Commentary: NFL rookie QBs having early success

The Colts' Andrew Luck passes under pressure from the Jets' Muhammad Wilkerson on Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012, at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. (Getty Images)
The Colts' Andrew Luck passes under pressure from the Jets' Muhammad Wilkerson on Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012, at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. (Getty Images)
Photo by Getty Images
| Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012, 9:04 p.m.

Andrew Luck's first working trip to New York didn't exactly go to plan, though some punishing defense by the Jets had a lot to do with that. All part of the learning curve for rookies, who sometimes have difficulty understanding that big second-half comebacks can't be pulled off every week in the NFL.

The leap from college was never going to be without setbacks, even for a quarterback with Stanford smarts and a receiver like Reggie Wayne. On Sunday in the Meadowlands, that wasn't nearly enough as Luck's rookie touchdown streak ended in a 35-9 romp by the Jets that showed the quarterback and the Indianapolis Colts are still a work in progress.

Dampening expectations in Indianapolis isn't such a bad idea because entire football teams can't be overhauled overnight. It was easy to forget in the wake of last week's thrilling comeback win over Green Bay that this was a team that was well on its way to a winless season last year before rallying to win two of its past three games.

Still, five games into his ascendant career, Luck already has shown that the Colts made the right — if extremely painful — decision to let Peyton Manning find work elsewhere. Barring injuries, Luck is going to be a good quarterback for a long time, which isn't something that can be assumed for either of the top two quarterbacks for the Jets.

“I'm glad we play him this year and not two years from now,” Jets coach Rex Ryan said. “He's got all the talent in the world.”

So does Robert Griffin III, who returned from a concussion Sunday to play for the Washington Redskins against the surprising Minnesota Vikings. Griffin might have learned a few things himself last week, especially about the career longevity of NFL quarterbacks who wait a half-second too long to go into a slide or get out of bounds.

Playing rookie quarterbacks isn't nearly as risky as it used to be. Rule changes have made the NFL more of a passing league, quarterbacks get more protection from officials and the rookies themselves have been playing in passing leagues since they were in middle school.

Five of them lined up behind center Sunday, and four of them walked away winners. Luck had a rough day, throwing two interceptions and failing in his bid to become the first Colts rookie quarterback to throw touchdown passes in five straight games, but he was the only one to lose.

The NFL always has been a young league, but the quarterback position keeps getting younger. Coaches once thought holding a quarterback out for a year to better learn the position was the only way to go, but you'd be hard-pressed to find one who thinks that way anymore.

To show how things have changed, it took 48 years for a quarterback to win the Associated Press Offensive Rookie of the Year award when Ben Roethlisberger won it in 2004. Since then, four out of seven winners have been quarterbacks — a figure that will almost surely go up after this season.

Now nearly a third of the starting quarterbacks in the NFL have less than two full years of experience, a startling statistic considering it is the most important position on the field.

Tim Dahlberg is a sports columnist for the Associated Press.

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