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Colts' Luck wants to make most of 1st playoff game

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Colts' Luck wants to make most of 1st playoff game

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Andrew Luck spent his rookie season dealing with the harsh realities of the NFL.

The hand-picked successor to Peyton Manning took the hard knocks with a smile, dusted himself off and emerged as the tough, talented competitor Indianapolis coaches and scouts expected when they drafted him with the No. 1 overall pick.

``We know how tough he is from a mental perspective. He's going to study. He's going to prepare. We know that,'' coach Chuck Pagano said Wednesday. ``He's unflappable, nothing bothers him.''

Not the 41 sacks, not the late hits, not the dropped balls, not even the 18 interceptions. Luck has adjusted.

Despite completing less than 50 percent of his passes over the past three weeks, he has avoided throwing an interception in any of those games. He heads into his playoff debut with five wins in his last six games and a season-long streak of 105 consecutive passes without a pick - the kind of numbers Luck has been striving for all season.

``I guess it was a sore spot for the offense,'' Luck said. ``I know a lot of games, I felt like those interceptions, fumbles really killed any momentum we had or killed our chance to win. It's something you focus on as a quarterback, limiting turnovers. I wish maybe it could have come a little sooner but glad to stay away from the interceptions the last few weeks.''

If Luck had cut down the turnovers in October or November, perhaps the Colts (11-5) would have taken the AFC South title and had a first-round bye instead of a wild-card round date in Baltimore (10-6) on Sunday.

But Indy can't quibble with what has been one of the league's most remarkable rookie seasons.

Luck won more games than any quarterback taken No. 1 in football's modern draft era. He tied an NFL record by leading Indianapolis to seven fourth-quarter wins. He presided over a nine-game turnaround from 2011 on a team that many expected to be the league's worst, finished with the league's best record (9-1) in one-possession games and broke the franchise record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (five).

He also threw more passes (627) and for more yards (4,374) than any first-year quarterback in league history while breaking the single-game rookie record for yards passing (433) and falling 15 completions short of Sam Bradford's rookie mark for completions (354 to 339). Luck finished third all-time among rookies in TD passes (23), trailing only Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson (each with 26), and had a better quarterback rating (76.5) than Manning (71.2) or John Unitas (74.0) in their rookie seasons.

And Luck did all that with six receivers who had never lined up with the Colts until September, despite the pressure of replacing Manning and during a season in which his offensive coordinator spent 12 weeks as the interim head coach before returning last week.

Luck never allowed any of that stuff to sidetrack him.

``Ever since the first day I saw him, he's been a leader. He doesn't really get razzled or get nervous or anxious or stuff like that,'' right tackle Winston Justice said. ``Did he grow some? Maybe, but I didn't really see it. He's been a good player since the first day he got here.''

Still, Luck's completion percentage is just 54.1, largely because the Colts have taken so many chances down the field. He threw the third-most interceptions in the league (18) and lost five fumbles, too, mistakes Luck took personally.

But if quarterbacks are judged simply by wins and losses, Luck is already among the league's best.

Only four quarterbacks - Manning, Tom Brady, Matt Ryan and Matt Schaub - won more games than the two-time Heisman Trophy runner-up this season. Only two others, Wilson and Aaron Rodgers, matched Luck's win total. Luck has beaten three playoff teams (Minnesota, Green Bay and Houston) and like Joe Flacco, Mark Sanchez and T.J. Yates over the last several years, will try to prove Sunday that rookie quarterbacks can win on the road in the playoffs.

``My advice would be go about your business as you always would on a normal week. It's obviously gotten you to the point that you're in the playoffs and playing to get to another week,'' Flacco told a group of Indy reporters during a conference call Wednesday. ``If it got you that far, then you're obviously doing something right, so you should try to continue that. You shouldn't try anything crazy just because it's playoff time.''

Instead, Luck would rather show the football world he's grown up in his first NFL season and emerged as the steady leader of the league's biggest surprise team.

``He's playing right now like he's been in the league three or four years. This won't faze him one bit,'' Pagano said. ``He gets his blinders on, he gets locked in and he's as focused as anybody in preparation and at practice.''

