How to Protect Andrew Luck

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Shawne Merriman, Senior Correspondent - The Players' Tribune

For one quarter on Monday night, Andrew Luck was dropping dimes. For one quarter, he was leading touchdown drives. For one quarter, he looked like he could single-handedly win a game for his team.

For one quarter, he looked like Andrew Luck.

For the other three quarters and overtime, he looked like a guy who was playing hurt. He wasn’t stepping into his passes. He didn’t have that usual zing on the ball. Something just looked … off.

Jay Glazer of FOX Sports reported over the weekend that Luck has been playing with multiple fractured ribs since Week 3. He didn’t play in Weeks 4 and 5, but that was because of a shoulder injury, not because of the ribs. He’s apparently still battling those ribs, and who knows if his shoulder is even 100 percent.

I’ll tell you who knows: Andrew Luck.

Nov 2, 2015; Charlotte, NC, USA; Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) runs the ball during the first half of the game against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Andrew Luck would never take himself out of the game. He’s not that type of player and he’s not that type of guy. NFL players just aren’t built that way. Even if he’s hurting the team — which, with an 0-3 record since he’s come back and five interceptions and no first-half touchdowns in the last two games, it looks like he is — he’s going to be that leader and be out there for his guys. It’s going to take someone else to step in and take him off the field.

Maybe someone should.

Back in 2007, I was coming off back-to-back Pro Bowls and I was more than halfway into a third straight when I tore the PCL and LCL in my knee. Since the ACL and MCL were still in tact, I was still able to play, I just wasn’t 100 percent. The PCL and LCL were in the back corner of my knee, so we just taped it up and slapped a brace on it and I went out there and played.

These ligaments weren’t loose or strained. They were completely gone — completely torn. But I could still play, so I played. My knee was sliding all over the place, but I played. There was no way I was taking myself out. That just wasn’t a part of my mentality.

You don’t want to be that guy who quits or can’t play through pain, so you’ll battle through anything.

I played the last six games of the season like that.

People knew I was hurt, but nobody really knew the severity of it — just like we don’t know how badly Luck is hurt. I wasn’t completely myself, but when it was time to go make a play, I could go do it. The same way that in the second half in the last two games, Luck has led his team back from big deficits.

But in both situations, he couldn’t play the whole game like he’s capable of playing, and he couldn’t finish off the comeback. And even though inside that locker room he’s probably getting pats on the back for toughing it out and getting encouragement from his teammates, at the end of the day, he’s getting judged on his play, and if he’s not playing well — especially when playoff time comes — he’s not going to get a pass just because he’s playing hurt. It’s about winning and whether or not you can get the job done.

In that 2007 season, I did so much damage to my knee that after that season, I was never really the same again. I wish I’d had somebody there to tell me not to play. I wish I’d had somebody there to make that decision for me. But I didn’t. I was given the option, and when given the option, I was going to play, every time. It’s the mentality that just about every NFL player has. Since you’ve been a kid, you’ve been taught that football is a game of toughness, and very few people are tough enough to play it. You don’t want to be that guy who quits or can’t play through pain, so you’ll battle through anything. It doesn’t matter how bad you feel. You don’t want to let the other guys down.

Nov 2, 2015; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers strong safety Roman Harper (41) and middle linebacker Luke Kuechly (59) celebrate after Kuechly intercepts the ball in overtime as Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) is in the foreground. The Panthers defeated the Colts in overtime 29-26 at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

I had an option, and I played. Andrew Luck has an option, too. And like me — like most anyone in the league would — he’s opting to play. He’s not going to let his guys down. His ribs and shoulder could be killing him, but the fact that he’s able to play at a decent enough level — even if it’s not enough for his team to win games — means he’s going to go play.

The Colts are 3-5, but they’re actually not in bad shape. They’re leading that division, and even if Luck sat for a couple of games and let Matt Hasselbeck take the reins, they would still be in a position to compete for the division and a playoff spot. If they earn a playoff spot but Luck is still banged up and not playing like we all know he can play, they’re not going to go anywhere in the playoffs. The Colts fired offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton Tuesday, but if you don’t have a quarterback who’s healthy enough to execute the gameplan, it doesn’t matter who’s calling the plays. The teams that make deep playoff runs are the ones who are playing the best at the end of the season, and that usually means the teams that get healthy at the right time. If Luck takes some time off now to get his body right, they could still make the playoffs in that division. And when they’d get there, they’d have a healthy top-five quarterback playing at a high level to help them make a run in the playoffs.

But Andrew Luck won’t be the one to stand up and take himself out of the game. That’s not how NFL players are wired. Coaches and GMs around the league have to start realizing that, because even if it’s someone of Andrew Luck’s caliber, sometimes having him on the field isn’t what’s best for the player or the team. And if it’s left up to the player, there’s really no choice to be made. He’s playing.

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