INDIANAPOLIS — A week from now, Andrew Luck will be back on the football field.
The Colts quarterback was named to the AFC's Pro Bowl roster last week as a replacement for injured Chargers signal caller Philip Rivers. This will mark Luck's fourth appearance in the NFL's annual all-star game, and it likely means just a little more this time around.
Just as the entire 2018 season did.
After three years of fighting through a right shoulder injury — and one entire season on the sideline — the 29-year-old enjoyed good health and strong play throughout the season.
He completed a career-high 67.3 percent of his passes and finished with 4,593 yards, 39 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. The yardage and touchdown totals were the second-best numbers of his career, following only the 2014 season in which he threw for 4,761 yards and 40 scores.
Luck's most proud of the team's success. He helped Indianapolis win nine of its final 10 regular-season games to qualify for the postseason and then knock off Houston 21-7 in the AFC Wild Card Playoffs.
The season ended last week with a 31-13 loss at Kansas City in the divisional round, but Luck's efforts earned him recognition as the Comeback Player of the Year from the Pro Football Writers of America.
“I think I threw the ball better, simply,” Luck said of his improvement as a quarterback in his first season under head coach Frank Reich. “I just think I threw the ball better. I think I learned to manage situations better. I think in the odd sort of self-preservation of a quarterback that maybe that mentality — I think I did that better. I didn’t miss any practices during the season. I didn’t miss any games. I needed to prove that to myself that I could be durable.
“Part of playing this position is availability — that ability. (Former head coach) Chuck (Pagano) used to talk about that all the time — the abilities — and availability is a big deal. With the help of many, many folks and certainly this is not an individual sport, this is certainly a team sport and the greatest team sport in the world. But I’m glad that I was available for this team every game.”
In many ways, it seems like a fresh start. For the quarterback and the franchise.
The Colts played in the postseason for the first since 2014, and a young core of talent has expectations high for years to come.
Linebacker Darius Leonard was named the PFWA's Defensive Rookie of the Year, and left guard Quenton Nelson was named to the PFWA's All-NFL team. The pair also became the first rookie teammates since 1965 to be named first-team all-pro by The Associated Press.
General manager Chris Ballard now has a projected nine draft picks and roughly $122 million in salary cap space to continue building the roster.
With a healthy Luck, the most important piece already is in place.
“I have a great deal of respect for where he has been and where he is now, and we have not, I said this, we have not seen the best of this kid yet,” Ballard said. “Unequivocally, we are fortunate to have him as our starting quarterback. This city is and this team is fortunate to have him, and I don’t think we have seen the best of him.”
The same could be said for the franchise.
The loss at Kansas City will sting for awhile, but Indianapolis likely will enter next season as a dark horse pick to represent the AFC in Super Bowl LIV.
The key will be carrying over the momentum with which this season finished.
That was attributed in large part to Reich's “1-0” mantra, a philosophy that called for a mental reset each week and continual improvement every day.
“You keep working hard,” Luck said. “We keep staying focused on the things that got us to this point — getting better, the process of improving. Improving as individual players, improving as a unit and improving as a team. I don’t think that will change.”