Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck made his much anticipated Lucas Oil Stadium debut Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings.
The 23-20 Colts victory is a landmark in Luck’s career — his first win as a National Football League quarterback — but what made it a bit more impressive was that Luck had to endure every ordeal the eye test has to offer.
The game was as much Luck’s eye test as it was about the evolution of the new-look Colts, which will likely be gradual, and at times, not easy on the eyes.
Luck’s eye test Sunday was an assault on the senses.
First, you fight the urge to avert your eyes as you watched Luck negotiate the rigors of an injury-ravaged offensive line. Starting left guard Joe Reitz and right guard Winston Justice didn’t play. In the second quarter, center Samson Satele hurt his knee.
Trai Essex, signed earlier this week, played for the entire second half. If there are worms in the Lucas Oil turf, fill-in center Mike McGlynn’s snaps to Luck in the shotgun formation undoubtedly burned them.
Your mind’s eye wondered whether Luck could survive the season in an often shambolic pocket.
There were, of course, the rookie plays you expected to see. The raw talent that made Luck the No. 1 overall draft pick bubbled to the surface — especially in the form of passes thrown on the run to escape the unceasing pressure — shone through. Passes thrown off Luck’s back foot and forced throws into coverage did not.
Rookie or not, you had to roll your eyes when Luck kept a play alive too long in Colts’ territory on third down and corkscrewed his way into a 22-yard loss on a sack with 3 minutes, 7 seconds left. The field position gained greatly aided Minnesota as it tied the game via a Kyle Rudolph touchdown with 31 seconds left.
It’s hard to argue, however, that most Colts fans left Lucas Oil Stadium wide-eyed. Luck recovered from the bad sack he took, completed passes of 20, 20 and 7 yards, and gave Adam Vinatieri the chance to win the game with a 53-yard field goal with 8 seconds left.
It was the second successful two-minute drill Luck engineered. A first-half series ended on a 30-yard Luck-to-Reggie Wayne touchdown connection. On the Colts’ pair of half-ending series, Luck completed 7 of 8 passes for 101 yards. Overall, Luck completed 20 of 31 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns.
Just as important, Luck passed the postgame eye test too. The Stanford rookie dispassionately faced the media. He wasn’t overwhelmed by the come-from-behind victory nor was he too amped up about his mastery of the two-minute drill. Nor was he rattled by the sack he gave up.
“I was just glad for another chance. We had so many opportunities in the second half to put a drive together or run the clock. I was glad to get the chance, but I didn’t derive extra motivation from the sack. I just let it go,” Luck said.
Colts coach Chuck Pagano, who also earned his first NFL victory as a head coach, extolled Luck’s maturity.
“He’s calm. He doesn’t get rattled. He sees the field really well,” Pagano said. “There’s no panic to the guy.”
In reality, the entire 2012 season is Luck’s eye test. Sunday was merely one of 16 quizzes. But Luck passed it and the success-starved Colts have a win to show for it.
Todd Golden is sports editor of the Tribune-Star. He can be reached at 812-231-4272 or Todd.firstname.lastname@example.org. Please follow him on Twitter @TribStarTodd.