INDIANAPOLIS — My, how things have changed in a year's time.
After struggling with a torn labrum in his right throwing shoulder in 2015 and 2016, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck had surgery to correct the injury in January of 2017.
Various injuries during that time cost Luck 26 games, and after the latter cost him the entire 2017 season, his future had some doubters outside the organization. Many NFL fans and talking heads alike speculated that the once-in-a-generation talent would never be the same, or just flat out would never return to play football.
Well, Luck is back on the field, but those who said he wouldn't be the same are probably right — because he's already better than he was before.
The seventh-year field general is playing at an MVP level and is currently on pace to set several career highs, including completions (435), pass attempts (636), completion percentage (68.4), touchdowns (47) and passer rating (102.7). An offense that often lacked "oomph" without him has gone to a whole other level — averaging 29.5 points per game, fourth-best in the NFL — behind Luck, head coach Frank Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni.
Outsiders have started to take notice and are including Luck when formulating lists for various postseason awards, such as NFL MVP, and he sits atop most projections for the Comeback Player of the Year award.
The former award — the MVP — is a biggie. Just to be considered — like Luck was back in 2014 when he led the Colts to an appearance in the AFC Championship Game — is certainly an honor, but considering everything Luck has gone through the past couple years, the fact he's back to being considered among the best five or so players in the league is really saying something.
"Yeah, absolutely," Reich responded on Wednesday when asked if Luck would be deserving of the MVP award. "I mean, the string of games he's put together playing at a high level, (and) doing everything that you would think an MVP player would do. Helping win the kind of games that we've won, and just the level of consistency week in and week out."
Luck currently ranks among the top 10 quarterbacks in numerous statistical categories, such as passing touchdowns (32), passing yards (3,112), passer rating (102.7) and passer rating while facing pressure (87.6).
However, the most important thing — especially in an MVP race — is team success. After starting the season 1-5, Luck and the Colts have found plenty of success as they've put together five straight wins and have planted themselves into the AFC playoff race.
"I think he has played phenomenal football, and I think – my concern is that he just continues to play phenomenal football and continues to prepare the way he prepares and dissects defenses the way he has been doing," Sirianni told reporters this week. "Sure, I would love for him to get it. I think that's an award — Andrew will tell you the same thing — that it's not just Andrew's award. He is getting the hardware, but it's a complete team effort from the receivers to the tight ends to the running backs to the offensive line.
"So, yeah, if it comes down to that — I don't think about that — but if it comes down to that, sure. I would be really happy for Andrew for him to get that because he has worked really hard to get back to this point of playing the type of football he's playing right now."
Sirianni was right about how Luck would respond, giving the unselfish response and deflecting the praise onto those around him, but also adding a little different perspective from someone who had to sit on the sidelines and learn to re-appreciate the game.
"No, I don't think so. I honestly haven't thought about it," Luck said Wednesday when asked if he cares about awards like MVP or Comeback Player of the Year. "It's just fun to play football. I think anybody who's gone through a significant injury and missed time or missed a season and comes back, I think your perspective certainly changes. Yeah, I'm 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," he continued. "So, if at the end of the year there's guys in this locker room that are getting recognized, that's probably indicative of us being a good team, so that's what's most important."