The NFL’s No. 1 passer experienced the worst day of his three-year career Sunday.
Then Andrew Luck faced the media, an equally daunting challenge, when asked to explain how so much could go wrong in the Indianapolis Colts’ 42-7 loss to the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
“It was an abysmal start,” Luck said in video posted to colts.com.
That it was. The Colts didn’t gain a first down until 5:19 remained in the second quarter. And the Cowboys were already ahead 28-0.
“Offensively, I think three three-and-outs in a row? Or two? I don’t know. Just bad. A lot of bad. Not much good, if any,” Luck said.
It was three three-and-outs. And it wasn’t all on Luck. The Colts (10-5) actually tried to start with three rushing plays, which combined to lose one yard. The rushing attack finished the day with a single positive yard on 10 carries.
His targets dropped passes. Tight end Dwayne Allen had three before exiting early with a knee injury.
And when Luck finally got his team moving in the final two minutes of the first half, he threw an ill-advised pass into the end zone that safety J.J. Wilcox intercepted.
“We never got any type of rhythm going,” Luck said. “When we did, at the end of the half, I throw a stupid pick and we don’t get points. I guess that early start was indicative of the day to come.”
A day that would uncharacteristically end early for him, too, after he threw a second interception on the second play of the second half. Luck completed 15-of-22 passes for a career-low 109 yards before he was replaced in the third quarter by quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. The 35-point loss equaled Luck's worst NFL setback, a 59-24 rout at New England in 2012.
The AFC South champions as well as head coach Chuck Pagano had spoke during the week about how the Cowboys (10-5) would reveal where their team was at with the postseason approaching. The blowout illustrated once again that the Colts have issues as they set season lows in points (seven) and total yards (229) for the second consecutive week.
The Colts have been outscored 48-19 in the first quarters of the last eight games. It didn’t help that No. 1 wide receiver T.Y. Hilton was inactive due to a left hamstring injury.
Still, the ongoing struggles don’t make sense for an offense led by a quarterback who began the day with a league-high 4,492 passing yards and 38 touchdown passes. He’s still No. 1 in TDs, although Peyton Manning is one behind with a game to play tonight at Cincinnati.
“I’m thinking about Tennessee first,” Luck said of Sunday’s regular-season road finale, when asked if he had concerns about the playoffs. “We’ve got to fix this game and focus on Tennessee and then we can worry about the playoffs. That’s where we are.”
He’s been asked on a weekly basis about the slow starts and, once again, got the question about if he could pinpoint what’s been going wrong.
“No, I can’t pinpoint it,” he said. “Obviously today, there’s mental mistakes. Negative runs. Some bad throws. Some drops. Those type of mistakes. We understand we need better starts on the road when we play good football teams like the Cowboys.”
So it’s back to practice in search of positive plays to restart what was once a high-powered, explosive offense.
“Practice. You practice hard,” Luck said. “I think there’s a bunch of good players in that locker room. I’d like to think we’re a better team than we showed, but the nature of sports is you are what you put on film and that’s what we put on film.”
Luck praised the Cowboys for playing good defense. What else could he say?
“Yeah, I guess it is a bit surprising because there’s high expectations from us on the offensive side of the ball to go out and score every drive and get points and move the ball,” he said. “And when we don’t, it’s disappointing. We go out and play like this, it’s a bad feeling.”
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.