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Colts/NFL

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Associated Press
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck improved his completion percentage and cut his interceptions in half this season, his second in the NFL.

Offseason work paid off for Luck

– Andrew Luck learned some tough lessons as an NFL rookie.

Now he’s using that knowledge to his advantage.

Rather than spend the offseason finishing classes, Luck broke down last season’s tapes and figured out what to improve. The Colts’ quarterback used those hours of study to become more efficient on the field and develop a more seasoned perspective about playoff football.

“Having that experience is always helpful,” Luck said when asked what’s different between this week’s postseason preparation and last year’s. “I feel more comfortable this year as a football player in this league because of that experience.”

There’s no doubt the 24-year-old wonder kid has grown up in two NFL seasons.

After hearing many experts tab him as the most polished college quarterback since Peyton Manning and the best Stanford prospect since John Elway, he stepped into the most challenging circumstance imaginable – replacing Manning.

Luck has made it look easy.

Even with the constant comparisons to Manning, Luck managed to break NFL rookie records for yards passing (4,374), attempts (627), 300-yard games (six) and tied the league’s single-season mark with seven game-deciding drives in the fourth quarter or overtime. He engineered a nine-win improvement, from 2-14 to 11-5, tied for the third-greatest turnaround in league history.

Most importantly, he took the Colts to the playoffs – something even Manning didn’t do until his second season.

This year, with a new but familiar offensive coordinator in Pep Hamilton, Luck improved.

Despite throwing almost 60 fewer passes (570), Luck still had 3,822 yards and matched last season’s TD total (23). He completed 60.2 percent of his throws, compared with 54.1 percent in 2012, cut the interceptions in half (nine) and increased his quarterback rating from 76.5 to 87.0. He matched Indianapolis’ 11-win total against a tougher schedule and won his first division title, setting up Saturday’s playoff game against Kansas City (11-5).

A lot has changed in a year.

Indianapolis (11-5) has emphasized the rushing attack and shorter passes more this season than last. Teammates believe Luck has changed, too.

“I think he is just getting even more comfortable with his role. The thing that is fun is he doesn’t make those ‘rookie’ or first or second-year mistakes,” said kicker Adam Vinatieri, who has played with Drew Bledsoe, Tom Brady and Manning. “He knows if it’s not there, throw it away and let’s do this. I guess what I’m saying is he manages the game very well and gives us an opportunity to win.”

The Chiefs found out just how good Luck has become in Week 16.

In that game, Luck was 26 of 37 for 241 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions while directing an attack that kept the Chiefs’ offense on the sideline for nearly 39 minutes.

“He’s got that unique combination of size and speed and athletic ability,” Kansas City coach Andy Reid said of Luck. “He can throw the football on top of that. You’ve got to handle that a certain way.”

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