“He does a lot of things I wish I could do,” the 37-year-old Brady said of the 25-year-old Luck in advance of Sunday night’s meeting at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Luck couldn’t help but be amused when told the kind words bestowed upon him by one of the NFL’s greatest passers, winner of three Super Bowl rings, nine-time Pro Bowl selection and sure first-ballot Hall of Famer.
“Yeah, he does a lot of things I can’t do,” Luck said with a hearty laugh. “There’s a lot of Super Bowls so far.”
The mutual admiration society aside, Luck has been asked three times in two days about his admiration for Brady. The third-year pro didn’t mind sharing his thoughts repeatedly.
“Hopefully you can get to that type of level with that production and that success,” Luck said of Brady’s impressive resume. “I think his mastery of the quarterback position is something I definitely admire from afar and what he’s able to do consistently for every game for so many years. Just seems to be a master at his craft. Again, it’s any kid at any level, rookie quarterback, third-year quarterback like myself, to look up to him I think is cool.”
The next time the question was asked again on Wednesday, the Colts’ rising star gave more praise.
“Yeah, I think if you’re a fan of football, it’s hard not to be a fan of Tom Brady,” he said. “He’s obviously got the respect of everybody around the league, every fan, every player. He does things at a high level, and he’s done it for a long, long time and seems to go about it the right way. Great role model for any kid at any level playing the position, so a lot of respect for him.”
Brady has seen a lot in 15 seasons since his first NFL start against the Colts in 2001. The Patriots-Colts rivalry always focused on Brady and Peyton Manning through 2010. Now much of the attention is on the two No. 12s.
In his usual Wednesday press conference, Brady acknowledged Luck’s improvement this season, how the Colts quarterback leads the NFL with 3,085 passing yards and runs the league’s No. 1 offense in total yards and points scored. Luck has a current franchise record of seven consecutive 300-yard passing games.
“He's a great player, in his third year, and he's had a lot of success," Brady said. "Their offense is doing a great job this year; they score a lot of points (averaging a league-high 32.2 per game), especially at home. He's kind of the ringleader.”
Brady wasn’t finished with his observations.
“He's big, fast, shrugs off blockers. He makes a lot of extended plays," he said. "He's a great passer. I think they've thrown for more yards (3,105) at this point in the year than any other team in history. It speaks to what they're doing offensively, and it's a great challenge for our defense. We're going to have to score a lot. When you play another great offense, you're going to have to put up a lot of points, similar to our last game (against Denver). We realize we have a big job, too.”
Both quarterbacks have one thing in common — they aren’t concerning themselves with each other but rather the defenses they will face. But Brady knows the numbers, how the Colts have scored at least 20 points in each game this season when he said, “My focus is on the other side of the ball, but you also know you're not going to be able to score 13 points and win the game.”
Added Luck on Monday: “I think as a quarterback, I’ve never worried about who the opposing quarterback is or what the opposing offense does. If you think about that for five minutes, that’s five minutes less thinking about the defense and what your job is.”
Brady improved his head-to-head record against Manning to 11-5 in his last game, a 43-21 home rout of Denver. The score was almost identical the last time Luck and Brady shared the same field — the Patriots bounced the Colts from the postseason with a 43-22 home win in the AFC Divisional playoff round last January. The other time they played, the Patriots prevailed 59-24 in a 2012 regular-season matchup at Foxborough, Mass.
Perhaps most importantly for Luck, he had eight turnovers in those two losses, seven interceptions and one lost fumble.
The Colts have had their issues with 15 turnovers this season, 11 of those attached to Luck, who has been intercepted nine times and lost two fumbles.
While the Colts (6-3) have been able to overcome those shortcomings more often than not, they can’t commit those turnovers against the Patriots (7-2), whose plus-12 ratio in takeaways-giveaways is tied with Arizona for the league lead. New England has intercepted 10 passes and recovered eight fumbles, three more takeaways than the Colts’ defense.
Brady takes care of the football. He’s been intercepted just three times in 334 pass attempts (0.9 percent). In the Patriots’ current five-game winning streak, Brady has thrown 18 touchdown passes with only one interception.
“I think Tom, one of his real strengths as a player, is his ability to take experiences that he had in practice and on the field and utilize them going forward,” said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. “He still continues to do that. I don’t think his preparation process has changed in the course of these 15 years. He still does the same thing. Every week’s different, every opponent and the players that they have are different than the ones from previous weeks.
“I think that’s something, really every player but certainly a quarterback, but every player does and continues to do if they’re going to continue to be good throughout the course of their career. They keep learning, they’re always trying to find things to improve or pick up on, or take advantage of. That’s what a good, competitive player does in the beginning, and I think that’s what he does all the way through his career.”
Luck reiterates in nearly interview how he can’t make “stupid” or “bonehead” plays. In addition to Brady’s many accomplishments, the Colts’ promising quarterback still has a lot to learn in minimizing turnovers.
“That’s where he’s so funny,” Colts quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen said of Luck last week. “‘Ah coach, I’m sorry. I know what you’re going to say and I really apologize.’ What do you say to that? ‘OK, quit apologizing. Let’s go on to the next drive.’ But we have to fix it. It is funny after you win, but it’s not going to be real funny when it costs us a game.”
Luck was asked about his interceptions in the two games against the Patriots.
“I don’t think there’s one particular reason for them,” he said. “Bad decisions, bad throws, good plays on their part. I think every now and then a lot of factors do go into it. But yeah, certainly wish I could have them back. But you can’t. That’s the nature of sports. You move on and hopefully I can go right my wrongs.”
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.