INDIANAPOLIS — As a much-publicized rookie in 2012, the No. 1 player taken in the NFL Draft, quarterback Andrew Luck was asked about dealing with the expectations that come with his selection.
Luck shrugged and advised the expectations he sets for himself are higher than the goals anyone else would set for him.
He didn’t say what those expectations were, but in the midst of enjoying the best season of his seven-year career, they seem clear.
Luck is committed to the never-ending pursuit of perfection.
That might seem unrealistic. No man can achieve that.
But having the highest goal possible means always striving to improve. Luck has repeated a thousand times how he “can always get better.”
That applies even now, although the 29-year-old franchise player was just named AFC Offensive Player of the Month and has completed better than 70 percent of his passes in a five-game winning streak.
Luck has thrown at least three touchdown passes in eight consecutive games, tied for the second-longest streak in NFL history. His 32 scoring strikes rank second in the league.
Most importantly, the Colts (6-5) are winning and in the thick of the AFC playoff hunt entering Sunday’s game at Jacksonville (3-8). The Colts offense is averaging 29.5 points per game, which ranks fourth in the league.
“I don’t know if there was an epiphany moment in the offense or not,” Luck said Wednesday. “I would like to think it has just been same approach. Like we talked about, the same approach – get a little better every day, a little better every day.
“I certainly don’t feel like I am perfect in this offense by any means in the sense that I don’t understand it 100 percent. Yeah, there are always little things that we’ve got to work on and that’s the approach that we have taken and that’s the approach that we will keep. So we will keep working to try and achieve perfection.”
There’s that word, perfection. That’s what truly drives Luck.
When asked in recent weeks about how well he’s playing, especially considering his career was in doubt after missing 2017 due to right shoulder surgery, Luck deflects the praise to others he deems as deserving.
That starts with an offensive line that has provided the best protection of his career. Luck wasn’t sacked for five games until last Sunday, a career-best stretch of 239 pass attempts.
After taking 156 sacks in 70 career games entering 2018, Luck has gone down just 11 times this season. That was tied for the league best entering the week, and is even more impressive when considering Luck’s 437 pass attempts are the third most.
Luck has completed 68.4 percent of those passes, far exceeding his previous seasonal best of 63.5 percent in 2016. And that’s with receivers dropping at least 20 of those passes.
But inquire about how he’s raised that percentage and Luck, again, credits others, starting with the guys to whom he’s throwing.
“I think that’s indicative of wideouts getting open and running good routes,” he said. “As a quarterback, you just want to do your job. You want to get the ball into the playmaker’s hands. So I think we are starting to understand that a little more each week and everybody is buying in. I mean, that’s a group effort. That’s certainly not one or two guys that are doing that.”
First-year head coach Frank Reich admitted in his previous gig as Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator that it took into the second year for players to pick up the offense. That the Colts have done so already, Reich says, starts with Luck.
“When I think back to the last team I was at and how that transition went there, it took a little time. It took a little time,” Reich said. “Really it took into year two for it to really take off. So I guess in some respects it has accelerated. I think a lot of that has to do with Andrew’s play and how fast he has grasped everything and the play we are getting up front.”
As for what’s expected in pass completion percentage, Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni set a high standard of 70 percent each game, but it’s one Luck has been reaching lately in an offense designed to get rid of the ball quickly to receivers typically running shorter routes.
“That’s really our goal,” said Reich, an NFL quarterback for 14 years through 1998. “That’s really – we don’t talk about it, but when Nick (Sirianni) and I talk about it 65 percent is a bare minimum, is really a bare minimum. So it really needs to be above 65 percent, we would like it to be at 70. Knowing that 70 is a lofty goal, but that’s kind of where we like to be.”
Luck has been mentioned as a leading candidate for NFL Comeback Player of the Year. Some are also starting to talk about him as an NFL MVP candidate. Consider Reich among those who deem the quarterback worthy.
“Yeah, absolutely,” Reich said. “The string of games he has put together, playing a high level, doing everything that you would think an MVP player would, winning and helping win the kind of games that we have won and just the level of consistency week in and week out.”
But touch on the subject of awards to Luck and, true to form, it’s just not something he wastes much time thinking about.
“No, I don’t think so. I honestly haven’t thought about it,” he said. “It’s just fun to play football. I think anybody who has gone through a significant injury and missed time or missed a season and comes back, I think your perspective certainly changes, like we talked about before.
“Yeah, just appreciative to be playing and certainly when a team does well, guys get awards. That holds true in any team sport at the end of the year. So, if at the end of the year there are guys in this locker room that are getting recognized then that’s probably indicative of us being a good team. So that’s what’s most important.”