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NFL Winners and Losers: Andrew Luck's amazing comeback is one of season's best stories

Yahoo! Sports Logo By Frank Schwab of Yahoo! Sports | Slide 1 of 9: Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck

Months ago, Andrew Luck was coming off a lost season and still not even throwing a regulation-sized football.

It always seemed he’d come back and play, but it seemed very possible we’d see a version of Luck that was a shell of himself. He never made it back last season after surgery to fix his labrum in his throwing shoulder. After setbacks that ended his season, he went to the Netherlands for a few weeks to get treatment. His rehab this offseason moved at a glacially slow pace. It was all alarming.

“There were one or two moments where I wondered if I am ever going to be able to do this again,” Luck told ESPN’s Mike Wells in August, before his first preseason game this year.

We can safely say Luck is back. It’s remarkable how good he has been, given all the uncertainty just a few months ago.

On Sunday Luck faced the Jacksonville Jaguars, who have given up the fewest passing yards per game in the NFL, and he was excellent. He was 21-of-29 for 285 yards and three touchdowns. His only interception was a fantastic pass that bounced off tight end Mo Alie-Cox’s hands, a reminder that Luck still isn’t working with the best supporting cast. The Colts took a big lead early and held on for a 29-26 win. They likely ended the Jacksonville Jaguars’ playoff chances.

Luck became the third player in NFL history to have six consecutive games with at least three touchdown passes within a single season, joining Peyton Manning (2004) and Tom Brady (2007). Neither of the first two were coming back from a career-threatening arm injury.

Luck has had some other big games this season, like 464 yards and four touchdowns in a loss to the Texans. But, given the defense he was facing, this game seemed like the confirmation that Luck is back and as good as ever.

If you didn’t know Luck missed a year, nothing in his play would tip you off. Luck is ninth in the NFL with 2,472 yards. He has 26 touchdown passes, five more than anyone but Patrick Mahomes, who has 31. His 98.4 passer rating would be a career best.

Physically, even though there were questions about Luck’s arm strength when the team pulled him in a Hail Mary situation against the Eagles, his arm looks fine. It’s at least good enough to do everything asked of him in coach Frank Reich’s offense.

Reich and his staff have obviously helped with this incredible comeback story. Perhaps the best change is Luck getting rid of the ball quicker. Luck hasn’t been sacked in four straight games, a streak of 187 dropbacks. That’s the fifth-longest streak in NFL history according to Zak Keefer of the Indianapolis Star. The offensive line is better and that’s a factor, but it’s better that Luck is no longer standing in the pocket forever looking to get the ball downfield and often taking big hits. Luck was sacked 156 times in 70 games over his first five NFL seasons. For the sake of his career, that couldn’t continue.

What Luck is doing isn’t unheard of, but it’s rare. Joe Montana and Peyton Manning each missed a full season and came back to play well, for example, but it’s a very short list of quarterbacks who have missed an entire season and returned to a Pro Bowl level. Seeing Luck play at that level again is one of the best stories of the NFL season.

The Colts are far from a finished product. They’re 4-5 even after the win over the Jaguars and unlikely to make a real playoff push. That’s fine. The Colts are still building. Their biggest piece, obviously, was Luck. There was real concern over whether he’d ever be the same quarterback, even from Luck himself. That question has been answered. He’s likely to win the NFL’s comeback player of the year award. And the Colts can feel really good that they have their franchise cornerstone back. Luck is just 29 years old, giving the Colts a long time to build a Super Bowl contender around him.

Here are the rest of the Winners and Losers from Week 10 of the NFL season:

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