Perfect Luck. Well, almost.
With rookie quarterback Andrew Luck setting the stage early with a 63-yard touchdown, the Indianapolis Colts got the 2012 National Football League preseason underway with an impressive 38-3 win over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
In a game that featured two of the league’s No. 1 draft picks (Rams quarterback Sam Bradford went first in 2010), Luck completed 10-of-16 passes for 188 yards and two touchdowns in little more than a quarter and a half of work.
His first pass of the day, covered only a few yards in the air, but ended up in the end zone 63 yards away. Running back Donald Brown caught the short toss and outran the St. Louis defense for a touchdown with 9:22 remaining in the first quarter.
Luck’s opening touchdown salvo was reminiscent of another heralded Colts rookie quarterback 14 years ago. Peyton Manning’s first preseason pass against Seattle in 1998 went for 48 yards to wide receiver Marvin Harrison for a TD. In that game, Manning completed eight-of-15 passes for 113 yards, one touchdown, an interception and had a fumble in his preseason debut.
“Great start for [Luck]. Phenomenal start for him,” Colts first-year coach Chuck Pagano said afterward.
“It’s great,” Pagano said. “He’d be the first one to tell you that. But to see him perform and do the things that he did under the pressure [pass rush], you know they hadn’t shown that in the preseason before. They [St. Louis] got after him a little bit. I thought he handled it well.”
That’s putting it mildly.
On Indianapolis’ second possession of the day, Luck guided the offense on a seven-play, 53-yard drive that culminated in a 23-yard scoring pass to wide receiver Austin Collie. On his third and final drive, he led the Colts on a 13-play, 80-yard drive that ended up in the end zone as running back Delone Carter bulled over from a yard out.
Of his six incompletions, three passes were dropped and two were thrown away because of defensive pressure. Luck’s final missed pass came when he overthrow offensive guard Joe Reitz in the back of the end zone.
Reitz had lined up as an eligible receiver at tight end when Indianapolis had a first-and-goal at the Rams’ one-yard line. Rookie tight end Coby Fleener was open on the play to the outside, but his former Stanford teammate didn’t see him.
Included among his six incompletions were three consecutive dropped passes on the Colts’ second possession of the game. Still, he went to the sidelines with a lofty 142.7 passer rating. A rating of 158.3 is considered a perfect game. Not a bad way to start an NFL career.
Closing out the scoring for Indianapolis was a one-yard scamper by running back Darren Evans with 0:07 left in the third quarter, a 33-yard pass from rookie quarterback Chandler Harnish to wide receiver Jeremy Ross with 11:14 left in the game, and a 31-yard field goal by punter/placekicker Pat McAfee with 4:44 remaining.
The firsts were many. First win for Pagano and first-year general manager Ryan Grigson. First preseason win at home since a 23-15 decision over Philadelphia in 2009.
It was also the most points scored in a preseason game since a 37-10 win over Detroit in 2007. The last time Indianapolis scored 38 or more points in a preseason game before Sunday came in a 38-34 victory over Denver in 1989. It was also the largest margin of victory for the Colts in a preseason game since a 35-0 victory over Washington in 1966.
“Obviously, a great start. I couldn’t be more proud of this team. Couldn’t be more proud of the coaches. The support that we get from the top down, [team owner] Mr. [Jim] Irsay, Ryan Grigson, everybody in that [Colts headquarters]. Our hats are off to everybody. It was a great team victory,” Pagano said afterward.
“That’s what we’ve talked about since we’ve been here. It’s that it’s about the team, the team, the team. We talked about coming out and starting, establishing an identity. What we’re going to be and what we’re going to be about. And how we’re going to play this game.”
As much as the Colts new coach was pleased with the performance and effort of the first offensive and defensive units, he was especially happy with how the second and third stringers played.
“I told the young guys, ‘Hey, we’re going to set you up. We’re going to get a lead and you guys have to get in there and you’ve got to finish.’ We want to be a great finishing team. And I felt like for four quarters, these guys played their tails off,” Pagano said.
