If you wish to mark it for posterity, the presumed end of Andrew Luck’s NFL quarterbacking career came shortly after 3 p.m. Central time on Sunday afternoon. Luck had just thrown a wobbly interception while under pressure, his second pick of the day, and the Colts were about to go down 27-14 to the Tennessee Titans, and appeared to be on their way to one of the most vexing 0-3 starts in the league’s recent history.
Perhaps you know what happened next. Perhaps you are aware by now that Luck threw a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes and the Colts pulled off a 35-33 victory. Perhaps you have learned, then, that it is utterly useless to make assumptions about the NFL three weeks into this season, because the league’s overarching parity has a way of rendering virtually every proclamation of either doom or glory into utter hyperbole.
Here’s what we know three weeks into the season: Nothing, really. The only team playing at a near-unstoppable level is the eff-you gang of bandits and rogues in New England (and perhaps the Green Bay Packers, depending on Monday night’s result against the Chiefs), but the Patriots were playing the Jaguars, who remain one of the few franchises worth writing off entirely before every season begins. Everything else in-between those two poles is in complete flux. The Falcons and Panthers are 3-0, but does anyone really think Atlanta – who struggled most of the day against a Dallas offense devoid of both Dez Bryant and Tony Romo – and the Panthers are that much better than, say, the 0-3 Saints, who nearly pulled off a win on the road against Carolina despite starting an oddly well-known backup quarterback named Luke McCown?
At the same time as that finish was unfolding, the Bengals were beating the Ravens in a wild back-and-forth game, 28-24. The Bengals are now 3-0 and the Ravens are 0-3, but would anyone be completely surprised if their fortunes dovetail completely by late in the season, as always seems to happen with those two franchises? What stands between them? A Steelers team without Ben Roethlisberger (who hurt his knee Sunday) and the (oy) Cleveland Browns. Nothing is settled, particularly in the AFC, which is a complete conundrum.
And this brings us back to the Colts, who play in the AFC South, which appears to be making its case as the most absurdist division in a conference full of them. Trailing 24-14 on Sunday, Colts punter Pat McAfee ran a successful fake that seemed to be the kind of play that everyone was waiting for, the kind of play that felt like maybe it would wake Luck out of the dreamlike funk that had consumed him so far this year. Some of this, of course, was not his fault; the Colts’ offensive line is a mess, and Luck has been forced to throw quickly and swarmed under time and again. But something seemed off with Luck, who was such a sure thing dating back to his time at Stanford that it felt even more jarring to see him sink into ineptitude.
But that’s the thing: The NFL is so thoroughly balanced at this point that all Luck needed was a single good quarter to completely alter the narrative. A touchdown pass on third-and-20, another touchdown pass on a fade after Titans rookie Marcus Mariota threw an interception and the Colts were ahead for good. And now every team in the AFC South is 1-2, including Indianapolis; this means that Luck’s horrible start might not mean anything in the end. This means that Luck was afforded the freedom to perform in astoundingly horrifying fashion for the first 11 quarters of this season, and now, if he gathers himself, could be totally fine.
This is the NFL in 2015. There are only gray areas. Everything is terrible, until suddenly it isn’t anymore.
Michael Weinreb is the author of Season of Saturdays: A History of College Football in 14 Games, now out in paperback. You can find him on Twitter @michaelweinreb