INDIANAPOLIS — When the quarterbacks last met on the field, Andrew Luck’s destiny was determined. He had established himself as the best quarterback draft prospect in more than a decade and would be headed to Indianapolis as the No. 1 pick to replace Peyton Manning.
His counterpart in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 2, Brandon Weeden, had a less certain future. Sure, he had throwing talent, but he was already 28 years old and had more question marks than Luck.
In their next meeting nearly 10 months later, Luck is where everyone expected and one of the top stories in the NFL. Weeden’s less-traveled road delivered him to Cleveland with the No. 22 pick. It’s been a good fit.
“It looks like he’s getting better every week,” Colts interim coach Bruce Arians said of Weeden. “As he understands and sees the different nuances of different defenses, I think he’s going to be an outstanding player. I liked him coming out and thought he was one of the top three guys, and he looks like he’s becoming one.”
Weeden had made steady improvement following a
four-interception Week 1 debacle, but couldn’t notch a victory. That changed last week with a 34-24 triumph over Cincinnati in which he showed good judgment during a seven-series stretch without a first down, then the composure necessary to break out of the lull.
“He put a string of good throws together after we hadn’t had much luck,” offensive coordinator Brad Childress said.
Weeden has completed 55.8 percent (29th in the NFL) for 1,519 yards (10th), seven touchdowns, 10 interceptions (most in the NFL) and a 68.1 rating (32nd). He’s found his touch on the deep ball and the numbers continue to climb.
“He’s good in the pocket,” Colts defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said. “He settles in there and delivers the ball. It seems like he has a lot of poise back there as well.”
Luck also earns praise for poise, but his first five games revealed the most indisputable of NFL truths. Rookie quarterbacks play like rookie quarterbacks sometimes.
Luck became the first rookie in NFL history to pass for 1,200 and win twice in his first four games. But last week against the Jets, he missed open receivers early and threw two interceptions and no touchdowns as the Colts (2-3) were blown out by the Jets 35-9.
“We should’ve had a big lead in that ballgame,” Arians said. “Andrew hurried up his throws instead of just relaxing and let it happen. He was playing too fast. It wasn’t a matter of what they did.”
The Colts remain delighted with Luck, and he’s shown plenty of glimpses of his vast potential. He has three 300-yard games, and his 1,488 yards are second in history for a rookie through five games behind Cam Newton.
“I think he is uncommon,” Browns defensive coordinator Dick Jauron said of Luck. “He was the very first pick in the draft for lots of good reasons. Some of them are clear, just size and strength and arm strength and mobility and awareness in the pocket. I’m sure there are lots of intangibles involved with the young man, too, to get him where he is right now.”
Luck has completed 53.4 percent (32nd in the NFL) with seven touchdowns, seven interceptions and a 72.0 rating (30th). He leads AFC quarterbacks with 103 rushing yards and was the first rookie to lead a winning drive in the final minute in September since Archie Manning in 1971. Archie is Peyton’s dad.
“Right now, they’re asking him to do a lot,” Browns linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “He’s throwing the ball a ton. He can make every throw on the field. That’s a start with any rookie quarterback.
“For me, you’ve got to win games and prove it to me. He’s a good talent, but I’m not crowning anybody until I see it for myself. He was the first overall pick. He was good enough to be that talent, but once you get into the grown-man’s league, you got to play grown-man football.”
The rookie quarterbacks will be the story today. It’s the first time any of the four first-rounders – Washington’s Robert Griffin III was the No. 2 pick and Miami’s Ryan Tannehill No. 8 – have matched up in the NFL. It’s only the fourth time the Browns will start a rookie against another rookie.
Luck and Weeden have shown the ability and desire to wing it, and the pass defenses of Indianapolis and Cleveland have been accommodating. The Browns (1-5) have allowed 15 touchdowns and an 88.7 rating, while the Colts have given up 10 TDs and a 104.0 rating.
Luck and Weeden staged a shootout in their last meeting and could be poised for a sequel. Weeden led Oklahoma State to a 41-38 overtime win over Luck and Stanford in January. Weeden threw for 399 yards and three touchdowns; Luck had 347 and two.
“It was probably the most pressure-packed game I had ever played in until I got here,” Weeden said. “What it did for the state of Oklahoma, what it did for us and kind of the legacy we left behind, it’s something people at Oklahoma State are going to talk about for a long time. I hope it’s the same outcome (today).”
Luck’s terrific college career would’ve had a different ending if not for a short missed field goal at the end of regulation. Browns rookie cornerback Johnson Bademosi has bad memories of the loss, but great recollections of sharing a locker room with Luck.
“He’s just a special guy and he comes into every situation well-prepared,” Bademosi said. “He carries himself a certain way. Being in that position, being a quarterback, it’s not just a job for him, it’s kind of a lifestyle. He maintains it better than anybody I’ve ever seen.”
Luck’s personality has been a huge asset as he stepped straight into the still-warm clown shoes left by Manning. Not anyone could handle the pressure or the expectations or the comparisons.
“I’m very happy in this situation,” Luck said. “I love it here. I don’t think I’ve bought into the pressure. Maybe it’s naivety or turning a blind eye, but I don’t really think of myself as being in that position. I think of myself as being a rookie quarterback on a team trying to get some wins, trying to get better at football.”
Weeden faces many of the same issues, without the Manning backdrop. The Browns haven’t had a stable situation at quarterback since Bernie Kosar got cut in 1993.
“He’s still trying to figure out this league, just like I am,” Weeden said of Luck. “There’s a lot of similarities there, but he’s got some pretty big shoes he’s having to fill. I think he’s worried more about that than having to face me. I’m just a peon compared to what he’s having to deal with.”
The peon has done all right for himself, and the Browns are glad to have him.
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