The NFL playoffs often get to the heads of younger players. With the stakes elevated and the media scrutiny even more intense than usual, pressure can build up and cause some phenomenal players to perform in ways that are well beneath what they are capable of.
Third-year quarterback Andrew Luck ’12, however, made the wild card round of the postseason look like practice.
Perhaps playing with a chip on his shoulder after being all but eliminated from the NFL’s MVP race despite posting incredible numbers this season, Luck was almost inhuman as his Indianapolis Colts coasted to victory against the Cincinnati Bengals. Luck completed 31 of his 44 pass attempts for 376 yards even as Indianapolis largely ended its passing game after the third quarter, running out the clock against its outmatched opponents.
Even in areas in which Luck looked less than brilliant statistically, a closer look reveals the effort and poise that he put into his performance. Luck only managed to deliver one touchdown pass, for example, but it was an absolutely beautiful 37-yard lob that the former Stanford leader delivered while being tackled from behind.
Despite his pinpoint accuracy throughout the entire game, Luck was unable to find his former Stanford running mate Coby Fleener ’12 as much as he had during the regular season. The tight end finished with just one catch on two targets, an 18-yard grab that would have resulted in a touchdown if not for a penalty called away from the ball. Fleener also recorded a rare tackle in the game, stopping a fumble return after Cincinnati cornerback Darqueze Dennard stripped the ball from Indianapolis running back Dan Herron.
Luck and Fleener will face Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos this Sunday, with the winner advancing to the AFC Championship Game. Luck was preceded at the Colts by Manning and has often had his future compared to Manning’s distinguished career, so this matchup could very well become one for the ages.
On the other sideline, Ryan Hewitt ’14 put in an admirable effort to try and counter the Andrew Luck show. The rookie tight end and H-back, who largely played as a fullback at Stanford, caught three passes for 37 yards, the second-highest total for a Bengals receiver, as his team ultimately failed to advance yet again past the first round of the playoffs.
Hewitt racked up over 100 yards in a limited number of starts for the Bengals this season, and he may be an increasingly key contributor to the team going forward.
Josh Mauro ’14 capped off a promising rookie season with the Arizona Cardinals on Saturday as his team fell to the Carolina Panthers.
Mauro, who recorded 53 stops in a breakout senior season at Stanford last year, brought down Carolina’s Philly Brown in the second quarter to notch his fifth professional solo tackle. The defensive end was a late addition to the Cardinals’ roster after initially being signed to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ practice squad, but he played his way into a significant number of reps in the few games for which he was available and even turned in one performance that Arizona coach Bruce Arians said was worthy of a game ball.
On the other side of the ball, running back Stepfan Taylor ’13 struggled to find any space to move the ball in the face of a strong Carolina rush defense. Taylor received three early carries as he and Kerwynn Williams attempted to fill the void left by the injured Andre Ellington, but he was unable to find much space and finished with just three rushing yards and two receiving yards.
Contact Andrew Mather at amather ‘at’ stanford.edu.