The Indianapolis Colts have a very real shot at the playoffs this season. The team owes it all to an AFC in complete disarray and Peyton Manning ... er, Bill Polian ... no, Jim Irsay. Actually, the Colts can thank themselves for making the common sense choice of taking Andrew Luck with the first overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. He saved them from irrelevancy, and is almost singlehandedly carrying Indianapolis back to the postseason.
Clutch performances are becoming a routine part of Luck's rookie year. What else do the Colts really have to count on? Luck, leaning heavily on Reggie Wayne, is the only positive Indianapolis has on offense. The defense plays above its head, but this is still, mostly, the same unit built by Bill Polian to be good enough to let Manning carry the team.
Three of the Colts' four wins have been the result of a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or in overtime, which was the case with this week's win.
Luck told the press following Sunday's game that this was a page right out of Bruce Arians' playbook, a prepackaged play with just enough nutritional value to stave off a team like the Titans. It's a screen pass, something that Luck has thrived on this season; his very first NFL touchdown was a screen pass in the preseason to Donald Brown. Much of the credit for scoring on this play goes to Vick Ballard and his special effects department spinning leap into the end zone.
I'm tempted to tell you that Luck is the kind of player who elevates the play of the guys around him. I want to say that his leadership and ability makes guys like Vick Ballard and Donald Brown play just a little bit above their ability. But I don't know that.
I do know that the Colts did themselves a favor in not overthinking it and taking the Stanford kid to be the the cornerstone of a new era in Indianapolis.
Luck is one of five rookie starters having an impact in the NFL this season. Let's have a look at where how the other greenhorn signal callers did this week, in power rankings form.
1. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts - I kind of feel like we covered this one already.
2. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks - What to make of Russell Wilson? He threw for 236 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Two weeks ago he topped 300 yards and had three touchdown passes against the Patriots. He chews up weaker pass defenses with ease. In between, he has games like last week's in San Francisco, games with not even a flicker of hope from the quarterback. Maybe Wilson just needs to graduate to the second phase of Pete Carroll's motivational tapes.
(Photo via Andrew Weber-US PRESSWIRE)
3. Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins - Mike Shanahan has asked the league's other rookie sensation to do an awful lot on behalf of his team. Like Luck, RGIII has done a magnificent job at it, limited mostly by the flotsam and jetsam of spare parts around him and the occasional rookie moment. This week, Shanahan asked him to be a wide receiver too, a move that almost backfired when a Steelers defender trucked him. RGIII got a penalty for offensive pass interference too, just to add to the moment.
Shanahan on exposing RG3 to danger on the Josh Morgan WR pass: "After looking at that play you feel like a complete dumbshit." #Redskins— Rich Campbell (@Rich_Campbell) October 29, 2012
I suspect Redskins fans felt the same way about Shanahan.
4. Brandon Weeden, Cleveland Browns - Blame it on the rain, and the wind. The Browns rookie struggled through this game, completing 11 of 29 passes for 129 yards. His real victory was not turning over the ball, an area where the risk-averse Pat Shurmur excels.
5. Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins - The most surprising quarterback from this year's rookie class gets an incomplete. He left the game after just five attempts, sidelined with a thigh bruise and knee injury. Matt Moore did yeoman's work game-managing in place of the first-year starter. Tannehill's status for Week 9 is unknown.
Next week: Will Nick Foles join the rookie watch list, becoming the sixth first-year signal caller to earn a starting job in the NFL? Only Andy Reid and his brain trust know the answer to that one, and they don't appear to be real sure themselves.