If you want a perfect example of the 2015 Indianapolis Colts, tonight's game against the Carolina Panthers was just that. The Panthers at one point in the fourth quarter were up 23-6 and the Colts were playing terrible, then the Colts scored 20 straight points, the teams traded field goals in overtime, and then an interception set Carolina up in position for their game-winning 52-yarder. In the end, the Panthers won a crazy game over the Colts by the score of 29-26.
For the first three-plus quarters, Luck was absolutely terrible. Understand this: through three-plus quarters, Andrew Luck's passer rating was at one. That's right, one. It was as bad as I've ever seen him play. There was the play where no one was getting open, so he forced a throw and it was picked. There was the play where Dwayne Allen was wide open and Luck just missed him. There was the play where Luck overthrew T.Y. Hilton by a mile. It was really bad. Then, Luck caught fire and completed 18 of 29 passes (excluding two spikes) for 197 yards and two touchdowns with one (crucial) pick.
The Colts scored 20 unanswered points after trailing 23-6 midway through the fourth quarter. An 8-play, 86 yard drive was capped by an Andrew Luck to Andre Johnson touchdown pass. The defense then forced a punt, and the offense went 57 yards in 8 plays on a drive that ended with an Andrew Luck to Coby Fleener touchdown pass. Then the defense forced a punt, and the Colts drove 54 yards to get the game-tying field goal as time expired (though an interception was dropped in the end zone). The game went to overtime, and the Colts were helped by a great kick return by Quan Bray that helped set up another Vinatieri field goal to give them a 26-23 lead, their first of the game. The Panthers then mounted a nice drive to tie things up with a field goal after the Colts' defense stiffened and prevented them from getting anything else. On the next drive, however, Luck's pass was broken up, batted up in the air, and intercepted. The Colts' defense prevented the Panthers from getting a first down, but Carolina picked up just enough yardage to make it a 52-yard field goal try that was the game-winner.
Here's why this game was a perfect summation of the Colts' season: the defense wasn't great, but they were good enough. The special teams were great. But Andrew Luck and the offense struggled mightily, so the whole team looked bad. Then, Luck caught fire, and the whole team suddenly looked good and nearly pulled off a stunning upset. There are a lot of issues with this team. Understand that correctly: there are a lot of issues. But the one key one is Andrew Luck, and as long as he's playing poorly like he was for much of this game, the Colts will struggle. When he gets it going, though, that all changes. Part of it might be the offensive scheme (I think there's something there, for sure), but it all comes down to Luck. For part of the fourth quarter tonight, Luck was able to mask over those flaws instead of contribute to them. That's the one big difference.
The Colts fall to 3-5 on the season, the same record as the Houston Texans atop the AFC South. The Colts hold the tiebreaker thanks to their head-to-head victory, however, so they still are in first place. Technically. Next up, though? The unbeaten Denver Broncos at home next weekend.