INDIANAPOLIS — Andrew Luck spent the first quarter and a half Sunday knocking off some rust.
Then he went back to work, regained his pre-2015 form and nearly led the Colts to their first opening day victory in three years.
Afterward, Luck wasn’t eager to discuss how the game went — only the frustrating result of another slow start leading to another maddening defeat.
“At the end of the day, it’s about a win or a loss,” following Sunday’s 39-35 loss to Detroit. “And it doesn’t quite matter how you end up there.”
But one day before celebrating his 27th birthday, the highest-paid player in league history showed he was worth every penny — even if Indy’s injury-depleted defense couldn’t hold onto the lead for the final 37 seconds.
Between the early struggles and the frenetic finish, Luck again looked as if he’s one of the best young quarterbacks in football.
Luck hadn’t played in a meaningful game since last November, so nobody was quite sure what to expect when he returned Sunday.
What they got was a glimpse of the quarterback who made the Pro Bowl in each of his first three seasons.
He found tight ends Dwayne Allen and Jack Doyle for three touchdowns. He connected with speedsters T.Y. Hilton and Phillip Dorsett for big-gainers. He slid down on runs and, most important, finished without a turnover — a stark contrast from last season’s mistake-prone and injury-shortened season.
By Luck’s own standards, it wasn’t good enough because it wasn’t a victory.
Everyone else who watched the game from the sideline, couldn’t quibble with what they saw from Luck, though.
“I thought the offensive line held up pretty damn good, especially in the second half,” coach Chuck Pagano said. “I think our quarterback, obviously, was exceptional and played one whale of a football game.
Even if he was a little rusty early.
On Luck’s first eight passes, he completed five for just 23 yards as the Colts fell into a 14-0 hole and later a 21-3 deficit.
That’s when Luck really let things fly.
With 1:37 left in the first half and no timeouts left, Luck took the Colts 75 yards and closed out the half with a 3-yard TD pass to Donte Moncrief that sent the Colts into the locker room with a much needed dose of momentum.
Luck didn’t stop there. After the defense forced a three-and-out, Luck completed passes of 51, 12 and 19 yards on Indy’s first series of the third quarter, the third a TD pass to Allen. A 2-point pass to Allen made it 21-18.
“He (Luck) played out of his mind today,” Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford said after going 31 of 39 for 340 yards with three touchdowns.
After the Lions scored another touchdown, Luck answered by leading the Colts to a field goal and two more TD passes to Doyle, the second with 37 seconds left to make it 35-34 rekindling images of his last-play TD pass to beat Detroit four years ago.
Only this time, Stafford got the ball last and made the plays that sent Luck home with a painful loss.
“If you’re playing Monday morning quarterback, you say why don’t you run the clock out and then score,” Luck said. “But in football you can’t do that, you’ve got to score first.”