INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – In what was his final appearance of the preseason, Andrew Luck offered a few more indications – checked off a few more boxes – of what to expect when the games are the real deal.
In fact, two occurred on the only touchdown he and the starting offense produced in 11 preseason drives.
Luck scrambled and moved the chains when the situation warranted, and delivered a perfect pass to tight end Eric Ebron down the left seam for a 15-yard touchdown.
Again, two more boxes to eliminate. The importance of both shouldn’t be casually dismissed.
The 23-17 win over the 49ers provided a feel good moment Saturday evening at Lucas Oil Stadium. But on the grander scale, the ability of Luck to bounce back from an erratic outing against Baltimore and shrug off a slow start against San Francisco was critical to the growth of this team and it’s $140 million quarterback.
Remember, Luck and most of the front-line players won’t step on the field for Thursday night’s preseason wrap-up at Cincinnati. Their next appearance: Sept. 9 against the Bengals in Lucas Oil Stadium.
Luck insisted it was important – for him, for the offense – to finish on a positive note.
“Scoring a touchdown was important,’’ he said.
How that touchdown was achieved was important.
Ebron elevated to secure Luck’s pass in the end zone, adding further evidence to what we saw during training camp. The veteran tight end is going to be a serious red-zone option.
But what made that play possible was the one before it. Third-and-13 at the San Francisco 30. When the pocket quickly collapsed, Luck drifted to his right to buy time. He cut to his left when he noticed open field.
Instead of sliding short of the first-down marker to avoid any significant contact from a defender – limit the risks, remember? – Luck kept running until he had the necessary yards, and until defensive end Dekoda Watson had chased him down from behind. His 15-yard scramble was the Colts’ longest run of the game.
The play was a quick reminder the closing speed of so many NFL defenders.
“To be honest, I forgot how fast guys in the league are,’’ Luck said. “The guy from behind kind of caught me by surprised.
“It was a lesson. In this league there’s always something behind you and you cannot relax.’’
Luck has talked at length about the absolute need to not put himself at unnecessary risk, to limit hits when possible.
Third-and-13 at the 49ers’ 30 wasn’t one of those situations.
“An old coach told me this: If a quarterback can just run for a first down during a game that it can be back-breaking to a defense,’’ Luck said. “I try to do that.
“There are certain things I don’t want to stop doing, but be smart about it and situationally-aware. We don’t want to be one-dimensional.’’
Coach Frank Reich agreed. There are times, he said, when a quarterback has got to make a play, risk or not.
“When the quarterback’s scrambling down field and someone’s coming from behind, you always kind of hold your breath a little bit,’’ he said. “But I think he made a good play, had the presence to feel that behind him.
“When you’re right at that marker and have a chance to get it and score points, you’ve got to somehow find a way to make that play.’’
Luck’s commitment to alter his game and limit the perilous hits is understandable. He’s been sacked 156 times in 70 regular-season games and absorbed more than 500 hits while throwing.
But again, there’s a time to avoid hits and a time to surge ahead for a first down. Reich said Luck’s decision-making in that regard “has been perfect.
“There’s not one time he tried to get more than he should have and (not) gone down and appropriately went for it at the times that he could. Whatever determination he made in his mind about how he’s going to adjust his play, I think he should feel good about where he’s at.’’
And Luck does feel good where he’s at.
He declined to give himself a letter grade for his preseason performance. His stat line: 20-of-32, 204 yards, one touchdown, one interception, a 78.1 passer rating. He also scrambled five times for 42 yards.
If no letter grade, how about Pass or Fail?
“Pass,’’ Luck said with a grin. “What’s been most important to me is I feel like I’m improving every day as a quarterback. Feeling-wise, throwing-wise, technique-wise, getting the offense in the right play.’’
He admitted there was so much to prove when he stepped on the practice field with his teammates July 26 for the first time in nearly 18 months. More progress is required, but Luck made it clear he’s made incredible strikes in the last six weeks.
“I feel like I can make all the throws I need to make with confidence,’’ he said. “And part of that in training camp was just doing it, throwing, seeing it, messing up. And I’ll continue to mess up.’’
The bottom line?
“I feel great. I feel great,’’ he said. “My shoulder feels awesome. I actually feel very good and strong. My shoulder felt alive. I was a little happier with where the ball went when I threw it.’’
Luck completed 8-of-10 passes for 90 yards and the TD to Ebron.
“I felt like I had a little more of a sense that, ‘OK, I want to back-shoulder this to Ryan (Grant) on the sidelines. OK, it ended up where I wanted it to,’’’ he said. “I keep feeling and seeing improvement.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.