Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning: Comparing the First NFL Starts of Colts QBs

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Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning: Comparing the First NFL Starts of Colts QBs
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The team was overmatched, the turnovers came in bunches and the final score was a lopsided defeat for the Indianapolis Colts

What could be said about Andrew Luck's first NFL regular-season start was also said about Peyton Manning's 14 years earlier. 

Luck's Colts were bombarded by a much-better Chicago Bears team Sunday to the tune of 41-24. The No. 1 overall pick in 2012 threw three picks and just one score while the Colts played catchup for most of the contest. 

Manning, who was released by the Colts this spring, had similar struggles in his first ever NFL start. 

Facing a Dan Marino-led Dolphins team in September of '98, Manning was intercepted three times before throwing a garbage time touchdown to Marvin Harrison. The Colts lost, 24-15. 

Here's the final stat lines for the two quarterbacks:

Luck: 23-of-45 (51.1 percent), 309 yards, one touchdown, three interceptions, 6.87 average, 52.9 passer rating. Colts lose by 17.

Manning: 21-of-37 (56.8 percent), 302 yards, one touchdown, three interceptions, 8.16 average, 58.6 passer rating. Colts lose by nine.

Of course, a similar stat line means absolutely zip without the right context. Numbers are just numbers—nothing more, nothing less. But despite what most would call below-average numbers, the context of Luck's play means much more in comparison to Manning. 

Mike DiNovo-US PRESSWIRE
Better days are ahead for Luck.

To be fair, Luck was under pressure for most of Sunday while operating behind one of the NFL's worst offensive lines. The Bears clearly rattled him with pressure early on.

But to his credit, Luck stayed tall in the pocket and used his surprising athleticism to move in-and-out of the pocket. He manufactured space to deliver throws into tight windows. At no point did the steady pressure appear too much for the young Luck to handle. 

He'll certainly want some throws back after re-watching the film, including two under-thrown passes that Tim Jennings intercepted along the far sidelines. But Manning made his fair share of mistakes during his rookie season, including several underthrows. In fact, Manning set the rookie interception record with 28 back in 1998. 

Might Luck challenge that record on a Colts team that will also be behind in a majority of games this season? That's another topic for another day, but the possibility exists.

Luck has at least one supporter in his corner. 

Veteran receiver Reggie Wayne, who caught nine passes for 135 yards Sunday, knows that he's not going to be 2004 Peyton Manning before he gets through 1998 Peyton Manning. 

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"All I'll say is he is going to be good," Wayne told Michael Pointer of the Indianapolis Star. "Give him time. Rome wasn't built in a day."

For as polished as Luck is coming out of college, this is still a bad football team in the beginning stages of a rebuilding project. The same went for Manning back in 1998. There are going to be bumps and bruises in the first season, and Luck's stat line may reflect that. 

Back in '98, the Colts won just three games as Manning threw 26 touchdowns against 28 interceptions for a passer rating of just 71.2. A year later, however, Indianapolis was a 13-game winner. Six years after '99, the Colts were on top of the football world as Super Bowl champions. 

It was a process for the '98 version of Manning to become a Super Bowl winner. The NFL debut was only one step. The same goes for Luck. 

Colts fans can only hope that a similar stat line in Luck's NFL debut foreshadows the start of another Hall of Fame-caliber quarterbacking career in Indianapolis. 

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