Andrew Luck had his first “wow” game of his career. While he’s had great moments, great halves this season, this was the first complete effort, and it was a record-setting performance with 433 yards passing.
It concluded with Luck’s fourth game-winning drive in just eight games, which no rookie has ever done before.
The list of records and rookie firsts by Luck is getting longer by the week, and you can read a midseason review of them all here that I did for Bleacher Report today.
Here, we are just focusing on this brilliant performance against the Dolphins to cap off an impressive first half of the season by Luck.
Drive No. 1
Drive Stats: 14:54 left (1st quarter), tied 0-0. 8 plays, 45 yards (Adam Vinatieri missed 48-yard field goal).
As usual, the Colts began with a play-action pass, and it worked for 16 yards to Donnie Avery. Luck would complete all four of his passes on the drive for 57 yards, including a rare running back screen to Donald Brown. But the drive stalled when Delone Carter was stopped for no gain on a 3rd and 1. Adam Vinatieri missed the 48-yard field goal after a delay of game penalty pushed things back five yards.
Drive No. 2
Drive Stats: 4:15 left, trailed 3-0. 9 plays, 80 yards (9-yard touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne).
Luck started the game 5/5 for the first time, starting the drive with an 8-yard bubble screen to Reggie Wayne. Another bubble screen was batted down at the line. Luck dipped a sack and converted to Wayne for the first down. Avery had a pass in his hands, but the hit caused him to drop it and not get both feet down anyway.
On 3rd and 14, Luck threw under pressure to a wide-open T.Y. Hilton for 25 yards. He then picked up 32 yards on a defensive pass interference as Miami’s defender was not playing the ball. On 3rd and goal, Luck found Wayne in the back of the end zone for the touchdown to take a 7-3 lead.
Drive No. 3
Drive Stats: 13:25 left (2nd quarter), trailing 10-7. 8 plays, 75 yards (Adam Vinatieri 23-yard field goal).
With Miami offsides, Luck had a free play and took advantage with a bomb. He hit Avery, who beat two defenders, for a 48-yard gain. It was the first “bomb” (pass over 41 yards) Luck has completed in his career.
A penalty on Samson Satele being downfield before the pass pushed the drive back. Luck threw short on third down, resulting in a 23-yard field goal by Vinatieri to tie the game at 10.
Drive No. 4
Drive Stats: 5:07 left, trailing 17-10. 8 plays, 44 yards (Adam Vinatieri 54-yard field goal is blocked).
Wayne was open off play action for a 21-yard gain. Avery gained 8 yards on a play that looked like a designed run but Luck may have done a sight adjustment to flip the ball out to Avery with no blockers and a one-on-one look. Luck threw incomplete on second down because of pressure, then had a mix-up with LaVon Brazill on a dangerous play. Vinatieri’s 54-yard field goal was blocked.
Drive No. 5
Drive Stats: 1:14 left, trailing 17-10. 10 plays, 58 yards (Adam Vinatieri 47-yard field goal).
Down to 1:14 left, it was time for another hurry-up drill. Dwayne Allen made the 12-yard catch and got out of bounds. Hilton dropped a 15-yard gain (at least) on a high pass over the middle that bounced off his hands.
Wayne made consecutive grabs for 25 yards, then Luck scrambled for the only time in the game for five yards, getting out of bounds to stop the clock at the MIA 45 with 0:40 left. Brazill made a tough catch for six yards on the sidelines.
With the ball at the MIA 39, Luck threw a perfect pass to Hilton deep, but he dropped what would have been a big touchdown. Winston Justice was called for holding, then Vick Ballard dropped a pass after having a few cracks at it in the air. It did not matter, as Luck was able to find Hilton for 20 yards on 3rd and 20, using the final timeout to set up Vinatieri for a 47-yard field goal.
The Colts trailed 17-13 at halftime with Luck completing 19 of 28 passes for 273 yards. It should have been tied, and his numbers could have been even bigger without the four drops.
Drive No. 6
Drive Stats: 12:58 left (3rd quarter), trailing 17-13. 9 plays, 30 yards (punt).
Started the second half with Wayne dropping a low, short pass. Avery caught a short pass on 3rd and 1, and made a great effort to fight for six more yards as he dragged the defender with him.
Next was a play-action bomb to Ballard down the left sideline. Yes, that really happened, and it was overthrown. Luck was on target to Brazill for what could have been a 22-yard gain, but laying out he could not complete the catch.
On 3rd and 10 Luck threw the quick slant to Avery, who broke a tackle and gained 22 yards. Where has this play been all season? It was great to see the YAC.
Two plays later Miami only rushed three, but Cameron Wake came from behind to knock the ball out of Luck’s hands, and the Colts barely recovered, setting up a 3rd and 25. Luck went deep to Avery in double coverage, nearly getting him killed with a big hit and near interception. Colts had to punt.
