Andrew Luck winced.
That's all it took, during Sunday's 35-33 comeback win at Tennessee, for questions to arise about the health of the Indianapolis Colts quarterback. A CBS TV camera caught a sideline exchange in which backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck patted Luck on the right shoulder, and Luck quickly recoiled as if in pain.
His postgame press conference did little to alleviate the concern as the three-time Pro Bowl passer was admittedly drained, physically and emotionally, after leading the Colts to 21 fourth-quarter points to avoid starting the season 0-3.
But on Monday, he showed up for the cameras in the Colts' locker room with not a hint of any injury issue.
"A good night's sleep, some pizza and a cold shower helps out a lot," Luck said with a smile and a chuckle.
"It is a draining game, it can drain your emotions, it can drain you mentally, physically. Thankfully we got the win. It makes you feel a whole lot better the next day, and guys put a lot of work (in), coaches, players put a lot of work into going out there and trying to get a win. You can get borderline frustrated when you feel like things aren't working out the way you want them to, so I'm proud to be a part of htis team that persevered through that and found a way to get a win.
If not for the fact Luck has thrown a league-high seven interceptions and been hit 20 times in three games, perhaps the rest of the NFL would dismiss the idea he's playing hurt. But Luck hasn't been himself this season. The constant pounding inevitably takes a toll on even the strongest of NFL bodies, although Luck is a sturdy 6-4 and 240 pounds and has shown in three previous seasons that he can withstand a lot of punishment.
"Andrew? No. No. He'll be alright," head coach Chuck Pagano said later Monday afternoon. "I think everybody, you know, come in and watch that tape and put this one behind you, and you get to hit the reset button and take 24 hours. They get a day off (Tuesday). Wish we (coaches) could get a day off, but we don't get a day off. Come in Wednesday ready to roll."
It's not like the Colts would want opponents to know if something is wrong. Players typically endure minor injuries and play through them on a weekly basis. But because Luck is so important to the franchise, any hint of an injury can be magnified in today's non-stop social media world of speculation.
Luck interceptions on back-to-back possessions in the third quarter enabled the Titans (1-2) to build a 27-14 lead. But as he has done in the past, he rallied for his 14th career comeback win. He threw touchdown passes to rookie wide receiver Phillip Dorsett and wide receiver Donte Moncrief, then running back Frank Gore scored on a 6-yard rush.
Pagano called the victory the greatest of his four-year Colts career, a surprising distinction considering the Colts were touchdown underdogs when they defeated Denver in the Mile High City during a January AFC Divisional playoff game. And there was the memorable home comeback win against Green Bay in 2012, when Pagano was watching from a hospital bed while being treated for leukemia.
Luck has always received praise for his mental toughness, specifically the ability to bounce back from his mistakes.
"Yeah, maybe settled down a bit and just played football," he said of Sunday's fourth quarter. "It's hard to explain. We've been here before, I've tried to explain my interceptions, my stupid plays."
He shrugged for a moment, thinking about those.
"You get tired of talking about it," he said, "and somewhere you've got to change that, and I think maybe that clicked."
The Colts will be favored to extend their 14-game AFC South Division winning streak Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars (1-2) at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.