Packers must beware of late Luck magic

Eric Goska
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Many of us have stumbled onto a late show when channel surfing in the wee hours. Occasionally what we discover is worth watching.

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) drops back to pass in the second half of their game against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, October 30, 2016 at Lucas Oil Stadium.

There’s a possibility of a late show Sunday at Lambeau Field. If it materializes, it will commence about two-and-a-half hours after the Packers and Colts kick off, and it could make for an entertaining finish.

There is no closer at the quarterback position in football. The sport is not yet that specialized.

Discounting an injury or a lopsided score, the starter usually goes the distance. Even with victory certain, those who took the first snap tend to hang around to take the final kneel-down.

The Colts have a late-show specialist in Andrew Luck. The 27-year-old, five-year veteran has experience beyond 30.

That’s 30 as in number of pass attempts.

ESPN.com breaks down — or splits — passers’ statistics in myriad ways. The site tracks how quarterbacks perform by quarter, by down, by opponent, by month, by day of the week and by location, to name just a few.

One measure charts how they stack up based on how far along they are in a day’s work. Attempts are grouped into four categories: 1-10, 11-20, 21-30 and 31 and beyond.

Call that last group the late show. Players usually don’t attempt a 31st pass until late in the third quarter or early in the fourth.

Luck has attempted more than 30 passes every game this season. His high was 47 in a season-opening, 39-35 loss to the Lions and his low was 32 in a 26-23 overtime loss to the Texans in Week 6.

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In the Lions game he arrived at throw No. 31 with 40 seconds left in the third quarter, the earliest he’s gotten there this season. His longest delay came in Houston, where he waited until overtime before launching his 31st pass.

Operating in the 30s and even the 40s is not out of the ordinary. Every starter eventually wades into the deeper end of the pool.

What Luck has done is set himself apart based on year-on-year improvement. His rise in this regard is unmatched.

Last season was a challenge for Luck. He missed nine games with a lacerated kidney and a partial tear of an abdominal muscle.

His passer rating for the season dropped to a career-low 74.5. His late-show rating tumbled as well, falling to 72.5.

That last number placed him 21st out of 25 quarterbacks who had at least 50 late throws. Only Brock Osweiler (65.0), Derek Carr (64.6) and rookies Jameis Winston (60.1) and Marcus Mariota (59.1) trailed him.

This season, Luck has forged a career-best 122.7. He has completed 46 of 71 attempts for 576 yards and seven touchdowns.

He has not been intercepted on any pass attempt beyond his 30th.

Only Sam Bradford (132.2) is rated higher (minimum 20 attempts). Tom Brady (124.3) might slip ahead of Luck, but he’s still a couple of throws short of the minimum.

Going from 72.5 to 122.7 is a jump of 50.2 points. Carr of Oakland is next with a leap of 45.6.

Luck’s familiarity with late-game passing is not confined to this season. He dove in headfirst as a rookie in 2012.

In his first start, a 41-21 loss to the Bears to open that season, Luck threw 45 passes. His rating was 46.4 for his first 30 passes. It was 66.0 for the final 15.

A month later, he made start No. 4 in Green Bay. There he launched 55 passes, including the game-winner to Reggie Wayne with 35 seconds remaining.

That was his second fourth-quarter comeback. The number now stands at 13, according to pro-football-reference.com.

In 2012, Luck threw more than 30 passes 12 times. He set the NFL record for most pass attempts (627) by a rookie.

Luck has started 63 regular-season games. He has attempted more than 30 passes in 51 of them.

In 2014 he led the NFL in yards (1,319) and touchdowns (16) in the late going. His 40 TD passes overall were also a league high, and the Colts scored more than 400 points (458) for the only time in his career.

Since 2012, Luck has fired more TD passes (46) after his 30th attempt than any other passer. Drew Brees (42) is second.

Heading into the fourth quarter this season, the Colts and their opponents have been within a touchdown of each other in seven of eight games. Luck has engineered three victories with game-winning touchdown drives in the final 15 minutes.

A week ago, Green Bay lost to Matt Ryan and the Falcons on a heart-breaking drive in the closing minutes. That’s precisely the type of late-show programming the Packers hope to preempt as they close out the first half of their 2016 season against the Colts.

pro-football-reference.com, ESPN.com and nflgsis.com served as references for this article.

Regular-season series

Overall: Indianapolis leads 21-20-1

At Lambeau Field: Packers lead 6-3

Starting quarterbacks

Packers: Aaron Rodgers (84-42 overall; 1-1 vs. Indianapolis)

Colts: Andrew Luck (38-25; 1-0 vs. Green Bay)

The Late Show

Quarterbacks with the most improved late-game (attempts No. 31 and beyond) passer rating from a year ago (minimum 20 attempts both seasons).

Diff.     Player                    2016    2015

+50.2   Andrew Luck         122.7   72.5

+45.6   Derek Carr            110.2   64.6

+44.2   Marcus Mariota     103.3   59.1

+40.7   Sam Bradford        132.2   91.5

+35.6   Matt Ryan              115.9   80.3

+28.1   Brock Osweiler     93.1     65.0

+25.7   Brian Hoyer          102.9   77.2

+24.6   Aaron Rodgers      102.7   78.1

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