CHICAGO (AP) — There are few times a rookie quarterback looks good in comparison to Peyton Manning.
So if Andrew Luck is still searching for consolation after the 41-21 beating the Chicago Bears handed him and his Indianapolis Colts, here it is: the Hall of Fame wasn't asking for souvenirs from Manning's NFL debut 14 years ago, either.
When he wasn't running for his life, Luck managed to carve out enough daylight to complete 23 of 45 passes for 309 yards and one touchdown. He also threw three interceptions and fumbled once — "killers," Luck called them afterward, adding, "Not too many fond memories of an opening loss."
Manning no doubt felt the same way after the Miami Dolphins clobbered him in their 1998 opener. He went a slightly better 21 of 37 for 302 yards, but likewise threw three interceptions to a single TD pass. Manning didn't have the added burden of following one of the best QBs ever — though much as Colts fans would like to forget, neither really did Luck.
When Manning went down before the start of last season, the quarterbacking job turned into a part-time position that three journeymen — Kerry Collins, Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky — auditioned for, knowing full well they were competing to see which one kept the seat warm for Luck. Yet after last season's 2-14 record, the bar was even lower than that.
"We fumbled the snap on the first play last season," second-year offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo pointed out optimistically, "so at least we got off to little better start this year."
Much better, it should be noted, since Luck completed an 8-yarder to fellow rookie Dominique Jones on his first official down as a pro. And while the Colts' drive stalled soon afterward, it was sandwiched between two lousy offensive possessions by the Bears, the second of which ended with an interception by Indianapolis linebacker Jerrell Freeman at the 4-yard-line that he returned for a touchdown and a fleeting 7-0 lead.
Luck's day went pretty much downhill from there, mostly because he underestimated how much faster the game was played in the regular season versus the preseason — let alone during those years when he was shredding Pac-10 defenses at Stanford.
"It picked up another notch," he conceded.
Good student that he was, Luck then went on to list nearly every member of the Bears' defense who was faster than they looked on film, no small feat because they were flying around him nearly all day in a constant navy-and-orange blur.
"There's a lot of speed out there," he added.
That used to be the reason rookie quarterbacks rarely stepped into a starting job. Conventional wisdom dictated that it wasn't simply the much greater complexity of playbooks in the NFL versus college that made that leap nearly impossible; it was how much faster all the Xs and Os on the pages flew on the playing fields.
But last season, five rookie QBs found themselves thrown into a starting role for large chunks of the campaign and acquitted themselves better than could be expected. Their performances ranged from barely adequate (Blaine Gabbert in Jacksonville) to occasionally spectacular (Cam Newton in Carolina) to downright workmanlike (Andy Dalton in Cincinnati).
The NFL is nothing if not a copycat league. That explained the presence of five rookie starters at what has been called the most important — and perhaps toughest — position in any sport. Some got the job because the coach had zero faith in the incumbent, others because of meddling owners. What all of them had in common, Luck noted going into Sunday's game, were high expectations.
"Any quarterback in the NFL is going to have some pressure on him to win, to succeed, and win now," he said. "It's not a culture that likes to wait around for things to get good. I hope I don't have to wait around to be a decent football player."
If Manning is the bar, good luck.
Fellow rookie QB Robert Griffin III, taken by the Redskins one slot behind Luck with the No. 2 overall pick, got off to a flying start. He went 19 of 26 for 320 yards and two TDs in a 40-32 win over the Saints.
On the flip side, Brandon Weeden, the Oklahoma State product drafted 20 places after Griffin by Cleveland, provided a textbook example of why teams were reluctant to throw rookie QBs into the cauldron. He completed 12 of 35 for 118 yards, zero TDs, four interceptions and a passer rating of 5.1. He almost single-handedly turned what would have been a well-deserved upset of the Eagles into a 17-16 Browns' loss.
After his performance, Luck wasn't interested in comparisons of any kind. All he wanted at the moment was another chance.
"Obviously, still disappointed off what happened," he said, "but we'll get over it and come back to work as hungry as ever."
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at Twitter.com/JimLitke.