FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — In two short seasons, Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck has lived up to almost every expectation imaginable for the first pick of the 2012 draft.
As a rookie, Luck led the Colts to the playoffs in 2012, taking a team that went 2-14 the previous season to 11-5.
Last week, Luck engineered the second-greatest comeback in NFL playoff history, guiding the Colts to an improbable 45-44 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.
Saturday night, Luck gets to face the master. The Colts face quarterback Tom Brady and the New England Patriots for a spot in the AFC Championship Game.
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Brady has won more postseason games — 17 — than any starting quarterback in NFL history. He has played in five Super Bowls, winning three. At 36, Brady enjoyed another brilliant season, throwing for 4,343 yards and 25 touchdowns despite having to break in mostly an entire new receiving corps.
But if Luck were to lead the Colts to a victory, might this day signal a passing of the torch among the elite quarterbacks in the game?
Brady, who will be making a record 25th postseason start Saturday, breaking the mark he shares with Brett Favre, has faced Luck once, when the Patriots whipped Indianapolis 59-24 in 2012, Luck’s rookie season.
“He’s really come into the NFL and done everything you could ask of a young quarterback,” Brady said. “He obviously has all the ability. There’s no lead that’s too safe against the Colts, as was evidenced last week against K.C. … His team really thrives on his leadership.”
Luck’s 443 passing yards against the Chiefs marked the fifth-highest total in an NFL postseason game and was 80 yards more than Brady’s high of 363 in a playoff game.
Luck is 14-2 in games decided by seven points or less, and the majority of those games have needed fourth-quarter comebacks. The comeback against the Chiefs was the 11th fourth-quarter or overtime game-winning drive by Luck, the most in the NFL during the past two years (Brady has staged 30 such comebacks in his career, fifth all-time and second among active players to Peyton Manning’s 40).
Brady’s 148-43 record and .775 winning percentage since becoming the Patriots’ starter in his second season in 2001 is the best of any quarterback in the Super Bowl era, topping Roger Staubach (85-20, .746) and Joe Montana (117-47, .713).
• Colts receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey (hamstring) will not play against New England.
• Center Nick Hardwick was cleared to work out five days after suffering a concussion and was a limited participant as the San Diego Chargers practiced for their playoff game at Denver. Running back Ryan Mathews (ankle) didn’t practice all week and also was listed as questionable.
• Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith said his left knee feels “fine” and hopes to be ready to play Sunday against San Francisco. Smith, running back Jonathan Stewart (knee) and defensive tackle Colin Cole (calf) are questionable.
• Houston Texans tackle Duane Brown was added to the Pro Bowl roster as a replacement for Philadelphia Eagles tackle Jason Peters.