INDIANAPOLIS –Sunday was the first day of Andrew Luck's professional playing career and though it marks Chuck Pagano's 11th year in the NFL, it was his first time as a field leader.
The anticipated debut for both came in Lucas Oil Stadium as the Colts beat St. Louis, 38-3.
Luck, the top pick in the 2012 draft after a storied career at Stanford, directed the Colts for 24 plays and four series. It was the first snap he took, however, that caught the fancy of Colts fans everywhere.
From his 37, Luck dumped a short pass to running back Donald Brown. Brown maneuvered through blocking to sprint 63 yards for a touchdown, giving Luck, Pagano and the club a thrilling start to a new era.
The play mirrored the start of the Peyton Manning era in 1998, when Manning, the top pick in that draft, teamed with Marvin Harrison on his first career snap for a 48-yard touchdown pass against Seattle. During the week prior to today's game, Luck fielded a few questions about Manning's first-snap heroics. Luck good-naturedly took the question prior to today, then addressed it directly after the game.
"It was probably the easiest touchdown pass I'll ever have in my life," said Luck. "The throw was maybe three yards in the air. It was a great job by Donald (Brown), the line, the tight ends. Reggie (Wayne) was the receiver in there and blocked downfield. It was nice to put points on the board on the first play. Hopefully, we'll do it in the regular season, too."
Pagano, who joined former Colts Head Coach Jim Mora as field leaders who had their first snap with the club result in a touchdown, enjoyed the first play of his Indianapolis coaching career.
"I was chasing him (Brown). I didn't think I could run that fast," said Pagano. "I was worried about running somebody over on the sidelines. We saw the coverage we were in, and B.A. (Bruce Arians) said, 'This thing could go the distance.' Donnie made a fantastic play. You couldn't script out a better (outcome)."
Brown, among others, made the play after the short toss. Once he eluded the first tackler, he thought the play could go the distance.
"I had an idea. It was a defense they've played," said Brown. "The offensive line did a great job. We took advantage of it."
On his third possession, Luck moved the club 53 yards on seven plays for a second touchdown. Following two third-down conversions, one on a 12-yard completion to rookie T.Y. Hilton, Luck zipped a 23-yard scoring pass to wide receiver Austin Collie. The drive started after Indianapolis produced a takeaway near mid-field.
Luck directed the Colts to 210 of their 237 net yards in the first half, producing 10 of the club's 11 first downs. Indianapolis was four-of-seven on third-down conversions.
Luck (10-of-18 for 188 yards and two scores) hit seven different receivers and of his six incompletions, three were drops and two passes were throwaways. The one incompletion came when Luck mis-fired in the end zone in the direction of 322-pound guard Joe Reitz, who was an eligible receiver on the play.
"I feel terrible about that. I told him I owe him about 20 steak dinners," kidded Luck. "He deserved it. I didn't hold up my end of the bargain. I apologized to him. Hopefully, if the situation presents itself again, I'll put in right in his belly. I'll give him a chance to catch it. He was a little disappointed. He didn't accost me (laughs). I said I messed up, and he took it at that."
Wide receivers snared seven of Luck's completions, while two went to backs and tight end Coby Fleener had the other reception.
Luck admitted to the normal jitters that have accompanied past performances, but those feelings subsided quickly.
"I was nervous. I had butterflies in my stomach," said Luck. "It's something I've always had before a football game. After the first play, they tend to go away. I was a little nervous."
The coaches have had Luck running with the starting unit throughout training camp as a means to get him fluent completely with the attack. Luck has pieced together a strong camp, impressing observers daily with his command and poise. That same poise showed up on game day, and Luck passed credit along to the work and planning he has been a part of during camp.
"It was the same plays we've been working on all camp. We didn't spend too much time devising a game plan and putting in special plays," said Luck. "(It was) the training camp mentality when you're not going to take a week to prepare for a team. We didn't game plan too much."
Pagano was pleased with the overall performance of his team.
"Obviously, a great start. I couldn't be more proud of this team. I could not be more proud of the coaches," said Pagano. "The support we have from the top down, Mr. Irsay, Ryan Grigson, everybody in that building…my hat is off to everybody."
The early message from Pagano when being hired in January was the importance of the team. Now after one outing, the message remains firm.
"That's all we have talked about since we've been here. It's about the team, the team, the team," said Pagano. "I felt like for four quarters these guys played their tails off. It was a pretty clean game across the board. I was pleased with the numbers we were able to put up. The quarterback did one heck of a job. The offensive line did a fantastic job. The backs, the tight ends (were) keeping it clean for the most part. We have play-makers on offense.
"Defensively, we kept them out of the end zone and held them to three points. It's a credit to (Defensive Coordinator) Greg Manusky, the defensive staff and the players."
Indianapolis had 430 net yards offense, while yielding only 215. The Colts rolled to 23 first downs, including nine on the ground. The offense had a blistering 11 third-down conversions in 15 attempts, while allowing only five in 13 attempts defensively. The conversion category was a specific problem for the team in 2011.
The Colts rushed for 116 yards and had a 3.6-yard average. Eleven players rushed the ball, while 13 players had receptions. Quarterbacks Drew Stanton (eight-of-11 for 83 yards) and Chandler Harnish (three-of-three for 52 yards and one touchdown) played well.
The complete victory was a product of players feeling good about the program.
"From day one, these guys have bought in," said Pagano. "They've done everything we've asked of them. It's just the tip of the iceberg, we understand that. We talked about complacency. We talked about human nature. They may say some nice things about you in the paper and on the radio, but don't listen to it."
Linebackers Pat Angerer (foot) and Scott Lutrus (knee sprain) exited the game in the first quarter and did not return. Guard Mike McGlynn (ankle sprain) and running back Delone Carter (rib) left the game with injuries.
NOT IN ACTION – Wide receiver Donnie Avery (thigh), nose tackle Josh Chapman (not active), guard Justin Anderson (not active), linebacker Tim Fugger and Cory Redding (elbow) did not play on Sunday. Ricardo Mathews started in place of Redding. Cornerback Justin King started on the left side.