The torch New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady holds burns brighter than the lights that illuminate him at Gillette Stadium.
Brady is a three-time Super Bowl champion. He has two Super Bowl MVP awards on his résumé. He has been selected to nine Pro Bowls. He has a 17-7 record in the postseason. This season marks New England's 11th postseason appearance since Brady became its starter in 2001.
All those accomplishments have made him arguably the most successful player of his era, but Brady will eventually have to pass the torch to another NFL quarterback.
Maybe that quarterback is Indianapolis' Andrew Luck, especially if Luck outperforms Brady in a AFC divisional playoff game on Saturday.
“I can’t imagine if you polled all 32 teams and said, ‘Okay, you have to start your franchise today with a quarterback. Who would that be?’ I’m hard-pressed to imagine that even one of those 32 teams would choose somebody other than Andrew Luck," CBS Sports analyst Dan Dierdorf said. “That’s taking into consideration Tom Brady’s age and Peyton Manning’s age, but I don’t think there’s any question that Andrew Luck is the guy. He is the man in terms of where the quarterback position is headed for the next decade or so.”
Cam Newton (Carolina), Russell Wilson (Seattle) and Colin Kaepernick (San Francisco) are young quarterbacks poised to dominate the league for many years. Kaepernick already has played in one Super Bowl, while the other quarterbacks are still alive in the playoffs.
However, Luck is the player most NFL observers believe will reign like Brady.
“He (Brady) has definitely set the standard for success at the quarterback position,” Luck said. “The way he handles himself, watching from afar, the competitive nature and basically all the right things he does. Yeah, I guess he is a barometer and he is the standard.”
There is a good reason why some believe Luck could equal Brady’s success.
Luck joined a 2-14 team and has led Indianapolis to consecutive playoff appearances. The Colts finished 11-5 in each of the last two seasons. Luck’s ability to carry his team, similar to Brady, has shown the 24-year-old's potential greatness.
Indianapolis lost running back Ahmad Bradshaw, tight end Dwayne Allen, receiver Reggie Wayne, linebacker Pat Angerer to season-ending injuries in 2013. In addition, Indianapolis defensive end Bjoern Werner and safety LaRon Landry missed games due to injuries this season.
New England sustained several key injuries too, and both quarterbacks found a way to carry their teams to Saturday’s game.
“I think it is a challenge in different phases, but it is a great opportunity for everybody to come in, and guys have made the most of their opportunity, whether it’s wideouts or linemen or whoever it may be,” Luck said. “I understand that it’s sort of the climate of the NFL and injuries are a terrible thing, but they do happen. We’ve been very fortunate, I think, to have great guys step up into those roles, whether it’s been for the whole season, for a game, for a quarter, or whatever it may be."
Luck’s performance against the Kansas City Chiefs during last week's wild-card win has become a part of his growing legacy.
Indianapolis trailed by 28 points in the third quarter before Luck, who threw three interceptions in the game, led his team to a historic 45-44 victory. Luck threw four touchdown passes, and also scored on a fumble recovery.
According to STATS, it was only the second time in playoff history a team rallied from a deficit of 28 or more points to win (Buffalo overcame a 32-point deficit against Houston to win 41-38 in overtime in 1993).
“He’s a unique talent,” CBS Sports analyst Phil Simms said. “I’m still shocked, even last week’s game. I watched all their (Colts) games ... he’s the strongest quarterback in the NFL. Somebody said he could be one of the top 10, 15, tight ends in the NFL if he played tight end, and I would not disagree. He’s structurally big enough and tough enough to do it. He’s fast enough, and I know, just his mindset and everything, he’s tough enough to play that position if he had to.
“Finally, maybe Indianapolis has got it. Quit trying to be, ‘Oh, we’re going to run the ball. We’re a power running team.’ No, you’re not. You’re an Andrew Luck football team. Put it in his hands and let him go.”
Luck's hands might be warm enough to hold Brady’s torch.
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