INDIANAPOLIS -- The future was on display at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday.
For three hours, two rookie gunslingers exchanged amazing throws in a back-and-forth shootout.
A pair of rookies in the midst of changing the fortunes of their franchises combined for 723 passing yards.
Nov. 4, 2012 marked the first of many great battles between these talented quarterbacks.
The first installment went to Luck, who threw for 433 yards and two touchdowns in Indianapolis' 23-20 victory over Miami. Tannehill threw for 290 yards and one touchdown, coming up just a few plays short.
But the outcome of the game wasn’t as significant as the big picture.
“I think they’re going to be two of the elite quarterbacks in the league for the next 10 years,” said Dolphins right tackle Jonathan Martin, who played with Luck at Stanford and is now teammates with Tannehill. “For us, we just have to protect a little better as an offense. But Luck was making a lot of plays out there.”
Forget about Luck versus Robert Griffin III. That pairing was more about hype than substance.
Luck and RG3 were taken Nos. 1 and 2 in April’s draft, but they play in different conferences. Indianapolis and Washington will meet only once every four years in the regular season. Tannehill, the No. 8 pick, and Luck will be standing in each other’s way much more often in the AFC -- very possibly in future postseasons.
The Colts (5-3) and Dolphins (4-4) appear to have bright futures, but the two teams also are competing for a playoff berth this season.
Luck versus Tannehill could be the closest thing we have to Tom Brady and Peyton Manning once those veteran stars retire. Brady, 35, and Manning, 36, are in the twilight of their careers after squaring off in many big games in the regular season and playoffs over the past dozen seasons.
“He’s just a gifted athlete. … Ryan [Tannehill is] the same way,” Colts interim coach Bruce Arians said of the two rookies. "They can move around, and they have a great feel in the pocket. … But I’m just glad [Luck is] our quarterback.”
It was difficult to fathom that both quarterbacks are playing in just their eighth NFL game. Luck and Tannehill played like veterans and made a lot of throws first-year quarterbacks usually can’t make.
The Dolphins had no answer for Luck. Miami's defense mixed man, zone and blitz coverages, but none of them bothered Luck, who did a good job of extending plays by running and still getting the ball downfield. Luck had completions of 48, 36, 22 and 21 yards in becoming the second rookie quarterback in NFL history to record four 300-yard games in a season. The first was Manning during his rookie year in Indianapolis.
Colts receivers T.Y. Hilton and Donnie Avery both had 100-yard games and combined for 11 catches. Veteran wideout Reggie Wayne also had seven receptions and a touchdown against Miami’s struggling secondary.
Many of Luck’s best plays came in clutch situations on third down. The Colts were 13-of-19 on third-down conversions.
"He didn’t play like a rookie today,” Dolphins defensive tackle Randy Starks said of Luck. "He was able to get out the pocket and make some good throws. Even when we had him in third-and-long, he was still able to make the play."
Tannehill, playing with a left knee and quad injury, tried to match Luck throw for throw. He produced pass plays of 35 and 31 yards but fell short in the fourth quarter.
The Colts brought defensive pressure with two sacks and six additional hits on Tannehill, who showed toughness in a losing effort. But after a fast start, Miami’s offense sputtered with just three points in the second half.
“He’s a tough kid,” Dolphins center Mike Pouncey said. “You can tell Ryan wants to be in that huddle with us. You can tell that he wants to be a starter and a leader on this football team. He’s just playing great for us.”
Both the Colts and Dolphins are playing solid football and very possibly will be in the playoff conversation late in the year in a watered-down AFC.
But looking beyond this season, Sunday also marked the beginning of the Tannehill-Luck rivalry. There will be plenty more meetings to come between them -- and fans will be the biggest beneficiaries.