Andrew Luck's Sunday return is tale of two halves

Colts quarterback didn't commit a turnover for first time in five starts against Patriots, but first half was far better than the second.

At least for the first half Sunday night, Andrew Luck looked like his old self.

In his first game back after missing two starts due to a sore right shoulder, Luck completed 17-of-22 passes for 140 yards and two touchdowns. The Colts led the New England Patriots 21-20 at halftime at Lucas Oil Stadium.

But in the second half, Luck looked different. He missed several throws. Several passes sailed high. Perhaps it was the injury bothering him, although the fourth-year pro would never admit it. He completed 13-of-28 passes for 172 yards and one score in the last two quarters.

Those accentuating the positives can point out that Luck didn’t commit a turnover for the first time this season as well as against the Patriots. He had 11 career turnovers in four previous losses to New England. And he had eight turnovers this season in three previous starts.

Still, the Patriots prevailed 34-27. And a day later, Luck didn’t take much solace in the Colts coming close. And after watching the film, the passer acknowledged his erratic play.

“Yeah, yeah, the missed opportunities, missed some spots, missed some throws that, I said this last night, you’d love to have them back,” he said Monday. “But the beauty of sports is you can’t. Hindsight is 20/20, too. Missed some throws and it’s part of the game. Get back, get on the practice field and keep rolling.”

After the Colts fell behind 27-14 early in the fourth quarter, the Colts passed the ball 26 consecutive times. Luck said his arm came through “good” and his throwing motion felt like it did before suffering the injury.

“Yeah, it felt good,” he said. “Very good.”

So the lingering question is about what changed from one half to the next. Critics contend Luck is still too inconsistent, although he finished with the same passing yards and touchdowns as the Patriots’ Tom Brady, who also had a pick-six interception.

Luck took three sacks and was hit 10 times, whereas Brady was sacked twice and hit six times. In four starts, Luck has been sacked eight times and taken 31 hits.

It’s fair to say Luck gave the Colts a better chance to win against the Patriots this time, not that he took any comfort in that.

“It was a one-score game at the end, sure,” he said. “But it’s a loss. At the end of the day it’s a loss. Again, we did some things well. We did some things really well, but we didn’t do that enough. Missed some throws, missed some opportunities that hurt us. At the end of the day it’s a loss. How you lose, does it really matter? I don’t know.”

The debate about Luck’s evolution will inevitably continue. The Colts are an inconsistent 3-3 and looking much like they have in previous years. They swept their three AFC South Division foes, thanks to backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck stepping in for two victories against Jacksonville and Houston, but they’re just 1-3 against everyone else. All three losses came against AFC East Division teams.

The New Orleans Saints (2-4) visit Sunday for a game that could be argued is vitally important for the home team considering the Colts’ next three opponents after that are at Carolina (5-0) on Monday Night Football, at home against Denver (6-0) and after a bye week at Atlanta (5-1).

“You’re going to face adversity,” head coach Chuck Pagano said, repeating what he told the team in its Monday meeting. “You’re going to get knocked down, but you got to get up. You got to dust yourself off and you got to move on. We cannot have a hangover from this deal. We put it behind us this afternoon after we watched this tape and we can’t have a hangover because we’ve got another really good football team coming in here and we have to prepare and get ready to play on Sunday. We can’t dwell on anything, win or lose.”

Pagano praised Luck for his play and emphasized the quarterback didn’t turn the ball over despite the pocket pressure. He said he expects No. 12 to play even better against the Saints.

As for the team outlook, Pagano is still confident the Colts can compete with any team on the schedule. This stretch of schedule should reveal if that’s true.

“I think this team can play with anybody,” he said. “I go back, and I hate to go back, but we’ve – I think there was a year where we beat three of the four teams that ended up playing in both conference championships (in 2013) if I remember. I think this team beat a Denver team that year, a Seattle team that year and a San Francisco that year. I know and I believe that this team can play with anybody.”

Luck said the Colts have been through enough in the past to realize they can’t panic in tough situations. But the players realize how important these games are.

“Yeah, I think there is always a sense of urgency,” he said. “Especially as the season goes along and I think it’s a good thing. You want to be out there and not with a laissez-faire attitude. We’re trying to get out there and work and get wins. I think it’s the right mindset by the guys.”

Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.

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