrong. You do see the cutups and think, ‘OK, what could we have done differently?’"
It’s quite the contrast from Luck’s current seven-game run, during which he has 21 touchdowns, six interceptions and an average of 363.3 yards for a 104.5 rating. He leads the league with 3,085 yards and is on pace to narrowly surpass Manning’s record of 5,477.
The Colts’ are coming off a 40-24 win over the New York Giants on Nov. 3 that led into their bye. Luck went 25 of 46 for 354 yards and four scores to give Indianapolis (6-3) a sixth win in seven games.
"This team is going as far as Andrew goes," said receiver T.Y. Hilton, who has averaged 118.7 yards in those seven contests.
The Colts have also won three straight at home, while New England is 2-2 on the road but enters with a five-game winning streak. A 43-21 home victory over Denver on Nov. 2 vaulted the Patriots to the top of the AFC.
Brady was 33 of 53 for 333 yards, four TDs and an interception. It was his first pick in five games and just his third of the season.
His interception percentage – the percentage of times picked off when attempting to pass – of 0.9 is tops in the league, well ahead of Luck at 15th (2.3 percent, with nine interceptions).
While the Colts’ 32.2 points per game puts them ahead of Denver (31.8) and New England (31.2) for the NFL lead, the Patriots have taken better care of the ball with a league-low six turnovers. Their plus-12 differential ties them with Arizona for the best in the league, while Indianapolis’ margin is even with 15 turnovers.
Plus, the Patriots have averaged a league-best 40.2 points in the last five games. Part of that has to do with Rob Gronkowski’s return to dominance, with 36 catches for 516 yards and five scores in that span. He has 18 receptions for 254 yards and four TDs in the past two.
Defensively, the Patriots just proved they could disrupt one of the league’s best quarterbacks as Manning was held to a season-low 80.9 rating. The Colts will be out to show they can do the same, though they weren’t successful at it against the top two rated quarterbacks they’ve faced – Manning and Ben Roethlisberger, who rank second and third behind Aaron Rodgers.
Both games resulted in losses and were Indianapolis’ only two allowing more than 30 points. The Colts gave up 82 points, 1,000 total yards and nine TD passes in those defeats.
Indianapolis has given up 31 passing plays of at least 20 yards and ranks 27th with an average of 263.6 yards passing allowed. Keeping Brady upright against a Colts team with 24 sacks will be the key to taking advantage.
"They blitz quite a bit more than most of the teams that we’ve played, which is going to be, I would say, a very critical factor in the game, our ability to handle that," New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said.
Including playoffs, the Patriots have won three straight in the series, but those all came at home. They’ve dropped the last two in Indianapolis, and the potential implications of this game aren’t lost on anyone.
"We know how important it is. It’s us going there or them coming here (in the playoffs)," Hilton said. "We want to have that game here when it comes that time. Right now they are coming here so we’ve got to take advantage of it."