FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The locker room was basically empty other than a few players dressing and equipment guys double-checking to make sure nothing was left. Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck sat alone at his locker, slowly putting his clothes on, expressionless as if he was replaying the game, or more like his errant throws, in his head.
Luck will eventually take the throne from Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, but the time's not now. It will come, you can count on it. Luck’s too good and too much of a perfectionist not to let it happen.
Through all the incredible comebacks he orchestrated, through all the times he shook off a blitzing linebacker to complete a throw downfield or tucked the ball and made something out of a broken play, Luck will likely spend the offseason thinking about the throws he didn’t make Saturday night and what it'll take to beat Bill Belichick and his New England Patriots.
Luck’s struggles against the Patriots continued when his four interceptions overshadowed the 331 yards he threw for in the Colts' season-ending 43-22 loss.
“As painful as it is, the experience is what it’s about,” Colts owner Jim Irsay said as he made his way out of Gillette Stadium. “The experience is invaluable. It hurts and it’s a hard time, but these types of moments is how you get better.”
Luck will have to figure out the defensive mind games Belichick likes to play with quarterbacks the same way Manning did with the Patriots coach.
Luck has turned the ball over eight times, including seven interceptions, in two meetings against New England. The Colts lost those games by a total of 56 points.
“Mistakes from the first quarter to the last series,” Luck said. “It was indicative of how the game kind of went for us, for me. It starts on my shoulders on those picks. It stinks.”
Luck managed to shake off the constant pass rush and tight coverage on receiver T.Y. Hilton to have the Colts within seven points of the Patriots in the fourth quarter.
That set the stage for one of those feel-good moments -- you know, the kind where the young stud goes on the road and beats the future Hall of Famer in his own backyard, propelling the Colts to the AFC Championship Game.
That’s what you thought, at least.
After the real star Saturday -- New England running back LeGarrette Blount -- broke free for a 73-yard touchdown, Luck once again locked in his target and was intercepted by linebacker Jamie Collins, ending any chance of the Colts winning.
"Obviously this is not a good feeling right now," Luck said. "It’ll take a while to go away."
Luck’s interceptions weren’t just a one-game situation in the playoffs.
His heroic performance in leading the Colts back from 28 points down in the second half against the Kansas City Chiefs will always be talked about. What may be forgotten is that Luck threw three interceptions in that game, giving him seven in the playoffs.
That’s unacceptable when you consider he only had nine interceptions in the regular season.
“He had been doing a great job of managing the offense and taking care of the football,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “So in those two games, certainly you can’t turn the ball over. He knows it, we know it and I know it. I thought he did a great job the entire season. Obviously you can’t do that when the stakes are this high and when it’s one and done. We’ll work to get that corrected.”
Luck can’t be knocked for not getting the Colts past the Patriots. The fact that he led the Colts to this stage can be looked at as successful. There aren’t many quarterbacks in the NFL that could shake off the loss of their go-to receiver, a sporadic running game and an offensive line that didn't always show up and still lead their team to a division title and playoff victory.
The 24-year-old Luck did.
And just imagine how much better he’ll be when general manager Ryan Grigson puts better talent around him.
“He’s on the right track, the fast track,” Colts linebacker Robert Mathis said. “Gotta let him do his thing. This is his team. He’s our engine, just gotta let him go.”
Luck’s the engine who will spend the offseason breaking down film and being his worst critic to make sure he’ll be back even more powerful next season.