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Lamar Jackson ‘honored’ at the chance to break Michael Vick’s single-season rushing record on Sunday

Lamar Jackson ‘honored’ at the chance to break Michael Vick’s single-season rushing record on Sunday

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Lamar Jackson didn’t grow up watching Michael Vick play football in Atlanta. He was too young. 

That didn't stop Jackson, born when Vick had just finished his sophomore year of high school, from studying Vick's highlight tapes as a kid.

Now, on Sunday in Buffalo, Jackson has the chance to put his name in the record books ahead of his favorite player with the most impressive season a quarterback has ever had on the ground. 

With just 63 yards rushing, Jackson would rank first all-time for rushing yards by a quarterback in a season. The record, as of Thursday, is held by Vick with 1,039 yards rushing. Vick set the record in 2006 with the Falcons.

“It would be an honor,” Jackson said. “Like I said, Michael Vick is my favorite player. For me to do such a thing, it’s incredible. He had that record for a long time, and it will be pretty cool. But I’m focused on the win, regardless.”

Jackson has led the NFL’s most dynamic offense through the first 12 games with a mix of rushing and passing that’s kept defenses on their heels. He ranks ninth in the NFL with 977 yards, which is more than five teams have as a whole.

Currently, Jackson has rushed for 1,672 yards in 28 games in his NFL career, good for 44th all-time. 

Over a 16-game season, he’s on pace for 1,302 yards on the ground, which would shatter Vick’s old record and put Jackson in another stratosphere compared to some of the best mobile quarterbacks the league has ever seen. 

Should he finish with 1,302 yards this year, he’ll be at 1,997 yards through his first two NFL seasons. That would put him 32nd all-time and about 500 yards away from cracking the top 20. 

So as Jackson adds to his place in history in the long term, there’s a significant record to break in the short-term, too.

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Ravens defense faces another challenge in dual-threat QB Josh Allen

Ravens defense faces another challenge in dual-threat QB Josh Allen

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — When Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson take the field on Sunday, they’ll set an NFL record before either one takes a snap from under center. 

The matchup pits the two second-year quarterbacks against one another in the NFL’s best matchup for rushing quarterbacks in history. 

The biggest difference, however, is how those yards have been reached. Jackson’s speed and acceleration is something the league hasn’t seen before, and while Allen can move, it’s not just his moves that make him difficult to bring around. 

“He’s a big kid, man, he’s like tackling a tight end scrambling,” Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale said. “It’s going to be a great challenge. So we’ll see what happens on Sunday. He makes a lot of plays on his feet, that’s been their success the last five, six weeks.”

At 6-foot-5, Allen has been a problem for opposing defenses to bring down all season. He’s rushed for 430 yards (third-best for quarterbacks) and eight touchdowns (tied for sixth in the NFL).

“It's not like he's a pipsqueak or anything like that,” Josh Bynes said. “He's a big, solid quarterback, and he runs like a running back. That makes it a little bit more challenging, because he's a quarterback, as well. So, we just have to make sure we wrap up and we bring our pads with us and bring our feet and just make sure we get him to the ground.”

Allen’s size has made him a tall-task for defenses, which plays out in a deeper dive of the numbers. 

According to Pro Football Reference, Allen ranks 22nd in the NFL in yards before contact at 2.2. Jackson ranks first at 4.8 yards.

But Allen averages 2.4 yards per rush after contact, 13th in the NFL and first for quarterbacks.

“When you watch him, he can run and move around,” Chuck Clark said. “He’s more elusive than what people would say or think. He can definitely get out the pocket, extend the play and run the ball himself. They’ve got a solid offense, they’re effective at what they do.”

Allen rushed for 631 yards last season in 12 games — the same amount as he’s played so far this year. He’s gotten better as a passer from a year ago, having improved his completion percentage, yards-per-attempt and touchdown-to-interception ratio. 

But while his big-time arm is something the Ravens are still focused on, it’s Allen’s legs — and size — that pose an extra dimension to his game that can be dangerous for the Ravens.

“You just have to be fundamentally sound and make sure you wrap him up, drive your feet if possible,” Michael Pierce said. “With the penalties, you have to be very careful. But he's a physical dude, big, 6-4 guy, so yes, you have to be fundamentally sound and bring your pads with you.” 

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