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Tough loss caps emotional day for Luck’s long-awaited return

September 10, 2018
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Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) is chased by Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Jordan Willis (75) and defensive end Michael Johnson (90) during the second half of an NFL football game in Indianapolis, Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018. The Bengals defeated the Colts 34-23. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Andrew Luck waited impatiently in the Indianapolis Colts locker room Sunday.

As he contemplated his first regular-season start in more than 20 months, Luck reflected on his excruciatingly long journey back from shoulder surgery, the things he wanted to show in the opener and, of course, leading his team to victory.

Then realty hit. Indy’s first scoring chance ended when Luck’s first official pass was picked off.

He threw for 319 yards and two touchdowns, but his chance to rally the Colts to a victory ended when the Bengals returned a fumble 83 yards for a touchdown in the final minute.

“It hurts that we didn’t win, it hurts that we didn’t win at home,” Luck said following a 34-23 loss to the Bengals. “It crushes all of us. But what are we going to do? We’re going to get back to work.”

The next chapter comes on the road where the Colts visit Washington and Super Bowl champion Philadelphia over the next two weeks.

If Luck continues to perform as he did Sunday and continues to improve as he did throughout the preseason, the Colts know they will be in good hands.

By most measures, Luck quickly returned to his pre-injury form following the interception.

He threw only four more errant passes in the first half while finishing 39 of 53 with 319 yards and two touchdowns. He staked the Colts to a 23-10 lead midway through the third quarter and nearly rallied them in the final four minutes with a 50-yard drive.

The rave reviews came from all corners — players, coaches, even opponents who didn’t need to review the game tape before making an assessment.

“You’re back,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said he told Luck after the game.

New Colts coach Frank Reich was impressed with his first full-time look at his starting quarterback.

“I thought his accuracy was good, I thought he was poised, I mean it was fun seeing him four quarters,” Reich said. “I thought physically he looked good. He threw it well.”

And Luck followed the offensive script by hooking up with nine receivers during the game.

He also ran with urgency, managed to buy extra time, threw the ball away on occasion and continually bounced up after taking big hits including a helmet-to-helmet collision that led to the ejection of Bengals safety Shawn Williams in the first quarter.

Luck didn’t bother going to the sideline and explained he didn’t even consider the hit “much of a deal.”

Having him back on the field, though, was a huge deal for the Colts.

“Just having his leadership, the energy and the way he plays quarterback — it makes things easier for everyone else around him,” said Pro Bowl tight end Jack Doyle, whose fumble after he appeared to pick up a crucial first down at the Bengals 15-yard line in the final minute led to the clinching score.

But for Luck, this was not just another game.

He acknowledged the routine game-day drive to Lucas Oil Stadium helped put his mind at ease and that when he went through the billowing smoke for introductions, it felt as if he was playing youth football again.

He wasn’t thrown off by a question about whether a recently disclosed snowboarding accident during the 2016 offseason that may have extended his recovery period.

All he really wanted to do was finish his comeback with a win.

“Certain things felt normal,” he said. “And then some emotions crept up and sort of hit me before we went out to play. I’m so grateful and appreciative to be here.”

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