INDIANAPOLIS – Each NFL game is like another finals week for Andrew Luck.
Every play is scrutinized, every statistic comes with a comparison, and every week the critics expect him to do even more.
By almost any measure, the rookie quarterback is already earning passing marks.
He's impressed coaches with his memory and ability to adjust, gotten good reviews from the so-called experts because of his steady play and won over local fans after earning his first NFL win — in three fewer games than it took Peyton Manning in 1998. And he's a big hit in the locker room, too.
"The kid's got a lot of poise, a lot of fight. He's not easily rattled," defensive end Cory Redding said Wednesday. "For him to go through what happened (Sunday) and come in there and throw three lasers down the field like he did, he's just starting to show people what's to come."
The Colts (1-1) brought in Luck as their new leading man, the anchor of a rebuilding project that was supposed to lead to future success.
Turns out, Indianapolis (No. 25 in the AP Pro32) may not have to wait as long as some thought.
Those inside the team complex have witnessed a steady progression from mini-camp to training camp through the preseason and now into the regular season thanks to Luck's propensity to rebound from bad plays or poor games.
In his NFL debut at Chicago, Luck was under heavy pressure from the Bears' vaunted defense. He wound going 23 of 45 for 309 yards with one TD, three interceptions and lost a fumble in a 41-21 defeat.
On Sunday, Luck turned everything around.
Playing behind an offensive line missing two starters when the game began and three when the second half started, Luck managed to routinely escape one of the league's most creative sacks artists, Jared Allen, and bought enough time to make plays down field.
This time, Luck went 20 of 31 for 224 yards with two touchdowns and no turnovers, and when the defense blew a 20-6 lead in the final five minutes, Luck drove the Colts 45 yards in 23 seconds to set up Adam Vinatieri's 53-yard field goal for a 23-20 win.
Luck's next test comes this weekend against Jacksonville (0-2).
"It's a confidence-booster," cornerback Jerraud Powers said when asked about the final drive. "To go out with 30 seconds left and give us a chance to win with a field goal shows you that no matter what happens, we've got a chance to win. It's definitely a confidence-booster, not just for Andrew, but for this team."
Luck has never been one to get caught up in hoopla.
Despite being one of the nation's top high school recruits, he managed to stay grounded long enough to be Stratford High School's valedictorian in 2008.
At Stanford, where Luck was continually compared with Super Bowl-winning alums Jim Plunkett and John Elway, Luck played well enough to finish as the Heisman Trophy runner-up twice and still become an academic All-American.
Now that he's in Indy and doesn't have to worry about any more classwork, the No. 1 draft pick is putting those study skills to use in another way.
"There were no revelations, moments of stuff like 'I figured it out.' I don't think I have by any means," Luck said when asked about Sunday's win. "I think it's a work in progress. Hopefully, one day I'll get there. Until then, I'll keep working."
Coaches and teammates like the attitude, even as they acknowledge Luck is well ahead of the traditional rookie learning curve. Many, in fact, can't recall being around another rookie quite this polished.
"Nope," said Redding, who played nine seasons in Detroit, Seattle and Baltimore before coming to Indy. "A lot of people have speed or have the arm, but all the intangibles this kid possesses, the way he leads is nothing short of what you'd expect from a veteran."
Inside the locker room, Luck is humble and down-to-earth. He cracks jokes and laughs at himself.
On the field, teammates say he's focused and in total command of the offense and huddle even as he continues to learn about life in the NFL — reading defenses, calling the right protections or getting a better feel for the speed of the game.
First-year coach Chuck Pagano wouldn't dare quibble with Luck's own self-assessments, though there is one area he thinks Luck needs to improve.
"Get out of bounds, slide, throw it away. All those things are being taught on a daily basis," Pagano said. "You love a guy that can extend plays, but much like Ben (Roethlisberger) in Pittsburgh you see when you do it too much and you try to extend too long, those hits add up."
Otherwise, Luck seems to be getting straight A's from those who know him best.
"Andrew is his own man," Powers said. "Those two (Luck and Manning) are so similar in so many ways, the comparisons are going to be made. But Andrew is his own guy. He's starting his own legacy, his own era."
Notes: Indy released WR Jabin Sambrano from the injured reserve list Wednesday. ... OLB Dwight Freeney (ankle), LG Joe Reitz (knee) and C Samson Satele (knee) did not practice Wednesday. ... Redding was limited in practice with a triceps injury. ... WR Austin Collie and OT Winston Justice both were full participants in Wednesday's workout as they try to return from concussions.
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