INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indianapolis Colts are already off to a new start.
After stumbling out of the gate last season with 13 consecutive losses and dealing with the interminable questions about going winless, new coach Chuck Pagano and new quarterback Andrew Luck have already made sure that won't happen again.
They're beginning to re-establish home-field advantage with three straight wins at Lucas Oil Stadium, though two of those in the preseason.
They've held two of the league's top running backs — Adrian Peterson and Matt Forte — to less than 100 yards rushing.
And the new quarterback has already proven he can win in the NFL.
It's a promising start for a team that is back at .500 for the first time since the end of the 2010 season.
"I think the biggest difference now is that guys are more excited to come to work," said veteran defensive tackle Fili Moala, one of those who survived last year's fallout. "It wasn't as if anyone turned on each other. Players, as a whole, had each other's backs. But this year, even though we haven't really done anything yet, it's a relief to get a win under our belt."
Nobody was happier Monday than Luck, the one big prize Indy (1-1) reaped from its horrendous 2011 season.
For two years, draft analysts called Luck the most NFL-ready quarterback since Peyton Manning, and the best quarterback to come out of Stanford since John Elway.
So when Indy released Manning in March to make room for Luck, the comparisons were inevitable.
After throwing three interceptions and losing a fumble in a 41-21 season-opening loss at Chicago, Luck's numbers were virtually identical to his predecessor's NFL debut in 1998. And after seeing a seemingly healthy Manning led the Broncos to a Week 1 victory, some fans started questioning whether the Colts made the right decision by starting over in 2012.
The No. 1 draft pick delivered his counter argument Sunday.
Luck went 20 of 31 for 224 yards with two touchdowns, no turnovers and led the Colts on a masterful 45-yard game-winning drive in the final 31 seconds of his first NFL home game. Manning was 21 of 33 for 188 yards with one TD and three interceptions in his second start, at New England, as he opened the 1998 season 0-4.
"I think there is a sense of relief about when's it (the first win) going to come, when's it going to come?" said Luck, who needed three fewer games than Manning to collect his first NFL win.