Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck Combine To Make the Best NFL Story of the Year

Dan LevyNational Lead WriterDecember 3, 2012

FOXBORO, MA - NOVEMBER 18:  Andrew Luck #12 of the Indianapolis Colts gestures in the first half against against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on November 18, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Is there any truth to the rumor that Andrew Luck is actually a long-lost Manning brother? Watch any press conference with Luck and you get a sense the rookie quarterback is not only a great young physical talent, he's downright Manning-esque in the way he approaches the game.

Following the 35-33 last-second, come-from-behind victory over Detroit on Sunday, the new face of the Indianapolis Colts sure as heck looked and sounded like their old face: happy for a win but disappointed at the opportunities that were left out on the field.

Said Luck to reporters after the game:

We played some bad ball, specifically I played some bad ball, but I'm thankful for a defense keeping us in there. And I'm thankful for a team that just keeps playing.

I feel there is somewhat of an onus on you when you throw, whatever, two or three picks and miss open guys. I'm thankful just to have a chance to go back out there to try and win the game. I credit the defense and special teams for that.

Down 33-21 on the road, Luck led the Colts on an eight-play, 85-yard drive in less than 90 seconds before getting the ball back with just over one minute to play and three quarters of the field away from a win. Luck took 11 snaps in the final 1:07, spiking the ball twice. The other nine plays accounted for 75 yards and a touchdown, on fourth down, with the clock long since expired. His turnovers may have put the Colts in that mess, but Luck sure got them out of it.

There's no other word for the comeback, really—it was Manning-esque. Luck exudes a cerebral approach to the game that truly feels like he's been doing this for a lot longer than just 12 games.

Shoot, they both even come from families full of NFL history. The Colts didn't change the face of their franchise so much as they drafted one that looks really, really similar to what they had. And a heckuva lot younger.

With Manning patrolling the sidelines last season in Indianapolis, unable to play while recovering from multiple neck surgeries that many thought would end his career altogether, the Colts were one of the worst teams in football, finishing 2011 with just two wins in 16 games.

With four weeks to play in 2012, the Colts have won four times as many games as last season, five of which have come with Luck leading his team on a game-winning drive. Indianapolis fans should find that extremely familiar, as Manning was responsible for nearly 50 game-winning drives in his career with the Colts.

There is no denying the fact that Manning and Luck will, and should, be linked together forever. Just like Manning and Ryan Leaf were linked when they both came into the league in 1998, Luck and Robert Griffin III will be linked after coming into the NFL this season with the top two picks (let's hope RGIII is better than Leaf ever was).

Of course, it's easy to link two quarterbacks like Luck and Griffin, who came into the league at the same time, more so perhaps than a guy who is a first-ballot Hall of Famer and a rookie who has played 12 games in his career.

Truth be told, the connection between Luck and Manning may make more sense.

Remember, the Colts were always going to draft Luck, no matter how amazing RGIII was during his senior season. Moreover, Luck was always going to be the guy to replace Manning, no matter what the legend's health status may have been at the time of the draft.

For a while, there was some suspicion that Manning would stay in Indy and help mentor Luck, which would have meant at least one season of Luck sitting on the bench. With Manning's health still uncertain at the time a decision needed to be made, he and the Colts agreed to part ways amicably, ostensibly handing the reins over to the first overall pick in the draft. 

Manning found a new home in Denver, and all he has done with the Broncos is win the AFC West with a chance to fight for a first-round bye, while breaking John Elway's single-season touchdown record with four games still to go.

Manning has the inside track at being named NFL MVP this season, and that probably wouldn't have happened if the Colts weren't so sure about Luck. Had there been a hint of Luck not being NFL-ready out of Stanford, there is a case to be made that the Colts would have drafted him to sit behind Manning this year.

Heck, Tim Tebow may still be the quarterback in Denver right now, a thought that should run chills down any Broncos fan's spine. So many things were impacted by Luck's ability to play right away, most notably the success of Indianapolis…and Denver.

After the Broncos dispatched the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday to officially win the AFC West, Manning seemed relatively indifferent, a clear indication he eyes more success in the near future.

Manning told reporters after the game:

Winning the division, that was certainly one of our goals, but we want to keep getting better throughout this season. There's not a whole lot of time to think about it with a game on Thursday, but it sure feels good to get the win.

Week after week, you could swap quotes with these two guys and not know who said what; they are so similar in the way they approach the game. The biggest similarity in the connection between Manning and Luck, of course, is that the decisions have worked out well for both sides.

Manning is rejuvenated in the Mile High City, and the Broncos are better with Manning than they ever could have expected to be in his first year there. Luck is a leading candidate—with RGIII and Doug Martin in Tampa—for NFL Rookie of the Year. Clearly the Colts are better with Luck than they could have anticipated at this point in his career.

Luck is on pace to throw for more than 4,700 yards as a rookie, averaging just under 300 yards per game so far this season. He has 17 touchdown passes with another five rushing scores, and the only thing he has really done wrong at all year is turn the ball over.

Luck is tied for the most interceptions in the league right now, with 16 through 12 games. His completion percentage is also rather pedestrian, at a mere 55.5 percent. Clearly, Luck needs to get more accurate and stop throwing the ball to the other team as his career progresses. 

Manning had to do that after his first season, too. Manning had a 56.7 completion percentage in his first year (he now boasts a 65.1 percentage over his career). Manning not only threw too many interceptions his first season with the Colts, he actually threw more (28) interceptions than touchdowns (26) as a rookie.

Obviously, it's hard to ignore that the connection between Manning and Luck makes a good story, but what makes it the best story of the year? Let me pull out an "if the season ended today" line to answer that.

If the season ended today, the Broncos would be the fourth seed in the AFC and would host the top wild-card seed, which as it stands right now is the…Indianapolis Colts.

It's too good to be true, really.

The only thing that would make this potential first-round playoff matchup between Manning's Broncos and Luck's Colts better is if the game were being played in Indianapolis. With that being impossible, let's just revel in the fact that not only are we currently in line for Steelers at Ravens on Wild Card Weekend, but we could get Colts at Manning's Broncos too. The NFL gods are smiling down upon us with just four weeks to go. 

Of course, the Cincinnati Bengals will have something to say about all this, and the Broncos could still work themselves ahead of Baltimore or even New England for a first-round bye. Still, if things ended right now—or if they stand over the next month full of games—we may be in store for one of the most memorable moments in two careers that will cross at very different junctures.

The story has been win-win so far. At some point soon, one of them will have to lose, and it just may come at the hands of the other.