As Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano began to vent about quarterback Andrew Luck’s turnovers in Monday night’s home loss to the New York Jets, it was as if many in the media took a time machine back to 2001.
We remembered when Colts coach Jim Mora went off after Peyton Manning had been a turnover machine with four interceptions in an ugly November home loss to San Francisco at the RCA Dome. Yeah, that’s the postgame presser remembered for the infamous “Playoffs?! Playoffs?!” rant.
That season was spiraling out of control. Mora didn’t have a defense and Manning was trying to make a big play and score on every drive. Manning took offense to Mora’s predictably intense venting and later voiced his displeasure on a conference call with out-of-town media. Mora eventually lost his job.
It’s easy to see similarities after the Colts’ 0-2 start this season. They’ve lost by a combined 47-21, and the 21 points are fewest in the NFL. Luck has six turnovers, five of them interceptions, after throwing three picks and losing a fumble in a 20-7 loss to the Jets.
But aside from Pagano’s job possibly being in jeopardy if this doesn’t get turned around, here’s where the comparisons end. Luck didn’t take offense. In fact, he didn’t even know what Pagano had said until being informed, ironically, before a Wednesday conference call with Tennessee Titans media.
Luck has always blamed himself for anything wrong with the offense, regardless of it’s his fault. So we heard what was expected when he acknowledged today, “100 percent, I’ve got to improve. No excuses.”
If I'm Luck, I'd be beyond upset.
The O-line hasn’t provided proper protection especially against the blitz — Luck has been hit 16 times in two games including 11 by the Jets. Yet the three-time Pro Bowl passer always stays positive, doesn’t complain to his O-line, and looks forward.
That’s why Pagano was out of line. And based on two days of the head coach insisting “It’s not all on the quarterback,” I suspect Chuck came to that realization after the media took his exasperated soundbites and ran with them.
Am I writing this to rip Pagano? Nope. I see a man fighting for his coaching life, someone who knows his future is in doubt if the Colts don’t live up to rather steep Super Bowl expectations.
If I’m Pagano, I’d be upset, too, about the Colts failing to fix the supposed No. 1 priority for the past two offseasons.
He’s human. He vented. If Luck shrugs it off and assures they’re on the same page, then there are more pressing concerns. Like trying to win a damn game, as Mora said 14 years ago.
One of the best things about Luck is his perspective. He doesn’t sweat the small stuff. He knows he’s trying to make a play, doing whatever he can to help his team, and his teammates love the guy for his competitive desire. Tight end Dwayne Allen and right tackle Jack Mewhort chimed in that everyone has to do better to help Luck.
I’ve read too many opinions from others that have suggested everything from Luck needs to be benched (yes, some think this) to Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson should both be fired (that’s much more prevalent).
Let's restate the reality, with feeling, and with a reminder that it really hasn’t changed since Luck was selected with the No. 1 overall pick in 2012.
The Colts were fortunate to be able to add another great quarterback after having Manning from 1998 to 2010 (no sense counting 2011, when he didn’t play). But Luck has taken 102 sacks in 50 career regular-season games. He got hit at least 20 times more than the next quarterback last season.
Perhaps owner Jim Irsay and Grigson blame that on coaching. Whatever the reason, it's still a problem. It hasn't gone away.
That Luck has persevered and steered the Colts to three consecutive 11-win regular seasons is to his credit. And when given time to reflect, I’m guessing Pagano started thinking about how much everybody in this organization is indebted to a rare talent, too.
Here’s a quickie suggestion, not that anyone will listen, but go back to basics and max protect until things loosen up. There might be fewer targets out there, and they’ve had trouble getting consistently open, but you’ll undoubtedly extend the physical life of your quarterback.
Perhaps Pagano was taking a veiled shot at Grigson when he talked after the Jets’ loss about how Luck should be used to the kind of pressure the quarterback faces, that Luck has had to deal with it for three years now. That comment bothered me more than any other.
It’s easy to say, “Hey, he can handle it,” when you’re not the guy getting drilled by a blitzer who doesn’t get picked up and has a free run to deliver a shot. Be grateful Luck is a solid 6-4 and 240 pounds and can take punishment.
We’ve seen how it works elsewhere. New England, at times, has been pulling wide receivers out of nowhere and Tom Brady still connects. That’s because Brady doesn’t get hit or sacked much. Manning used to do that, too. He got contributions from unknown guys at times because center Jeff Saturday anchored a line that didn’t let No. 18 get hit.
It still boggles my mind that Manning was sacked just 10 times in 2009. Imagine what Luck could do if he benefited from that kind of pass protection? I can’t be the only one who has thought about that these past three-plus seasons.
Bottom line, Luck wasn’t offended, assured he loves his coach, and he’s focused on the Colts’ offense getting untracked as soon as possible. He holds himself to a higher standard than anyone else, including his coach.
We move on, waiting to see how this soap opera of NFL drama plays out.
I’m never going to worry about Andrew Luck getting his feelings hurt. He's psychologically sound, at least for now.
I’m more worried about what happens to the rest of him.
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.