Andrew Luck vs. Peyton Manning: How Did Their First Colts Game Compare?

Nate DunlevyGuest ColumnistSeptember 10, 2012

That form looks familiar.
That form looks familiar.Dennis Wierzbicki-US PRESSWIRE

The game was already out of reach for the Indianapolis Colts when he tacked on a late touchdown.

The fan reaction was muted because the game was already lost, but everyone took note anyway. There had been plenty of interceptions and miscues that day, but no one wanted to forget the moment he threw his first touchdown. After all, they expected it to be the first of many.

I was there the day Peyton Manning hit Marvin Harrison in the right corner of the end zone in the final minute against the Miami Dolphins in the opening week of the 1998 season. Some 400 touchdowns later, he's still going strong.

Manning finished that first game 21-of-37 for 302 yards accentuating a one-touchdown, three-pick day. He was going up against a master in Dan Marino with a club that was simply outmatched. The Colts didn't have the talent to hang with the playoff-bound Dolphins. Manning kept the Colts close for a while, but a pick-six in the fourth quarter put the team down 15 points.

Manning's final throw of the day was both cosmetic and historic. It changed nothing, but it signified that everything had changed.

Andrew Luck's NFL debut was equally inauspicious. His Colts were game for the fight, but the Bears were superior in virtually every way. Luck flashed his elite skills but underthrew his man too often, leading to a gaggle of interceptions. The throws weren't ducks, but they weren't swans either.

Both men had similar protection problems in their first game. Manning was sacked four times behind an Indy line that would take half a season to gel. Luck went down three times and was hit and hurried several more.

Both players played with porous defenses as well, and Luck has a real chance to challenge Manning's record of 28 interceptions as a rookie, as he'll be forced to throw 40 times a game as the team plays catch-up. If it's any consolation to Luck, most of Manning's early picks were underthrows as well.

Their first games in the NFL are unnervingly similar. Luck threw eight more times for seven more yards. Manning hung 15 points on the board; Luck put up 14.

Luck will undoubtedly tire of comparisons to Manning, both contemporary and historic, but it's the reality of his life now. He doesn't have the luxury of making his own name and legacy. No amount of deflection will stop the obvious and necessary comparisons.

It's more than just Manning that he has to measure up to, however. All season, I'll be tracking the young quarterbacks in the AFC South, comparing them with other players of note. For Andrew Luck, I'll track Peyton Manning, both the 1998 and the 2012 version, as well as Robert Griffin III and the other rookie starters this season. I'll throw 2011 Cam Newton in there, just for fun.

Additionally, I'll keep tabs on the three other starters in the AFC South. Luck's future is tied to Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker and Matt Schaub more than people realize. He'll be playing nearly 40 percent of his games against them for the next several seasons.

Luck will be measured and graded on a curve his entire career. That line is set by his contemporaries and his predecessors. Getting graded on the curve is wonderful if the competition is weak.

Luck doesn't have that luxury.