INDIANAPOLIS –Andrew Luck's reward for being the top pick in the draft by Indianapolis was the keys to the offense and the expectations by many for him to succeed.
Luck attacked his rookie season with vigor, and his accomplishments were outstanding.
Luck (339-of-627 passing for 4,374 yards and 23 touchdowns) set NFL rookie records in yards and attempts, and he also broke the club rookie mark of Peyton Manning (1998) in completions.
As one of eight league rookies ever to throw 20-plus touchdown passes, Luck's total ranked third behind Manning and Seattle's Russell Wilson (26).
He became the only NFL rookie to exceed 4,000 yards and earn at least 10 starting wins (11).
Luck set the NFL rookie record with seven fourth-quarter or overtime comeback wins, surpassing six achieved by Ben Roethlisberger (2004) and Vince Young (2006). The Colts' seven such wins tied a league record done six other times.
With victories being the top barometer by which to measure players, the 11 wins Luck and Wilson earned placed them with Roethlisberger (13), Joe Flacco (11, 2008) and Matt Ryan (11, 2008) as the only rookies to exceed 10 wins.
Luck took every snap in his rookie season, just as Manning had done. Now a player who successfully scaled mountains at Stanford and a first NFL regular season has something new facing him – the playoffs.
Luck has not discovered a moment too big for him at any point of his career, and he is approaching this week even-keeled.
"You lean on guys who have been there before. It's a football game, still," said Luck. "I think we've done a lot to get to this point, so I don't think you need to wholesale change things.
"The intensity is going to ratchet up. Things are going to maybe kick up a notch, but trust in the same preparation, the same process. Hopefully, that will pay dividends."
Eleven rookie quarterbacks have earned a combined 7-11 starting record in the playoffs since 1970. Wild Card weekend will find the most rookies starting a postseason game since 1966 – Luck, Wilson and Robert Griffin III. The prior mark was two in 2008 (Flacco and Ryan) and 2011 (Andy Dalton and T.Y. Yates).
Playing in the early game Sunday, Luck hopes to become the sixth rookie to win his first-ever playoff game. With Griffin III and Wilson meeting in the later game, one is guaranteed to join the list that currently boasts Shaun King (1999), Roethlisberger, Flacco, Mark Sanchez (2009) and Yates as first-time winners.
Flacco and Sanchez were the only ones to win twice as rookies.
"I remember it was a great opportunity, a chance to play another game and go win a playoff game," said Flacco. "It hasn't been done many times.
"I tried to go about business as usual and play my normal game. A lot of people can hype it up make it something it isn't, get you out of your comfort zone a little bit. The biggest thing is to stay comfortable and take advantage of the opportunity. The bottom line is, 'Go about your business as you always would.' "
Chuck Pagano was with Baltimore when Flacco experienced his rookie playoff success. Pagano feels his current star pupil is ready for post-season action.
"I'm not worried about it at all. It goes back to his maturity level," said Pagano. "He's playing right now like he's been in the league three or four years. This won't faze him one bit. He gets his blinders on. He's locked in, he's focused as anybody. I'm worried at all."
Luck himself will grind through a Wednesday worrying only about today. He will repeat that tomorrow and all through Sunday. That measured approach, he feels, best girds him for Baltimore.
"Maybe it is a little more than what the regular season's games were," said Luck of the possible increase in intensity. "I don't think you can wholesale change anything.
"We've been fairly successful to this point, enough to get here. I think we have to stick with the same process and preparation. I don't think you can change too much."
ROOKIE QUARTERBACKS TO START PLAYOFF GAMES
Year, Player, Team, Record, Totals (Completions-Attempts-Yards-TDs-Int-Rating) *Won first game
1983, Dan Marino, Miami, 0-1, 15-25-193-2-2-77.6
1985, Bernie Kosar, Cleveland, 0-1, 10-19-66-1-1-56.0
1986, Jim Everett, L.A. Rams, 0-1, 9-18-136-1-2-54.2
1991, Todd Marinovich, L.A. Raiders, 0-1, 12-23-140-0-4-31.3
1999, *Shaun King, Tampa Bay, 1-1, 28-61-320-1-3-47.2
2004, *Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh, 1-1, 31-54-407-3-5-61.3
2008, *Joe Flacco, Baltimore, 2-1, 33-75-437-1-3-50.8
2008, Matt Ryan, Atlanta, 0-1, 26-40-199-2-2-72.8
2009, *Mark Sanchez, N.Y. Jets, 2-1, 41-68-539-4-2-92.7
2011, Andy Dalton, Cincinnati, 0-1, 27-42-257-0-3-51.4
2011, *T.J. Yates, Houston, 1-1, 28-55-343-1-3-53.8