INDIANAPOLIS – Andrew Luck and Brandon Weeden are focusing on this week's game.
Everyone else can debate the sideshow that will be one of Sunday's marquee matchups — the first head-to-head contest between two of this year's high-profile rookie quarterbacks.
"I think (the goal is) get back to winning. That's the great thing about sports, competition, you get a game the next week," Luck said. "Whether it's a win or a loss the week before, you get to go back out there and you have to prove yourself again."
Both still have plenty to show in this league, though the Colts and Browns clearly expect these friends to mirror the winning image they had in college. They are making progress.
When Luck, the No. 1 pick in April, rallied the Colts (2-3) for a stunning win over Green Bay two weeks ago, he became the first NFL rookie to throw for more than 1,200 yards and win twice in his first four games.
Yet he's been a completely different guy at Lucas Oil Stadium than on the road. At home, where he'll face the Browns (1-5), Luck is a solid 73 of 132 for 899 yards with six touchdowns, two interceptions and has led the Colts to last-minute, go-ahead drives in each of Indy's first three home games. Outside the retractable roof dome, he's 45 of 89 for 589 yards with one TD, five interceptions and two lost fumbles in a pair of blowout losses.
No, it's not an unusual disparity for a 23-year-old quarterback about to play in his sixth NFL game. It's just that Luck and the Colts expect more.
"You have to demand that they play great and play like a veteran," Indy interim coach and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said. "Ours is capable and once you've done it, you've set the standard, don't go back down. When you do go back down, you have to figure out what was the reason why. ... We've set a pretty high standard already so we're not going to use youth, especially at that position, as an excuse."
The early returns on Weeden have been mixed, too.
While he's completed a higher percentage of passes than Luck, 129 of 231, and thrown for more yards (1,519), he's matched Luck's touchdown total (seven) in one fewer game and thrown more interceptions (10).
But until last week, he was the only rookie quarterback of the five rookie starters without a win. The streak finally ended with a 34-24 victory over bitter rival Cincinnati, giving the Browns an infusion of momentum before heading to Indy.
"He's had pockets of good play and then he's made some mistakes. I'm probably going to be more critical about our guy than the Colts quarterback," Browns coach Pat Shurmur said. "I feel like he's grinding through this rookie year. He's making improvements in every game and every practice, and I anticipate that he will continually improve."
This is not the first time Luck and Weeden have met on the field.
Weeden outplayed Luck in the first matchup, Jan. 2 at the Fiesta Bowl, throwing for 399 yards and three scores in Oklahoma State's 41-38 win over Stanford. Luck threw for 347 yards and two TDs.
The next battle led into April's draft.
Luck was the big winner, going No. 1 to the Colts, while the Browns selected the then 28-year-old Weeden at No. 22.
Throughout the evaluation process, though, the two soon-to-be rookies crossed paths many times and developed a mutual respect that led to their friendship. Luck acknowledged the two still chat on occasion, just not recently — and certainly not now until after the game.
"I know Andrew pretty well. Great guy," Weeden said. "He's obviously the first pick. I think he has a chance to be a special guy and quarterback in this league. Even more importantly, he's a better guy."
Teammates and coaches continue to believe Sunday's result will have more to do with the supporting casts than the actual stars.
Arians said the Browns are further along in building their team than the Colts, who embarked on a massive rebuilding project after opting to take Luck with the top draft pick.
Cleveland, Arians points out, has two Pro Bowlers on the offensive line, more experience in the receiving corps and another first-round draft pick in running back Trent Richardson, if he can play through a rib injury.
The Colts counter with one of the league's top receivers, Reggie Wayne, speedy Donnie Avery and a group of confident youngsters — tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener and receiver T.Y. Hilton. Defensively, the Colts may have Pro Bowlers Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis back for the first time since the season-opener.
But while coaches and teammates do the dirty work, the rest of the football world will put the spotlight on Luck vs. Weeden.
"It was not so fun watching him live at the Fiesta Bowl and operate," Luck said. "It would be great if it was a shootout offensively, but a win would be nice."
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