INDIANAPOLIS –Andrew Luck recently watched the tape of last year's New England game, the 10th of his career, to "re-familiarize" himself with what he saw and how he performed in a 59-24 loss.
"I'd like to think I've improved hopefully in all areas (like) situational awareness," said Luck. "You know when to throw it away, don't want to force something, knowing when to avoid taking a hit.
"Understanding some of the tips and disguises of a defense and how to get those tells. I like to think I've improved, but we'll see."
Chances are the gifted Luck has taken big strides in 24 subsequent games, counting the playoffs, and the coach on the other sideline sees a worthy competitor.
"A really complete player, great long-ball thrower, very accurate," said Bill Belichick. "Has a good touch on short, intermediate passes, reads defenses well, does a good job checking plays at the line of scrimmage and making some of those adjustments. Can scramble and run, scramble and buy time to throw. Has good vision, makes good decisions. There's not really any weaknesses to his game."
Luck's 22 starting wins tie the second-most ever achieved in a two-year period to open a career since 1970, but his game in New England was a rocky experience.
After directing two touchdown drives to start matters, Luck ended up having two interceptions returned for scores during his 334-yard afternoon.
"I watched that game to (get reacquainted) with some of the schemes," said Luck. "I think they did a great job of forcing turnovers. I know they still do. They do a great job of getting at the quarterback, making it hard to get a first down, hard to get touchdowns."
Luck agrees a part of the Patriots' success is the coaching acumen of Belichick and his staff, and he says players do a solid job of execution.
"They have good football players. You don't want to undervalue that aspect of it," said Luck. "They do a great job of disguising their defenses. Everything seems to look the same, then you blink for a second and it's completely different and you've screwed up.
"We have to be on our Ps and Qs and have a great week of practice. We're excited. They're a phenomenal football team."
Like Tom Brady, who has gone through personnel losses and has worked to keep the New England passing attack among the league's best, Luck has had to work new players into the mix in the second half of the season.
Luck credits coaches and players around him for achieving a comfort level with fresh faces beyond T.Y. Hilton once Reggie Wayne was injured in October.
"Pep's done a great job. I've never been a huddle and looked at a guy and said, 'Oh my gosh, he has no clue,' " said Luck. "Everybody has gone out there knowing exactly what to do. I think that's as much a testament to the guys as to the coaches.
"(It's) a challenge, but a great opportunity for a lot of guys. (They've) made the most of it," said Luck. "Chuck tells us every week, 'Everybody prepares like a starter.' The 'Next Man Up' theme is real. Guys have done a great job of stepping up."
Luck believes receivers learned quickly and that he can throw wherever necessary. Pagano feels Luck is like Brady in that his presence elevates the playing level of others.
"There's no question about it," said Pagano. "The expectations are extremely high. Both quarterbacks expect a lot from their teammates in a positive way.
"If you're going to advance and move on, you have to play and perform at a certain level. All those young guys that had to plug in, whether it's for us or for them, that's what's expected."
Brady knows weapons can depart the lineup at any point. This year had the departure of Wes Welker and the season-ending injury to Rob Gronkowski.
"Over the course of playing a few years, we've lost certain guys at certain points," said Brady. "The main thing is to figure out what you need to do as an offense to still be productive. You can lose (a player) at any point in any game.
"No one really feels sorry for you. You have to figure out a way to make as many yards and score as many points as you can. Losing any player hurts. You still have to have enough guys and enough flexibility within your game plan to adapt so you can still be productive."
Luck and Brady both state the harsh reality of a bottom-line business for competitors trying to take teams to ultimate goals.
Three of Brady's 17 NFL-record post-season wins have earned world championships. Luck put that first playoff notch in his belt last week and is accompanying his young cast to New England in search of a second playoff triumph.
Luck helped put Stanford on the map, and he has done so to a large degree here. Saturday is his next chance.
"We know it's going to be a dogfight, that's what the playoffs are about," said Luck.
PRACTICE REPORT/ROSTER NEWS – The club did not have to file a practice report today. It will do so tomorrow and through the week, with injury designations coming on Friday. Indianapolis added CB-Marcus Burley and DT-Kurt Taufa'asau to the practice squad.