FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- This was the year 2012, an era with mammoth video screens viewable probably from other planets and moons, so as New England's Alfonzo Dennard raged down the right sideline, he did what most any 23-year-old NFL cornerback would do: peeked at his own 87-yard interception return in progress.
Don't sneer. It helped him check for pursuers.
This was 2012, the rookie season of Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck, so as Alfonzo Dennard raged down the right sideline, Luck did what most any 23-year-old NFL quarterback who doubles as a marvelous athlete would do: volunteered as the last, desperate pursuer.
Don't sneer, but he did sprawl somewhere near the 25-yard line.
So mark down that. Mark down that first play of the fourth quarter Sunday in Foxborough, one that took a game tilting toward 38-24 with the Colts threatening and changed it to 45-17 with the Colts no longer a threat. Mark down the whole 59-24 Patriot symphony and Colt fiasco, and go ahead and call it the thudding rookie nadir that had not really visited Andrew Luck in the first nine games.
Go from here.
First, go with the thought that in his post-game remarks at a lectern, Luck called to mind Tiger Woods. You know how Woods would always greet missed putts of gargantuan length with mighty grimaces that indicated he somehow deemed the putt something he ought to convert? Luck sort of resembled that. He did not descend to prickliness or rudeness as he said he was "disappointed in myself" and grumpily guessed this was his most gaping loss since "Pop Warner," but he did betray a low-grade annoyance. Promisingly, he does not accept the explainable rookie pratfalls as inevitable.
Second, go with the idea put forth by Colts tackle Winston Justice on Luck: "He's really good at improving." Said Luck of the game film, "I don't think we'll brush it under the rug." No, he might lie on the rug devouring it. Said the great receiver Reggie Wayne, "I mean, why would you (forget)? You got taken behind the woodshed."
And finally, this: Even at 59-24, even with Luck's own four turnovers, even with two of his three interceptions returned for touchdowns, this thudding rookie nadir just wasn't all that horrible in the annals of thudding rookie nadirs. Sorry.
"It was a lot better day than the first time Peyton Manning came up here," interim coach Bruce Arians said. "I was there that day."
A check of the log shows that in the second game of Manning's rookie season in 1998, the Colts with Arians as their quarterback coach took a 29-6 beating from a New England team with Pete Carroll as its head coach, and Manning completed 21 of 33 passes for 188 yards, one touchdown, three interceptions and a 51.1 rating. In this 59-24 beating, Luck completed 27 of 50 passes for 334 yards, two touchdowns, three interceptions and 63.3.
That hodgepodge of stats, of course, found a superior on the premises in the other No. 12, with Tom Brady's interception-free 24-for-35 and 127.2 rating, with Patriot people running everywhere in maddening zigzags as ever, with one Julian Edelman producing a 68-yard punt return and a 49-yard punt return and a 47-yard reverse and seven catches, with head coach Bill Belichick running up the score, with Rob Gronkowski breaking his arm blocking on the eighth extra point, of all cruel lunacies. Somehow, though, with the depraved human mind always ravenous for new and fresh things, Brady's usual turn as a pristine vivisectionist -- we've seen that! -- seemed less fascinating than Luck's beaten-up turn on the path to the small group of elite quarterbacks.
His 14-yard touchdown pass to T.Y. Hilton in the back of the end zone and his 43-yard touchdown pass to Hilton on the sideline deserved gasps. His athletic scrambles from trouble toward less-harmful incompletions drew their share of wows. His fearlessness did make a showing as his boldness would persist through his blunders. "Andrew Luck?" Dennard said. "Great quarterback. I think he's going to be a very good quarterback."
Of course, 57 yards into a march of precision, Dennard also jumped a route while Luck also violated a basic. "Fundamentals," Arians said. "You don't through an out (pattern) late." It was "something he knew he couldn't do but did it anyway." So Luck beat Arians to the critique by the time he reached the sideline. "He'll tell you," Arians said. "We don't hide" from the discourse. By game's end and another interception on a tipped ball, Arians pulled Luck's head to his shoulder in reassurance.
In this nadir, one of the most prepared rookie quarterbacks ever had flailed onto the 25-yard line while Dennard had spied himself zooming to the end zone. Then Luck had gotten up, and seeing where he and his talent and his nature go from there is going to be compelling.