Overall, it was a good first start. “It was a pretty clean game across the board. Pleased with the numbers that we were able to put up. Obviously, the quarterback [Luck] did one heck of a job. The offensive line did a fantastic job. We’ve got playmakers on offense. And then defensively, keeping [the Rams] out of the end zone and holding them to three points is a credit to [defensive coordinator] Greg Manusky and the rest of the defensive staff and those defensive players.”
Besides Luck’s strong start, there were a couple of other performances worth mentioning. Both backup quarterbacks guided the Colts to touchdowns. Drew Stanton completed eight-of-11 passes for 83 yards, and Harnish was 3-of-3 for 52 yards and a TD.
Jerry Hughes, who has struggled the last two seasons as a pass-rushing defensive end, had a pair of sacks from his outside linebacking position.
About the only bad news coming out of Sunday’s win concerned injuries to inside linebacker Pat Angerer, inside linebacker Scott Luttrus, offensive guard Mike McGlynn and running back Carter.
Angerer suffered a foot injury in the first quarter and was slated to get an MRI after the game. He was wearing a walking boot afterward. Luttrus had a knee injury while McGlynn incurred a sprained ankle. Carter incurred a rib injury.
Pagano is expected to offer updates to the team’s injury list during a teleconference today. The Colts resume training camp workouts Tuesday in Anderson.
Indianapolis will play at Pittsburgh in its second preseason game Sunday night in a nationally televised meeting (NBC).
Colts 38, Rams 3
At Lucas Oil Stadium
St. Louis 0 3 0 0 — 3
Indianapolis 7 14 7 10 — 38
Ind—D.Brown 63 pass from Luck (Vinatieri kick)
Ind—Collie 23 pass from Luck (Vinatieri kick)
StL—FG Zuerlein 37
Ind—Carter 1 run (Vinatieri kick)
Ind—Evans 1 run (Vinatieri kick)
Ind—Ross 33 pass from Harnish (McAfee kick)
Ind—FG McAfee 31
First downs 15 23
Total Net Yards 215 430
Rushes-yards 24-68 32-116
Passing 147 314
Punt Returns 0-0 1-6
Kickoff Returns 5-117 1-21
Interceptions Ret. 0-0 1-31
Comp-Att-Int 23-33-1 21-30-0
Sacked-Yards Lost 2-12 1-9
Punts 4-45.8 2-43.5
Fumbles-Lost 2-1 1-0
Penalties-Yards 4-20 3-69
Time of Possession 30:06 29:54
RUSHING—St. Louis, Pead 10-33, Jackson 4-17, Middleton 3-10, D.Richardson 4-4, Davis 1-2, Mughelli 1-2, Bradford 1-0. Indianapolis, Ballard 6-28, Evans 8-25, Carter 5-17, Karim 4-14, Hilton 1-9, Luck 1-9, Stanton 1-6, Moore 2-4, Jones 1-3, D.Brown 2-2, Harnish 1-(minus 1).
PASSING—St. Louis, Davis 12-18-1-84, Bradford 7-9-0-57, Clemens 4-6-0-18. Indianapolis, Luck 10-16-0-188, Stanton 8-11-0-83, Harnish 3-3-0-52.
RECEIVING—St. Louis, Pettis 3-25, Pead 3-9, Campbell 2-18, Kendricks 2-18, St.Smith 2-14, N.Johnson 2-12, D.Richardson 2-8, Givens 1-13, Middleton 1-12, Quick 1-9, Peterson 1-8, Amendola 1-6, Jackson 1-6, Salas 1-1. Indianapolis, Collie 3-45, Cosby 3-44, Brazill 3-38, Hilton 3-25, D.Brown 1-63, Ross 1-33, Jones 1-22, Ballard 1-11, Karim 1-10, Adams 1-9, Miller 1-9, Moore 1-9, Fleener 1-5.