INDIANAPOLIS –If quarterback play is judged solely on numbers, then Andrew Luck is a raging success.
He is the one of two NFL rookies ever to have three 300-yard passing games in the first four games of a career.
Wins and losses are key indicators, too. On that basis, a checkmark is applied because Luck is the only rookie ever to throw for more than 1,200 yards and record two victories in his first four games.
If playing well in the clutch is a barometer, Luck passes easily as well. Three games ago, Luck directed a September fourth-quarter comeback win over Minnesota, 23-20, to become the first rookie since Archie Manning did so in that same month for New Orleans in 1971.
Luck duplicated the feat last Sunday in helping the Colts overcome a 21-3 deficit for a 30-27 victory over Green Bay. The winning score was a four-yard strike to Reggie Wayne with 35 seconds remaining and came after Luck scrambled for seven yards on third down on the previous play.
In doing so, he became the fourth rookie ever to quarterback a comeback win from a deficit of at least 18 points. Put down another checkmark.
What caught the eye of interim head coach Bruce Arians, however, was a play Luck made in the second quarter against Green Bay. Arians believes Luck's pluck set the stage for the second-half heroics.
To set the scene, Indianapolis trailed, 14-0, and had a third-and-five from its 25 with 11:31 left in the half. Linebacker Nick Perry came free on a blitz and leveled Luck, separating him from the ball. Perry was flagged for unnecessary roughness. Luck composed himself and went back to work.
Two plays later, he was sacked again, this time by linebacker Clay Matthews. Matthews forced a fumble, too. In the scramble for the ball, Luck hustled across the field to bat it out of bounds. Indianapolis maintained possession at its 30, but punted two plays later.
A short field could have given Green Bay a larger lead. The lead eventually swelled to 18 points before Indianapolis found a rhythm on both sides of the ball and charged back.
Arians thought the decision-making Luck exhibited all afternoon was impressive, but no decision was as important as his hustle play. It is Luck's decision-making that Arians uses as a measuring stick for the rookie.
"Yes, decision making (is the measure)," said Arians. "The biggest play Andrew made in the game, he got hit, the ball came out, he went flying across the field, dove and knocked it out of bounds, or they would have had it right there on the 35 or 40. That was the biggest play of the game for him, I thought.
A former quarterback himself, Arians has tutored some of the game's best in Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger. He has seen stellar talents and traits in those two and others, but he was impressed by Luck's mettle.
"It shows his grit and his determination. He was not letting them get that ball," said Arians. "He got plastered. He should have been on the ground, but he knew it (the ball) was out and he went and got it. I thought that was the best play, the turning point, because we wouldn't have recovered from that."
General Manager Ryan Grigson saw the play, too, and he was not taken by surprise by his quarterback.
"Nothing surprises me with Andrew," said Grigson. "I've also seen him throw an interception and bee-line it, then ear-hole the guy making the interception and darn near put him in the stands with the hit. Andrew is a big guy who can run, who is a heck of a lot tougher than people even know.
"I think it's becoming more evident with each week he plays in the league. He's a one tough sucker who is not only very talented, but his will to win is what separates him from others."
Grigson has been in NFL personnel circles for 13 previous seasons. He does not believe it would take long to call the roll of the number of quarterback who would have done the same thing Luck did.
"There are lot of quarterbacks in this league who would not have made that play, and they sure as heck would not go and put their face on somebody after an interception like he does, or come back from a hit in the mouth like he did," said Grigson. "To me even if you don't know the game of football, you can grab someone off the street and put that play on and they would say, 'Wow, that guy got up? And he's still playing? And he just made that play now? He must be tough. He must care.'
"That's why he's here. That's why we're trying to do everything we can to help make him successful. He's a great talent."
On the game-winning drive, Luck hung tough on a six-man Green Bay rush to find Reggie Wayne for 15 yards on third-and-12 near mid-field. Luck felt the pressure of Matthews as tackle Anthony Castonzo fought, and he stood firm and delivered. It was the type of play Arians later said he had seen but once.
"You know I told the team, I've been around one guy who I've ever seen do that and that was Ben (Roethlisberger) down in Jacksonville," said Arians. "I don't remember if it was Tony Brackens or not, but he threw a guy off who was still hanging onto him, and he completed a third-and-12 on an 18-yard pass right on the money.
"Not only did he (Luck) shake (Matthews) off, he had great ball security in the situation and put it right on the money, and Reggie (Wayne) made a great play. But that was big-league play, big league."
Arians said Luck's rookie-surpassing leadership was on display on that drive.
"That is what you're looking for in a quarterback. That grit. That will to win," said Arians. "A rookie, I don't put statistically in the categories with (Tom) Brady and those guys. His passer rating is not going to be as high as theirs, but he's playing at a level that far exceeds where he should be at this time."
Grigson spent eight seasons in blue-collar Philadelphia. When asked if he would compare Luck's toughness capacity with other quarterbacks, not using any physical abilities associated with the position, Grigson offered two possibilities before citing Luck for his own merits.
"I can promise you that an offensive line will play and fight that much harder for a QB they can identify with and one that they know is going to lay it on the line for them," said Grigson. "We had Jeff Garcia in Philly. He played almost with the mentality of a linebacker, and those linemen loved him for it. There have been some really tough quarterbacks. Another that comes to mind is Kurt Warner, who I had the privilege of being around in St. Louis. The way he would stay in the pocket and step into throws knowing he was going to pay a hefty price but his focus was advancing his team down the field, not on himself.
"There are tough players in this league, but Andrew is kind of different in a lot of respects to where he's unique in his own right. He's a hard guy to compare anyone to."