National Columnist

Luck good, not great, in debut, but we can't say the same of the pitiful Colts

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Andrew Luck puts together a debut better than Peyton Manning's. (AP)  
Andrew Luck puts together a debut better than Peyton Manning's. (AP)  

CHICAGO -- Andrew Luck is going to be good, and I mean really good, and Sunday confirmed it. Yes, this Sunday, when Luck completed barely half his passes and had three interceptions and one touchdown. Most times, a quarterback who puts up those numbers has had a bad game.

Andrew Luck did not have a bad game.

What Luck had was a bad team.

The Colts are lousy. I mean, awful. From an overall talent standpoint, there's not much difference between the 2011 and 2012 Colts. And the 2011 Colts went 2-14. Do I expect the same out of the 2012 Colts? No, because Andrew Luck is very good. But he's not good enough to turn this collection of chicken crap into chicken salad, so the Colts will not be appearing in the playoffs or even winning half their games. Not with those receivers, that running game, that offensive line. (To say nothing of the defense. Yeesh.)

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And still, even with those receivers, that running game, that offensive line, Andrew Luck threw for 309 yards on the road in his NFL debut. He didn't win it -- didn't come close -- but the Colts' 41-21 loss Sunday to the Bears wasn't an indictment of Andrew Luck.

It was an indictment of the Colts.

It was a testament to the ability of Luck that the game was this close, frankly, because the 2011 Colts -- quarterbacked by an ugly monster named Kerry Paintlovsky -- wouldn't have been as competitive as the Colts were Sunday, when Luck drove them 80 yards for a fourth-quarter touchdown that cut the Bears' lead to 34-21. Get a stop after that and ... oh. Never mind. The Bears answered that Indianapolis touchdown with one of their own, tearing thru the Colts' defense for 80 yards in seven plays to make the score 41-21.

Because the Colts are lousy.

But not Andrew Luck. He's not lousy -- not even close. In fact, an argument can be made that Luck's NFL debut (22 of 43 for 309 yards, one touchdown, three interceptions) was more promising than that of Peyton Manning, the franchise quarterback he's replacing. In his NFL debut, against the Miami Dolphins, Manning was 21 of 37 for 302 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.

Nearly identical debuting numbers from 1998 Manning to 2012 Luck, but with some major discrepancies. Manning was playing at home, Luck on the road. Manning had Tarik Glenn, an eventual three-time Pro Bowler, protecting his blind side; Luck has Anthony Castonzo, a second-year pro who hasn't (yet?) distinguished himself. Neither had great receiving corps -- Manning had Marvin Harrison and some junk; Luck has Reggie Wayne and some junk -- but Manning's running back was Marshall Faulk. Luck's running back is Donald Brown.

And still, Luck looked pretty good Sunday. He looked great only on a handful of occasions, but he never looked bad, not even on his interceptions. The Bears made a great play on one of them, a diving tip by cornerback Tim Jennings that ended up in the hands of safety Chris Conte. Another was a leaping catch in the end zone by Jennings on the Colts' final drive, when Luck was just chucking it, odds be damned, because there were less than two minutes left and his team needed three touchdowns and Luck, naïve youngster that he is, thought they could still win it.

The only bad interception Luck threw comes with an asterisk of sorts. It was early in the second quarter, and one of the Bears jumped offsides. Or so Luck thought. Thinking it was a free play, Luck took a shot downfield, throwing a 50-50 ball in the vicinity of receiver Donnie Avery and -- yes -- cornerback Tim Jennings. As he did all game, Jennings won this battle. After throwing it, Luck looked around for the flag and realized his error.

"Never," Luck said, "assume anything in this league."

Lesson learned. There will be more lessons, of course, as Luck continues to struggle through his first year. He has some Jay Cutler in him, that confidence that says he can squeeze a ball through a tiny window, and he'll need to get past that. Cutler still hasn't, which is one reason why Cutler has six seasons and 78 career starts -- but only one playoff victory to his credit.

That playoff figure could change this season, by the way. This story's about Luck, so you won't read much about Cutler here, but the 2012 Bears look potent. Certainly this is the franchise's best-looking offense in years, and defense has not often been the issue in Chicago. On Sunday, Cutler overcame a 1-for-10 start, including a dreadful pick-six that gave the Colts a 7-0 lead, to finish with 333 passing yards and a solid 98.9 passer rating. After his slow start, Cutler was 20 of 25 for 320 yards, two touchdowns and no picks.

Some day Luck will put up great numbers like that (20 of 25, 320 yards, two scores, no picks) because he's going to be a great quarterback. He's not there yet, but it'll happen sooner than later. Sunday showed that. The Bears collapsed the pocket all game, because it's like I've been saying -- the Colts' offensive line, much like the team itself, is lousy -- but Luck moved around the pocket with composure, repeatedly creating extra time to make a pass.

"He did a great job of being mobile in the pocket and finding different receivers," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "He's definitely going to win a lot of games."

Well, slow down. Smith was wrong about one fact in that quote, the one about "finding different receivers." Luck wasn't great at that, but that's not Luck's fault. More than half (15) of his 23 completions went to Wayne or rookie tight end Coby Fleener. Luck targeted that duo 28 times, including 18 just for Wayne. Why? Because the rest of the receiving corps isn't any good.

Not that Luck would say that.

"I'm not talking to myself, 'Where's Reggie, where's Reggie, where's Reggie,'" Luck said. "I think he just ... seems to be in the right place at the right time."

Eventually, if he's lucky, the Colts will surround Luck with more players like Wayne, just as the 1998 Colts surrounded Manning with more players like Harrison and Faulk. Meantime, the Colts are going to lose more than they win -- just as they did in 1998, when they went 3-13 with Peyton Manning.

These things take time, which means the pressure right now isn't on the Colts' quarterback. It's on the Colts' front office.


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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