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New England Patriots

By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

If last Sunday is any indication, Andrew Luck is back to playing like the quarterback he was in 2014. Before he missed nine games in 2015 due to shoulder and abdominal injuries, regressed and dealt with further injuries that led to surgery in 2016, and missed all of 2017 due to a perfect storm of all his physical issues … Luck finally looks more like the slinger who led the NFL with 40 touchdown passes four seasons ago.

Now healthy and coming off a 464-yard, four-touchdown performance against the Texans in Week 4, Luck should present the biggest test yet for the Patriots defense and one of the biggest of the 2018 season.

We’ll see how the rest of the Colts play, but there’s no reason to believe that Luck won’t make more plays than Ryan Tannehill did last Sunday for the Dolphins. As great as the Patriots defense played, Tannehill was way off when he had real opportunities and poor under pressure. It was one of the worst games of his career and certainly his worst against the Patriots.

Tannehill doesn’t have Luck’s poise in the pocket. Matthew Stafford lacks his football smarts. Deshaun Watson lacks the experience. Blake Bortles lacks the skill.

Luck is simply a much better passer than Tannehill, and better right now than any other QB the Patriots have faced so far.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 30, 2018: Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts celebrates a touchdown during the game against the Houston Texans. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – SEPTEMBER 30, 2018: Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts celebrates a touchdown during the game against the Houston Texans. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

He showed against the Texans that he should be much better under pressure too. The Texans pressured him on 19 of his 62 drop-backs, and Luck went 10-of-17 with a touchdown on those plays. He consistently delivered passes in the pocket with players collapsing around him. When he needed to, he shifted around well enough to escape pressure and throw the ball cleanly.

It wasn’t exactly easy. Jadeveon Clowney was a terror, totaling two sacks, four hits, four hurries, and a fumble recovery for a touchdown on a botched snap. J.J. Watt had two sacks, three hits, and a forced fumble. Luck had defenders in his face even more often than the numbers suggested. His fourth-down throw in overtime (albeit a highly questionable play-call) was off the mark. Colts backup left tackle Le’Raven Clark got abused and should be vulnerable again if Anthony Castonzo can’t play Thursday.

But despite all that, Luck looked as dangerous as he’s ever looked. He spread the ball around, completing passes to eight different receivers against the Texans. The distribution of his targets on the left, middle, and right areas of the field (13, 14, 13) were almost perfectly even.

It’d be hard enough for the Patriots to throw this guy off his game when he has a clean pocket. The Texans had trouble even when rushing him. The Pats certainly see Luck for the threat that he is once again after his long recovery.

“See him slinging that thing everywhere,” Patriots safety Devin McCourty told reporters on Tuesday. “I think for football, it was good to see him back out there. I think as players, anytime you see a guy hurt and go through a long recovery, seeing him back out there. But, as a defensive player, you see it as stress it puts on you.

“He’s always a tough guy, very competitive, is able to make a lot of plays and you can’t really count him out. He’s had numerous times where he’s gone in the fourth quarter either behind or a close game and won it for them. So, we have to be prepared to go 60 minutes against him.”

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 30: Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts runs with the ball during the game against the Houston Texans. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – SEPTEMBER 30: Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts runs with the ball during the game against the Houston Texans. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Head coach Bill Belichick is obviously taking Luck very seriously. He seems most impressed with Luck’s ability to quickly grasp the Colts’ new system under head coach Frank Reich.

“I think probably any coach would be comfortable putting the ball in Luck’s hands,” said Belichick. “He’s a very good quarterback and he has excellent skill players to work with. We’ve seen Luck control many games before. It’s different because it’s a different system and I’m sure that Coach Reich has given Luck a lot of flexibility in the offense in terms of things at the line of scrimmage and post-snap decisions, pre-snap decisions, all of those kinds of things. So it’s different, but I’d say he’s had a lot of responsibility like that in the past and he handles it very well. He’s a very sharp guy that has good football instincts and makes a lot of good decisions, so I can see why they put it in his hands.”

The Patriots have a history of success against defenses like the Colts, who have Rod Marinelli understudy Matt Eberflus calling the plays on that side of the ball. It’s also worth wondering whether Reich and the Colts’ young weapons are ready to perform in Foxborough on a Thursday night against a Patriots team that looks locked in after a Week 3 wakeup call.

But it wouldn’t be safe to bet on Luck being as inept as his teammates. He should make Thursday’s game closer than expected, even if he has to pull most of the weight for Indy. The Pats have yet to face some very good quarterbacks, and Luck is near the top of the list.

Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at matthew.dolloff@bbgi.com.