The stage was set; the players knew their lines.
In the opening act, Andrew Luck, golden boy, former No. 1 pick and the sport’s best prospect since pretty much ever bested the impostor Bengals in the Wild Card round. Next, he downed his vaunted predecessor in convincing fashion.
The house was packed for the third act: the upset of Tom Brady and the Big, Bad Patriots.
Luck’s Colts were the underdogs, and deservedly so. But we’d seen this before. Time and time again, the undisputed kings of the AFC East had been dethroned. Why shouldn’t the bubble pop short of the ultimate goal, just like it had the last nine seasons — those under the weight of lesser storylines?
But it didn’t, not this time. The Patriots are on to Seattle by way of Glendale, Arizona, and Luck has his travel agent scouting Pro Bowl room rates three years out because until he beats Tom Brady, that’s as far as he’ll go.
Luck entered the league with more fanfare than anyone since Peyton Manning. Son of a NCAA exec and former NFL quarterback, Luck was a top recruit out of Stratford High School in Texas. In three years at Stanford, his combination of freakish size, agility, intellect and poise led to his being ordained the Next Big Thing in pro football.
He certainly was A Big Thing as a rookie in 2012, throwing for 23 touchdowns, 18 interceptions and 4,374 yards and leading his team to a playoff berth. He matched that touchdown total the following year but halved his interceptions en route to a second consecutive playoff appearance. He truly broke out in 2014, tossing 40 touchdowns against 16 picks and racking up 4,761 yards.
Any lingering speculation over whether the Colts made the right choice in releasing Peyton Manning in favor of Luck ended this season, as the former’s arm came up spent just as the latter appeared to be reaching his prime.
But as Luck has surpassed Manning, so too has Brady — and then some. Brady has put together his best back-to-back playoff performances in a decade. His powers, if not at their height, aren’t too far off.
Both teams won their respective divisions this season, so they’ll face each other in the fall. Rex or no Rex, the Patriots will repeat as AFC East champs. The Jaguars and Titans aren’t ready, and the Texans are still a quarterback away from viability. This is a matchup we’ll see again and again, so long as Brady remains a Patriot.
Andrew Luck will one day win an MVP, maybe a couple. So too will he hoist the Lombardi trophy. But to do so in the foreseeable future, he’ll have to go through Tom Brady. Will he some day? Maybe. Probably. Who knows. But he’s not gonna do it anytime soon.