INDIANAPOLIS –Andrew Luck was not the only Colts player making a career debut yesterday in Chicago, but he was the one who drew the greatest amount of attention.
Luck was the sixth rookie ever to start on opening day for the Colts, the 10th to do so overall, and he was guiding an offense that had six other players making a career-opening performance as well.
Luck was able to hit 23-of-45 passes for 309 yards, with one touchdown and three interceptions. The nature of the contest where Chicago jumped to a 10-point lead and led by a greater margin for most of the game's final 25 minutes likely influenced the offense to be tilted more than planned.
Indianapolis ran on only 15 of 63 offensive plays, meaning that Luck and the attack were playing in a bit of a catch-up mode. Chicago was able to get to Luck on three occasions, while there were times he showed guile beyond his years by moving away from pressure.
It was a performance that drew some praise afterwards.
"He did some really good stuff," said Head Coach Chuck Pagano. "The Bears have a front four that can put a ton of pressure on a quarterback. They have linebackers and blitz teams that are good, and they have a lot of experience.
"I thought he handled himself really well. You saw him sliding around and buying time in the pocket. He stepped up and found guys down the field. Between the receivers – Reggie (Wayne), Kris (Adams) and Donnie (Avery) – he was making some plays down the field. I thought he handled himself well."
Luck bounced back from a first-half interception by leading a touchdown drive that narrowed the club's deficit to 17-14. Running back Donald Brown's 18-yard scoring burst ended that drive, and Brown liked Luck's battling nature.
"He stayed the course, stayed with it. He kept fighting. He just kept leading us," said Brown. "He made some great throws. He never gave up and came out fighting."
With 39 seconds left in the half and the club just having allowed a touchdown to fall back behind by 10 points, Luck guided Indianapolis from its 22 to the Chicago 19 with two ticks left on the clock. Though a half-ending field goal went wide right, Luck showed the poise and fire that has impressed club insiders since this spring.
Rookie tight end Coby Fleener caught three passes on that drive and nabbed three more in the second half to finish with 82 yards on six receptions. Fleener has shared many fields with Luck and knows what people saw on Sunday.
"He's a stud. There's no doubt about it," said Fleener. "I think we'll see constant improvement as we get more used to playing in the NFL."
While Luck had his first scoring reception in the second half, there were two interceptions and a fumble as four of the club's five turnovers came offensively.
Every coach and player knows there will be adverse times in competition, and Pagano liked Luck's nature under fire.
"He's great. He's been the same ever since he got here," said Pagano. "He isn't one of those guys where he comes off the field and he is arguing with his offensive linemen and he is going through this or that.
"He just comes off, they make the adjustments, talk about what happened on the series, what you're seeing, what you're getting and what the defense is doing. You saw him being able to put together a couple of drives. In the second half, we just didn't come away with points.
"He would be the first to tell you that he can't have three interceptions. The fumble wasn't his fault. He was trying to make a play and he gets hit from behind. For the most part, he did a lot of good things."
Luck was able to become the fourth Colts quarterback to throw for 300 yards on opening day, joining Jeff George and John Unitas, who did it as veterans, as well as Peyton Manning, who did so in his career debut. Of the six rookies who started for the club on opening day, only George Shaw in 1955 was able to guide the Colts to victory.
Luck targeted wide receiver Reggie Wayne an estimated 18 times during the contest, with the pair connecting nine times for 135 yards. Wayne kidded on Friday before the game that he told Luck to throw to whomever was going to be open, and that he would be clear of defenders all day.
Wayne produced his fourth career 100 outing on opening day, tying Marvin Harrison for the franchise lead. It was Wayne's four such effort in the last six years, the third in the last four.
"He (Luck) kept his poise no matter what happened, and that's what he's been doing all preseason," said Wayne. "As receivers, we have to make plays for him and give him that confidence. The offensive line needs to protect him to give him time to throw.
"We also need to get some kind of run game. It all feeds off each other. We've got to keep getting better, go correct our mistakes and don't make the same ones."