KRAVITZ: Will the low-achieving Colts wipe that smile off Andrew Luck's face?

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck leaves the field after being intercepted by New York Jets inside linebacker Avery Williamson, not pictured, during an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
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Bob Kravitz

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - They are going to beat the joy out of Andrew Luck. It hasn't happened yet, mind you. Talking to him after the game, another nonsensical 42-34 loss to the New York Jets, he was still upbeat, still expansive, still bullish on his undermanned team's possibilities in the long term. But it will happen. All the drops, all the red-zone flubs, all the defensive breakdowns…all the losses, all of them threaten to suck the joy right out of his being.

For months now, we've been witness to something of a personal rebirth by Luck, a willingness to share some of his innermost thoughts and feelings, an ability to acknowledge his mistakes and weaknesses. Some have mistaken it for irrational exuberance – how dare he act excited after a loss!!?? – but if you've had your passion taken away from you for more than a year, the mere act of playing football is reason enough to celebrate. It's been a new and different Andrew Luck, and I'm afraid that at some point, the joy will fade, and he will come harshly to terms with the fact that he is carrying a team that truly stinks.

They can't catch footballs.

They can't stop committing dumb pre-snap penalties.

They can't produce touchdowns in the red zone.

They can't stop anybody, even a rookie quarterback like Sam Darnold, who looked like an old hand out there, slicing and dicing the clueless Colts' secondary.

I asked Luck if his joy has been tested by the fact the team has forgotten how to win…"

"That's a good question,'' he said. "At times, at times, especially when I do things – 'stupid' is the only word that comes to mind. We do some silly things to ourselves. But when it comes to having fun playing, I'm having fun playing. The result isn't what it needs to be…Before we can learn how to win, we have to learn how not to lose. We have to take that next step."

At some point – I don't know when or where or how – but at some point, Luck will recognize that he is being wasted by this franchise. What will happen then? Will he look elsewhere? Will he pull a John Elway and publicly castigate management, a move that inspired the eventual firing of Dan Reeves? Two years ago, when Chris Ballard was hired, owner Jim Irsay said he was willing to take a small step or two backwards in order to win multiple Lombardi's. Well, since Ballard took over last season, the Colts are 5-17. That's not a small step back (and yes, I know they didn't have Luck all year last year, but they're 1-5 with him this year). This team is two years from being a year away.

We knew going into this that it was going to be a rebuild; what we didn't know was that a demo team would first come in and fire-bomb the joint before setting the new foundation. In my view, Ballard left Luck out to dry this summer by failing to surround him with some established pros, some free agents with a pedigree. Instead, Luck is out there by himself throwing to Zach Pascal and Marcus Johnson and Mo Alie-Cox, which is a disservice to the quarterback and to the uneasy fan base. Yes, injuries have been an issue, but injuries are an issue every season, especially for this franchise. If you don't have depth, you don't have a chance, and right now, the Colts don't have a chance.

Colts at Jets, Oct. 2018
New York Jets tight end Neal Sterling is tackled by Indianapolis Colts defensive back Mike Mitchell, defensive end Carroll Phillips and linebacker Anthony Walker during an NFL football game, Oct. 14, 2018, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

They had to win this Jets game. Win this game, then beat Buffalo at home next week and maybe get out of Oakland with a victory the week after that, the Colts are in business, 4-4 at the halfway mark and relevant in the AFC South race. By losing this game, the Colts are one step closer to abject irrelevancy. And that should never, ever happen when Andrew Luck is your quarterback. Has any team done any less with a more formidable quarterback than the Colts in recent seasons?

Same old, same old for Indy. Four turnovers, including two catchable passes that were bobbled by Indy receivers and then intercepted by the Jets. Red-zone follies, including a failure to score a touchdown with first-and-goal at the Jets 1-yard line. Penalties, eight of them for 66 yards. And more breakdowns by the defense than my old Ford Pinto.

"I feel like a bit of a broken record,'' Luck said.

"We played bad,'' safety Malik Hooker said. "We didn't make the plays that we were supposed to make. There's nothing else to be said. We just have to get better.''

Thank you. They have to get better. The problem is, you get better by employing better players, and better players won't be available until this offseason, long after the team has finished licking its wounds from another forgettable season.

"I feel like we're the best 1-5 team in the league,'' Anthony Castonzo said.

Now, I'm not going to pile on Castonzo, but how many hundreds of times did we hear some version of that last year. We're the best 4-12 team in NFL history!! Great, hang a banner at Lucas Oil. To quote a man who made his bones right here at The Meadowlands, the great Bill Parcells, you are what your record says you are. And the record says 1-5, and don't bore me with how close the games have been, how they're only a few plays away from 4-2. We heard that nonsense last season, too, and it was as nonsensical then as it is now.

If the question is, "Why are some of these guys on the roster?'' the answer is simple: "Because there's nobody else.'' Chester Rogers, for example. He has his moments, but half of them are good and half are awful. Does he see the field for a good football team? As one Twitter smart-aleck suggested, maybe the Colts should Scotch-tape the receivers' paychecks to the football.

For now, and maybe forever, Luck is going to play the role of the perfect teammate. And that is laudable, especially for a young team in free-fall. When I asked him if there's anything he can say or do to help his teammates with their rampant case of the dropsies, he demurred and talked about the things he can and will do better.

At some point, though, the frustration is going to overwhelm him. It may not happen this year or even next year, but if this team doesn't improve the way Ballard believes it will, Luck is going to lose patience. And if and when he does, nobody will blame him.

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