FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - It's one of the few negatives on Andrew Luck's otherwise impeccable NFL resume, but it's out there and can't be ignored: In three games against Tom Brady's Patriots, Luck not only has lost all three but has been absolutely crushed each time.
There was the 59-24 shellacking in New England his rookie season. Then there was the 43-20 loss in the divisional round of the playoffs at Gillette Stadium last season. The hat trick of embarrassments came Nov. 16 in a 42-20 home loss.
And now for the biggest matchup of all for the man considered the best young quarterback in the game: a playoff rematch against Brady in Sunday's AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium.
Any reason at all to think Luck can fashion a new ending? Or are we about to see another takedown by Brady and Bill Belichick's defense?
Luck believes things might be different this time, even if the odds favor another unfortunate result for the third-year quarterback.
"I'd like to think I'm a better quarterback and a better team and more well-equipped to handle the unknown and the unforeseen," Luck said. "I think we've got a bunch of good football players, and a chance to go up to New England and play them and get another crack at it. We'll make sure to take full advantage of it and do what we can."
Luck has done just about everything else right in his career. The No. 1 overall pick of the 2012 draft has taken the Colts to the playoffs three straight times and has won three playoff games in the last two years, including back-to-back wins over the Bengals and Peyton Manning's Broncos in this year's postseason. But unless and until Luck can conquer Brady's Patriots, there will be one giant asterisk on this early part of his NFL run.
Luck's numbers have been mostly miserable against the Patriots. He has a combined six touchdown passes and eight interceptions against New England. And with the Patriots featuring an improved defense that now includes shutdown cornerback Darrelle Revis, Luck will need to be almost perfect to finally break through against a team coming off a resourceful, if not quite dominant, performance in a 35-31 win over the Ravens in last week's divisional round.
Brady led the Patriots back from two 14-point deficits -- once in each half -- to qualify for a staggering ninth AFC title game in his Hall of Fame-caliber career.
But the Patriots take nothing for granted against Luck, even after having his number the last three games. Listen to Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, who is quietly making a name for himself through his apprenticeship under Belichick, and you will hear a coach speak in almost reverent terms about Luck.
"I think the guy is a phenomenal quarterback," Patricia said. "I think both in the pocket and out of the pocket, he handles his decision-making very well at the line of scrimmage. He's able to stand in the pocket and throw the ball downfield extremely well, and be able to take a lot of movement in there and he can get away from pressure, and obviously I think he can scramble to either direction and throw extremely well and extremely far downfield. It's a huge challenge for us to stop this guy and everyone on the Indianapolis Colts.
"I think they've done a great job of surrounding him with extremely talented players, both in the skill positions, at the tight end position and obviously in front of him with the offensive line. I think that really transfers into whether he's in the pocket, out of the pocket, or down-and-distance or whatever the situation is, this guy is a tremendous competitor. He's a great quarterback and he'll be a great challenge for us."
Win or lose, there's no doubt Luck is going to be a dominant presence for many years to come, and there's no question in my mind that he'll be wearing a Super Bowl ring at some point. If not on Feb. 1 in Phoenix, then pretty soon after that. He's a brilliant player, a relentless competitor, an exceptional leader and terrific at just about everything he does.
Except what he does against the Patriots. Or at least what he has done to this point. There's no question he needs to beat the Brady-Belichick alliance to take that next step.
With Brady showing no signs of slowing down, this likely won't be the last time the two face one another -- although it may be the most important.
Luck earned his way here with a terrific performance last week in dispatching Manning, his predecessor in Indianapolis, in the divisional round. There was a symbolic passing of the torch, with Luck earning his first trip to the conference championship while Manning extended his playoff bugaboo with a ninth one-and-done and invited questions about whether he has come to the end of his legendary career.
Luck prevented another Manning-Brady showdown in the conference championship, but he needs to do something special to prevent his own duel with Brady from taking on shades of Manning's frustration against the Patriots' star.
Manning is a woeful 5-11 against Brady. At 0-3 and counting, Luck needs a signature performance to end his own mark of futility and start playing in Super Bowls.