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CHUCKSTRONG, LUCKSTRONG
Peter King
December 03, 2012
BUOYED BY A PRECOCIOUS ROOKIE QUARTERBACK AND INSPIRED BY THEIR COACH'S COURAGEOUS BATTLE, THE COLTS HAVE TURNED THEMSELVES INTO CONTENDERS IN THE UNLIKELIEST STORY OF THE NFL SEASON
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December 03, 2012

Chuckstrong, Luckstrong

BUOYED BY A PRECOCIOUS ROOKIE QUARTERBACK AND INSPIRED BY THEIR COACH'S COURAGEOUS BATTLE, THE COLTS HAVE TURNED THEMSELVES INTO CONTENDERS IN THE UNLIKELIEST STORY OF THE NFL SEASON

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But they noticed one tweak. When the Dolphins blitzed the A gap, they also occasionally blitzed a corner, leaving the wideout on the right (usually Reggie Wayne's spot for the Colts) uncovered momentarily. "If that happens," Arians told Luck, "just know this: That corner has seven steps to get to you. You've got maybe three steps to release. And they'll probably send one of those linebackers over to cover Reggie."

Back to the play: Miami put linebackers Kevin Burnett and Karlos Dansby in the A gaps, and as Luck moved Ballard into protection, Burnett and Dansby backed off. But at the snap, safety Jimmy Wilson blitzed from Luck's right side, and Dansby sprinted over to latch onto Wayne, the hot read, just as Arians had warned. Luck never had time to seriously consider any receiver to his left, and he figured that if he threw quickly to Wayne, Dansby would be there in time. So he lasered a throw to Allen, uncovered for a second up the right seam, just off the line. Gain of 20. Total veteran stuff, and it led to the game-winning field goal.

The Patriots debacle showed the other side, that Luck's got plenty to learn. "But he's a great forgetter," says Christensen. "He won't be cocky the day after he played a great game, like against Miami, and he won't be down in the dumps after a game like New England. That Monday I said to him, 'You're a rookie on the road, playing Belichick, and you drove us 80 yards for touchdowns in your first two drives. That's big time. We'll work on the other stuff.' And he knows."

Luck has a six-year-old flip phone, the same one he had at Stanford. He's not on Twitter and doesn't immerse himself 24/7 in social media. "I'm no Luddite," he says, "but staying unconnected ... it's a way for me to get away from things. There's a lot in this business you don't need to know."

Luck's a voracious reader but avoids heavy stuff during the season because once he starts a good book he can't stop. On his night table now: A Short History of Nearly Everything, by humorist Bill Bryson. "I can pick it up for 15 minutes, get something fun out of it, then put it down and go to sleep," he says.

He didn't want to have dinner with a visiting SI writer, didn't want to have his photo taken. As at Stanford, it's clear Luck doesn't want to draw attention to himself in a sport in which the quarterback is already so magnified to the public eye.

Back at Lucas Oil Field on Sunday, Pagano sat in Grigson's box for the win over Buffalo, and when the crowd gave him an ovation, he stood, waved and tapped his heart. Emotional moment.

But Pagano's coaching moment—a day doesn't go by without one or two of those, you've seen—came earlier that morning. He texted rookie receiver-returner T.Y. Hilton with instructions about his returns: "Remember, stretch and cut." Meaning, when you field the punt, run sideways at first to stretch out the coverage, then cut upfield fast to take advantage of the holes this creates.

In a scoreless game five minutes old, Hilton remembered that advice. Taking a punt at the Indy 25, he moved to his right for several strides, then cut upfield, deked one tackler and was off for a 75-yard touchdown.

"That text really helped me score," Hilton said afterward. "He's a great coach. I love him.''

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