Drive No. 7
Drive Stats: 6:16 left, trailing 17-13. 9 plays, 82 yards (36-yard touchdown pass to T.Y. Hilton).
Luck went deep to Weslye Saunders, but just overthrew him for a big play. On 3rd and 6 Luck extended the play and found Ballard for a 15-yard gain. A pass to Allen was nearly intercepted. After a penalty, Luck converted on 3rd and 16 with a 19-yard pass to Brazill, who was waiting and open at the sticks.
After two solid runs by Carter, Luck used play action and held the ball until the last moment, throwing from the 47 to Hilton, who was double-covered a few yards into the end zone. Miami did not adjust to the ball, and Hilton made the spectacular touchdown catch for 36 yards on a ball that went over 50 in the air. Colts led 20-17, and Hilton atoned for his earlier drops.
Drive No. 8
Drive Stats: 13:00 left (4th quarter), tied 20-20. 13 plays, 69 yards (Adam Vinatieri 43-yard field goal).
Into the fourth quarter and after Miami tied the game, it was time for the game-winning drive. The Colts were backed up at their own 6, and lost a yard after Luck’s pass to Allen. On 3rd and 11, Luck stepped up and hit Allen for 20 yards. Two plays later Allen was uncovered over the middle and the quick pass led to another 20 yard-gain. A deep ball to Brazill was well overthrown.
On 3rd and 3 at the MIA 45, Luck may have made his most impressive play of the game. With Wake grabbing at Luck’s feet, he was able to throw the ball just before his knee touched to Wayne, who also was down to his knees for the 6-yard gain and first down.
Failure to convert and this drive was over. Instead it continued because of Luck’s athleticism. This put Luck at 431 passing yards, two shy of the rookie record (Cam Newton’s 433 vs. Green Bay last year).
Three plays later he would get it on a 2-yard gain that only came after Luck shoveled the ball forward despite two Dolphins on him for what should have been a sack. The play only gained two yards to Allen, but it saved field position and broke a NFL record.
Luck’s third-down pass was defensed, and Vinatieri made the 43-yard field goal for a 23-20 lead with 5:58 left.
Drive No. 9
Drive Stats: 3:51 left, leading 23-20. 3 plays, 6 yards (three-and-out punt).
The defense held, and in the four minute-offense, the Colts stayed conservative with runs on first and second down. On 3rd and 4, Luck was in the empty backfield, but after being pressured he threw to a spot behind Wayne, who was mugged, and Sean Smith nearly had the interception but lost control on the ground. It would have been a disastrous pick, but the man’s name is Luck for crying out loud.
Would the defense be able to hold?
Drive No. 10
Drive Stats: 1:37 left, leading 23-20. 3 plays, 22 yards (end of game).
Yes, the defense held, and with Miami down to one timeout, this was just a matter of running out the clock. Ballard ran it three times, and put a bow on the win with a physical 19-yard run to convert one final third down in the game, putting the Colts at 13/19 on third down in the game.
Andrew Luck finished 30 of 48 for 433 yards, 2 TD and no interceptions. He was only sacked once and scrambled one time for five yards. His passer rating was 105.6, the second highest of his career.
The best part was how well Luck played on third down, converting 12 of 17 opportunities against the top-ranked third-down defense coming into the game. The average conversion attempt was 9.8 yards, so it’s not like they were easy ones.
Luck has converted 50 of 109 third-down plays this season for an elite 45.9 conversion rate.
After a season-low amount of shotgun last week, the Colts returned to a more normal percentage (74.0). They used the empty backfield on a season-high 28.0 percent of drop backs after a season-low last week.
Miami was more aggressive than most teams, sending at least five pass rushers on 42.0 percent of plays. But the protection held up fairly well, especially early in the game when Luck was throwing for most of his yards.
Miami only had three pressures on Luck’s first 24 drop backs, but came up with 10 on his last 26. So much for the pass rush “getting tired” later in the game. Luck was pressured on three of his last four plays.
The Colts used three screens on Luck’s first six plays, but only had one more the rest of the day. Luck was 3/4 for 17 yards on the screens with another batted down at the line of scrimmage.
The YAC (35.6 percent) was low again, but there were more deep balls completed this week. Still, the receivers had seven plays with at least 10 yards after the catch, which was a season high.
Receivers were hit or miss. They dropped six passes in the game, including a play by Avery that was defensed, Brazill dropped a pass that would have gained decent yards. Hilton had two drops on the drive before halftime including what would have been the 39-yard touchdown, but to his credit he came back with the big touchdown in the third quarter.
Luck had some luck too, with Miami unable to finish on four potential interceptions.
It was still a very impressive performance, and the best of Luck’s career. Is he just warming up for the second half? We will see, but with five very winnable games left, the expectations are going to get higher.