By George Bremer
For the Pharos-Tribune
The was a bright light high in the sky above Indianapolis early Thursday morning. It fell toward the city, and split into two before disappearing.
The consensus had been that it was a shooting star. But after Sunday’s performance at Lucas Oil Stadium, it’s clear Andrew Luck’s true Kryptonian parents were just paying a visit.
The Indianapolis Colts rookie quarterback one-upped himself with his latest Superman act, setting a single-game rookie record with 433 passing yards and leading a 23-20 victory against the Miami Dolphins that keeps his team firmly in the AFC playoff chase.
“That kid just continues to amaze,” veteran wide receiver Reggie Wayne said. “He has a really bright, bright future. Hopefully, I can help add on to this legacy that he’s about to build.”
The numbers Sunday were impressive enough on the surface.
Luck completed 30 of 48 attempts with a pair of touchdowns, and he recorded his second-best quarterback rating of the season at 105.6. But even a quick peek a little deeper reveals the magnitude of the rookie’s excellence.
He completed throws to seven different receivers. Two — Donnie Avery (108) and fellow rookie T.Y. Hilton (102) — went over the 100-yard mark. Two others — Reggie Wayne (78) and rookie tight end Dwayne Allen (75) — were just a couple of big plays behind.
Luck was 13-of-17 for 204 yards and one touchdown on third down, facing the a Miami defense that came in ranked No. 1 in the league in third-down conversions.
And all of it came with an offense that started the game without rookie tight end Coby Fleener and lost running back Donald Brown, center Samson Satele, right tackle Winston Justice and Avery throughout the course of the contest.
The Colts (5-3) received a surprise pregame speech from head coach Chuck Pagano and heard from their leader again after the win. Looking a little gaunt, and sounding a little out of breath, Pagano delivered a stirring postgame message with a strong voice about staying true to the gameplan no matter the obstacles life throws in front of you.
“He spoke on circumstances as opposed to a vision, making sure we don’t get bogged down by circumstances,” Luck said. “Whether it’s our head coach dealing with, obviously, his circumstance or injured [players] ... realizing your potential, understanding the vision, trying to get wins and going out there and doing it.”
For the third straight week, Indianapolis did it again. And for the fifth straight time this season, the game came down to the end at home.
Miami (4-4) took a 17-13 lead at the half on a 37-yard Dan Carpenter field goal, a 31-yard pass from rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill to tight end Charles Clay and an 18-yard run by Reggie Bush.
Indianapolis took a brief 7-3 lead on a 9-yard pass from Luck to Wayne with 47 seconds left in the first quarter and later added field goals of 23 and 47 yards by Adam Vinatieri in the first half.
But Vinatieri also missed a 48-yard attempt on the opening drive and had a 54-yard try partially blocked with 2:29 left in the half.
The deficit was just four points, but there was an uneasy feeling in the stands. It was shared in the Indianapolis locker room.
“We had to buckle down,” outside linebacker Dwight Freeney, who recorded his second sack of the season, said. “They did a great job keeping us off-balanced in the first half. They were passing when we thought they were going to run the ball, running the ball when we thought they were going to pass. They did a great job of keeping us off-balanced. We came in at halftime and said, ‘Look, we have to settle down. We can’t have another 17 points in the second half, or we will not win this one.’”
The defense allowed just three points after the break, and then watched as its young quarterback took control.
“Just him being a rookie, he’s really good,” Dolphins cornerback Nolan Carroll said. “He’s very smart and very intelligent. He’ll be one hell of a football player. He was able to scramble and get out of the pocket. He was just able to make plays by himself.”
Again and again, Luck either side-stepped pressure all together or bought himself just enough time to get rid of the ball as a defender arrived.
He threw a 36-yard touchdown pass to Hilton on a jump ball that the rookie receiver made an excellent adjustment on against two defenders to give the Colts a 20-17 lead with 1:49 remaining in the third quarter.
After Carpenter tied it with a 31-yard field goal moments later, Luck took over at his own 6-yard line and led Indianapolis 69 yards in 13 plays for what proved to be the game-winning score — a 43-yard field goal by Vinatieri with 5:58 to play.
“The drive coming off the goal line was huge,” Colts interim coach Bruce Arians said. “He made play-after-play in that drive, then he missed the easy one when we kicked the field goal. But his play was superb. It was Pro Bowl-caliber play.”
Rookie Vick Ballard, who finished with a game-high 60 yards on 16 carries, sealed the win with a 19-yard burst through the middle on third-and-7.
Afterward, Luck was asked whether he feels this is becoming a special season in Indianapolis. He started his answer with the usual clichés about taking things one game at a time, but he couldn’t keep the veil up for long.
“We feel that if we play well, we’re going to have an opportunity to win ballgames, do some good things,” he said. “But we do believe in ourselves, and we know this city believes in us. I tell you, it’s a fun team to be on, fun place to play and I’m really enjoying it.”