Colts: Andrew Luck as accessory? No way

If the Colts want to avoid nights like Monday they need to unleash Andrew Luck. AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi

SAN DIEGO -- Waiting, waiting. Everyone was waiting. When would "Monday Night Football" transform into Luck Time? The magic was coming, right? The moment was nearing. The stage was set. And … scene.

Watching the Indianapolis Colts at Qualcomm Stadium was a lesson in excessive patience. It was downright maddening to see the Colts, armed with a quarterback who is vaulting into the NFL's highest echelon of superstars, achieve an unnecessary balance Monday night -- one that contributed to a wholly avoidable 19-9 loss to the San Diego Chargers.

I'll acknowledge the Chargers did enough to effect their share of the outcome, most notably with a surprise running game that kept their offense on the field for 38 minutes, 31 second of the game. And the Colts made far too many mistakes, dropping four passes and succeeding on fewer third-down conversions (two) than they gave up to San Diego because of penalties (three).

But the Colts trailed for most of three quarters Monday, and it just felt, well, unnatural to see them work so hard to balance the massive threat of quarterback Andrew Luck with their middling running game. You wanted to stand up on the media table, or at least I did, and scream: Unleash the Beast! And don't wait until the fourth quarter! (Even if Luck already has nine game-winning drives in his 22-game career.)

"We came in averaging [142 rushing yards] per game," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. "And today they held us under 100 [74]. We didn't get ourselves in enough third-and-manageables. We popped ourselves a few, but we were inconsistent. … When you've got third-and-8-plus, it's really hard. We've got to do ourselves a better job in first and second down to give ourselves third-and-manageable."

That sentiment would make perfect sense if the Colts were an average offense with a decent quarterback. The Colts seemed to approach Monday night as if that were the case. Through three quarters, their 16 first-down plays were split evenly with eight passes and eight runs.

They converted only two of the resulting 10 third-down plays, and both were on third-and-1. Here's an even better way to get yourself into third-and-manageable: Throw more than you run on first down. Use one of the NFL's best quarterbacks to break open the game, and then finish it with the bruising tailback (Trent Richardson) you seem so intent on establishing.

Instead, the Colts have fallen into a reverse approach: Their early balance has in some cases led to late-game Luck frenzies, as it did in a Week 1 victory over the Oakland Raiders as well as a Week 5 win against the Seattle Seahawks.

"I don't think we ever are coached to rely on a comeback," tight end Coby Fleener said, "and we don't anticipate having to do that or trying to do that. But if it comes to that, we'll be prepared as best we can and be confident in our ability to make it back."

Having a quarterback as proficient under pressure as Luck is surely better than the alternative. And there is nothing wrong with a balanced offense in the abstract. But let's not be mistaken about the Colts' most direct path to major success: Luck throwing to his array of talented pass-catchers, from Reggie Wayne to T.Y. Hilton to Fleener.

You might say there wasn't much to be done Monday night given Fleener's drop of a potential scoring play over the middle. Receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey missed what would have been an 60-yard touchdown, while Wayne and Hilton also contributed drops. Richardson, meanwhile, dropped a screen pass that would have jump-started a potential game-tying drive.

But those miscues weren't an occasion to look elsewhere for offense; they were a requirement to double down and keep firing. I recognize that you have to mix it up every now and then, but Luck seems capable of more than he was asked to do Monday night.

"We'll use it as a learning opportunity," Luck said after the game. "We realize that sitting at 4-2 is a lot better than 1-5 or 2-4. It was a tough game against a good team, and we'll look to get back on track."

Luck, of course, is far too polished to contradict what happened on the field. And it's true, the Colts are still in good shape at 4-2. By all accounts, they have a bright future.

You wonder, however, if it's time for the Colts to approach games with the mindset that, say, the Green Bay Packers do with Aaron Rodgers and, yes, the Denver Broncos do with Peyton Manning. They have a singular talent on their roster, and the usual rules of football can't apply. It's time to unleash the beast. Luck should be their offensive centerpiece. Let's not wait any longer.