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Coach Killers, Week 19: Luck's poor performance raises questions

By Ryan Wilson | CBSSports.com

TEXT HERE. (USATSI)
Andrew Luck's poor playoff performance: Blip on the radar or sign of things to come? (USATSI)

Coach Killers is your weekly look around the league at those performances, decisions and "Wait, what did he just do?!" moments that put the guy in charge squarely on the ol' hot seat. Questions, comments, casserole ideas? Hit us up on Twitter at @ryanwilson_07.


More NFL: Coaching change tracker | Playoff Bracket


It was bound to happen. Andrew Luck, the first overall selection in the 2012 draft who picked up in Indianapolis where Peyton Manning left off, was going to struggle. After leading Indy to 11 wins in each of his first two seasons, Luck stumbled his way through two January playoff games that, for the first time in his career, have people questioning his franchise-quarterback pedigree.

After falling behind 28 points in the wild-card matchup with the Chiefs -- thanks in part to three Luck interceptions -- Indy thoroughly outplayed Kansas City in the second half to eke out a 45-44 victory. When it was over, Luck was 29-of-45 for 443 yards with 4 TDs and the aforementioned 3 INTs.

Luck admitted he would have to play better in the divisional round against the Patriots, but fans and media were happy to gloss over his shortcomings against the Chiefs because the quarterback played a big role in the comeback.

(The other side of that argument: If Luck hadn't played so poorly early in the game, there wouldn't have been a need for an epic comeback.)

But unlike criticisms that Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton disappears in big moments, Luck seems to embrace them. And after a glacial start in the wild-card game, Luck caught fire over the final 30 minutes to lead the most miraculous playoff comeback since Frank Freaking Reich and the Bills stuck it to the Oilers back in 1993.

"He's a special guy," Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri said of Luck after the Chiefs game. "He's a guy that doesn't come along very often. There's a lot of quarterbacks in the league that can make the throws. He has that competitive edge … It seems like nothing ever bothers him. It can be a play that doesn't work out for us, those interceptions. He just shakes it off and throws bullets down the field. I don't think you can rattle him."

But there's a difference between being unshakeable and having an off night (or two). And against the Patriots on Saturday, Luck was off. He completed 21 of 41 passes for 331 yards, 2 TDs and 4 INTs in the 43-22 loss.

"I'm just disappointed in myself," Luck said afterward. "I can't commit that many turnovers and have a chance to win against a great team like this."

Luck's two-playoff-game totals: 50 of 86 (58.1 percent) for 774, 6 TDs, 7 INTs.

And this latest performance brought out the skeptics, many whom questioned whether we've made too much of Luck's abilities because as it stands, he has one playoff win (just like Tim Tebow!) in three tries.

We won't argue that didn't Luck play poorly in six of the last eight quarters, but the story extends beyond "HE'S CLEARLY TERRIBLE AND OVERRATED!" For starters, did you see what LeGarrette Blount did to the Colts' defense? Yes, he scored three touchdowns from two yards out, but Blount also ripped off a 73-yard score early in the fourth quarter. He finished with 166 rushing yards (6.9 YPC, which, if you take out the TD runs, is still 4.4 YPC). That wasn't Luck out there missing tackles.

TEXT HERE. (USATSI)
Luck and Brady share a brief word at midfield following Saturday's playoff game. (USATSI)

Also not helping Luck: The Colts' one-dimensional offense. Specifically, running back Trent Richardson continues to be a nonfactor (3 carries for 1 yard vs. New England, 1 carry for 0 yards vs. Kansas City), and while Donald Brown had 63 rushing yards, most of those came after the game was out of reach.

But perhaps the biggest takeaway is that, more than anything, Luck was ... well, unlucky against the Patriots. Of the eight quarterbacks playing in the divisional round Luck ranked eighth, according to FootballOutsiders.com.

"Luck had his ups and downs," FO.com's Vince Verhei wrote, "but when he had a chance to lead a comeback, he was at his worst. Following his 35-yard touchdown to LaVon Brazill, Luck and the Colts got the ball back down seven points with about three minutes left in the third quarter. From that point forward, over a span of five drives, Luck went 5-of-14 for 39 yards with two first downs, two interceptions (the latter of which is treated as a Hail Mary so as not to over-penalize Luck for taking a desperate risk), and three sacks."

And as ProFootballFocus.com explained, "[F]our interceptions mark a career high (for Luck), and while one was deep in garbage time and another was a relatively unlucky bounce off his fullback, all were poor throws and the one that marked the first step into the hole was downright terrible. Ultimately, this was the same Andrew Luck that we saw most of the season but he had to do too much this time."

And looking at Luck's week-by-week performance, the Patriots game wasn't his worst outing of the season. By PFF's metrics, Luck was less effective against the Dolphins in Week 2, the Rams in Week 10, the Cardinals in Week 12 and the Chiefs in Week 16.

TEXT HERE. (USATSI)
(ProFootballFocus.com)

Put another way: On Saturday, Brady and the Patriots were better than Luck and the Colts. It's not an indictment on Luck's abilities or his future. He had a bad game. It happens.

By the way, Manning didn't make the playoffs as a rookie with the Colts, and was 0-3 in the postseason until he got his first victory six years into his career, when Indy eventually lost to -- you guessed it -- Tom Brady and New England in the AFC Championship Game.

Despite the setback, things worked out OK for Manning.

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