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INDIANAPOLIS – Colts owner Jim Irsay keeps trying to give Andrew Luck a stronger supporting cast.
He brought in coach Chuck Pagano to revamp the defense. He asked general manager Ryan Grigson to find bruising runners and bigger blockers. He wanted better special teams units to help alleviate the burden on his newest franchise quarterback.
And although the balanced approach is paying big dividends this season, it turns out Indianapolis' fate still rests primarily on Luck's big, broad shoulders.
"This team is going as far as Andrew goes," receiver T.Y. Hilton said this week.
Luck isn't doing everything on his own.
The offense has pulled off an impressive trifecta by leading the league in points scored, possession time and total yards while ranking in the top 15 in yards rushing.
Indy's defense is ranked No. 9 against the run and is in the top 10 in sacks. Adam Vinatieri remains one of the league's most consistent kickers, and punter-kickoff specialist Pat McAfee isn't giving away field position.
Yet with so many things going well, Luck's decisions frequently remain the difference between wins and losses.
— At Denver, Luck tried to rush a fourth-down play at the goal line without having the right lineup on the field. He was stopped short of the end zone and the Colts lost 31-24.
— Against Philadelphia, Luck forced a third-down pass to Hilton in the red zone that was picked off. Instead of sealing the win with a makeable field goal, the Eagles scored the tying touchdown and eventually won 30-27.
— At Pittsburgh, Luck threw an early pick-6 and gave away more points when he was called for intentional grounding in the end zone for a safety. The Steelers converted the ensuing possession into another TD and won 51-34.
Even in the wins, Luck has survived a series of what he describes as "bonehead" plays, such as the dangerous, backhanded flip in Monday night's 40-24 victory over the Giants.
"My thoughts were, 'I sure am glad they don't let coaches go on the field where you could strangle somebody,'" quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen said with a laugh when asked about the throwaway. "My thoughts were to kill him."
Part of it is Luck's nature. He refuses to give up on plays and doesn't mind taking chances, or hits. Plus, he makes his share of plays, especially late in games.
So as Christensen and others inside the organization try to help Luck do things differently, they have learned to grit their teeth and live with the growing pains of a rising star.
"He is clearly and unquestionably the heir apparent to Peyton (Manning) and (Tom) Brady," former NFL executive and current ESPN analyst Bill Polian said.
"Although I cringe at the number of hits that he takes, you shouldn't hinder what he can do. He can do basically everything, and he'll only get better if he gets more experience."
Luck's steady progression proves it.
His completion percentage has steadily improved in each of his three NFL seasons, and this has been his best year yet.
Though Luck has already matched his interception total from 2013 (nine), he heads into this week's bye with a career-best 26 touchdowns. He's still on pace to break Manning's single-season record for yards passing and finish in the top five all time in completions.
He's broken Manning's franchise record for consecutive 300-yard games (seven), set an NFL record with five straight road games of 350 or more yards and could still become the first Colts' quarterback to throw 50 or more touchdowns in a season.
Luck also followed his first two-game losing streak with a career- best five straight wins to help get the Colts (6-3) back atop the AFC South and in position for a third straight playoff appearance.
The Colts are hoping this trend continues. They lost in the wild-card round in 2012 and won in the wild-card round last year before getting eliminated in the division round at New England.
But Luck knows he's been far from perfect.
"There were some plays that I messed up. I missed some throws," he said, acknowledging he wasn't as sharp as he should have been after throwing for 354 yards and four touchdowns Monday.
To Polian, the progression has a familiar look.
"Different style of offense, but right about on schedule with Peyton, on schedule with Brady," he said. "No other young quarterback compares."
And with the defense and the special teams playing better this season, Luck has been more aggressive about challenging defenses and sometimes taking matters into his own hands.
Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.
But the Colts like it just the way it is.
"We don't want to let anyone score," defensive end Cory Redding said. "When we have a team down, we want to keep them down because we know that when (No. 12) is out there, he can take care of anything."
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