INDIANAPOLIS – In a rookie campaign that has already been filled with its share of accolades, quarterback Andrew Luck wrapped up the first half of his initial NFL season with a record-setting performance.
Luck was nearly flawless with a 30-of-48 effort for 433 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The 433 yards eclipsed the previous rookie record of Carolina's Cam Newton (432 yards) set last season.
Facing the third-best rush defense in the NFL, the Colts offense moved the ball primarily through the air on Sunday, with Luck leading Indianapolis (5-3) to a 23-20 victory over the Miami Dolphins (4-4).
"His play today was superb," interim head coach Bruce Arians said of Luck. "It was Pro Bowl caliber play."
All week long, Luck and Arians talked about the importance of converting on third downs against the Dolphins.
Miami came into Sunday at No. 1 in the NFL, allowing just 26.4 percent conversions on third down.
On the "money down" Luck was extra special. He was 13-of-17 for 204 yards on third downs, and the Colts as a team converted 13-of-19 opportunities.
As has become the norm with Luck, he wanted to deflect any praise of his individual effort and instead thanked his teammates for the team's success in maintaining drives.
"I think the O-line protecting and everybody being on the same page with their pressure," Luck said of the key on third down. "I thought it was good focus by all 11 guys out on the field every day."
The third-down conversions did not always come from the most manageable of situations either. Of the 14 completions Luck had on third down, half came with the offense facing at least nine yards to gain a first down.
"He's got a ton of physical attributes," Arians said of Luck. "He's a big, strong kid. His eyes are always downfield. He knows where the guys are. If they're draped on him, he's strong enough and accurate enough still to get it to them. A couple of those were big-time plays near the end there."
On the Colts' first touchdown drive, Luck found wide receiver Reggie Wayne near the back of the end zone on a third-and-goal for a nine-yard score.
Wayne just simply shook his head when talking about the play of his rookie quarterback.
"That kid just continues to amaze," Wayne said. "He has a really bright, bright future. Hopefully, I can help add on to this legacy that he's about to build. I was happy for him, man. He took control of the game as he always does. Like we've been saying all year – no panic, no pressure."
The pressure of facing 19 third downs over the course of the game did not seem to faze Luck at all.
Ever the critic of himself, Luck has talked about wanting to play a more complete game as he continues through his first year in the NFL.
Sunday was about as complete as one can get with Luck putting together a 19-of-28, 273-yard first half of football.
Another area where Luck has wanted to improve was on connecting with his speedy receivers for "chunk" plays.
With 13:25 to go in the second quarter, Luck and the offense took over at the Indianapolis 20-yard line down, 10-7.
Luck lofted a pass over the Dolphins defense and right into the hands of wide receiver Donnie Avery for a 48-yard gain, a drive that ended up tying the game at 10-10. The pass was the longest of the season for Luck.
"Well, he finally hit a deep ball," Arians said with a smile. "We've been close, we've been underthrowing and overthrowing but we hit a big one today, two of them. Those chunks, we talked all week about needing chunks against this defense. It was going to be tough to go 85 yards in a clip, they're too good. We needed chunk plays. We got a bunch of chunk plays, that and converting third down. His third-down percentage the last couple ball games has been out of sight. That's what we need."
Going up against one of the best defenses the Colts have seen all season, Indianapolis' offense put together eight consecutive drives of at least eight plays to start the game.
The historic day for Luck was made even more special by Chuck Pagano taking in the game at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Pagano addressed the team before and after the game and his quarterback was ecstatic to deliver in front of his head coach.
"His presence is felt every day in the facility, in the city," Luck said. "To see him in the flesh, in the locker room and to hear him speak, I think that gave a big boost to all the guys."
The Colts have now stacked together a three-game winning streak and quickly will turn their attention to a Thursday night contest with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Luck remains status quo in refusing to look past the next opponent, as the Colts are still in pursuit of the end goal of earning a spot to play in January.
It was the first of perhaps many historic days in Lucas Oil Stadium for Luck, and now he looks to match the second half of his rookie season with the similar storylines that he has already written in the first half.
"Obviously as a team we believe in ourselves. We have a lot of confidence in ourselves. But we also have a healthy respect for everybody that we play," Luck said.
"We feel like if we play well, we're going to have the opportunity to hopefully win enough football games and do some good things. Also, I know this city believes in us, and I'll tell you it's a fun team to be on, a fun place to play. I'm really enjoying it."