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Like Vikings, QB Andrew Luck knows Colts face 'must-win' game

MINNEAPOLIS -- Sam Bradford and Andrew Luck began their NFL careers from identical pole positions as No. 1 picks shouldering the pressures and expectations inherited by franchise quarterbacks.

Dec 11, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) walks off the field after the Colts 22-17 loss to the Houston Texans at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 11, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) walks off the field after the Colts 22-17 loss to the Houston Texans at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS - Sam Bradford and Andrew Luck began their NFL careers from identical pole positions as No. 1 picks shouldering the pressures and expectations inherited by franchise quarterbacks.

What a long and winding road they have traveled to their first showdown Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Luck missed a game because of a concussion and has been running for his life all season behind a productive but unpredictable Indianapolis offense. He is almost single-handedly carrying the defensively challenged Colts (6-7), whose playoff hopes were severely damaged by a Week 14 home loss to AFC South-leading Houston.

Luck is 3-3 in the postseason, including a 2015 loss to Tom Brady in the infamous DeflateGate AFC Championship game at New England.

Bradford has rebooted his career in Minnesota by leading a diminished offense with risk-free precision that has the Vikings (7-6) still very much in the hunt for the NFC postseason. He has started 75 games but not a single playoff contest in four seasons with the Rams and one with the Eagles.

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Playoff mortality is at stake for both teams in this inter-conference duel, more so for the Colts. They need a ton of help with a victory just to stay relevant, but they are finished if they lose.

"This is as desperate as you can be in the NFL," Luck said Wednesday "It's obviously a must-win. We understand that. Hopefully we can go out there and take care of business."

Winning ugly in Jacksonville and trying to run the table to 10-6 has given the Vikings renewed purpose after losing six of seven.

"We started out the season hot; we won five in a row," said Bradford, whom the Rams drafted first overall in 2010 out of Oklahoma. "We believe that we're still that same team, and we're just looking to build off what we did last week and try to start a streak like we had early in the year."

Call this Bradford's defining moment as he relinquishes his caretaker role for injured Teddy Bridgewater and tightens his grip on Minnesota's quarterback job.

"Bradford's doing great job managing that offense," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. "He's making great decisions. He's getting them in the right positions. He's taking care of the football, with only three interceptions."

As for Luck, he has thrown for 25 touchdowns and connected for a score in 20 straight games. His next 300-yard game will tie him with John Unitas (26) for the second-most in Colts history behind Peyton Manning, the man he replaced when Indianapolis drafted him first overall in 2012 out of Stanford.

Luck also has been sacked 37 times. Only Cleveland has allowed more sacks than the Colts.

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Frank Gore, still running strong at 33, has taken some pressure off with 790 yards rushing. Luck has run 56 times for 304 yards, a byproduct of poor protection and trying to buy time for his receivers to get open.

"He's tougher than as heck," said Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer. "He runs really good. He's the second-leading rusher on the team. He makes every throw. He moves in the pocket well. I tell our guys when they think they've got the guy covered, they don't, because he can throw it anywhere and any place."

Sunday's game does not carry the narrative heft of a Brady-Aaron Rodgers clash or the new order dynamics of Russell Wilson vs. Colin Kaepernick circa 2013. These are two plowhorses trying to lead their teams out of the wilderness.

Still, Luck and Bradford have plenty to prove at this pivotal point in their careers as the standard bearers of their respective draft classes.

Bradford has found stability in Minnesota where Zimmer still is building his team. Luck figures to have a new coach next year if the Colts continue sliding and Pagano is let go. A heavier burden to be sure.

"It's a matter of perspective," Luck said. "I never looked at it as having to be the savior of a team, what fans expected of me. I care what my coaches expect of me, what my teammates (expect) and what I expect of myself. It's a position where you're in the spotlight, but if you surround yourself with good people, then the pressure's OK."

Related Topics: FOOTBALL
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