Late fumble spoils Andrew Luck's impressive return as Colts lose

INDIANAPOLIS -- Andrew Luck is back, but it's too early to say that his comeback heroics are back.

Luck was 15 yards away from pulling off the 18th come-from-behind victory of his career when Indianapolis Colts tight end Jack Doyle fumbled with 46 seconds left in their 34-23 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

The loss took away from the moment everybody had been waiting 20 months to happen.

The throws made during minicamp, snaps taken and hits Luck took in limited action in the preseason were just an appetizer. It was all about how Luck would handle making all the necessary throws while facing pressure throughout an entire game for the first time in 616 days -- not just a handful of series in the preseason.

Luck shook off throwing an interception on his first pass to go 39-of-52 for 319 yards and two touchdowns the rest of the way to further prove that there's no reason to be skeptical about the quarterback's surgically repaired right shoulder.

The Colts entered the game shorthanded because they were without starting left tackle Anthony Castonzo, who is responsible for protecting Luck's blindside. Colts coach Frank Reich didn't call many down-the-field plays. Luck's biggest play was a 26-yard touchdown to tight end Eric Ebron in the first half. That was Luck's first touchdown since the final minute of their victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Jan. 1, 2017. Luck was only sacked twice, but he had a lot of pressure in his face.

Luck and the Colts have said the quarterback has to do a better job of avoiding unnecessary hits to help him extend his playing career. The competitive Luck was not hearing any of that when he took off running to try to pick up a first down in the first half. Luck got the first down but he also took a helmet-to-helmet hit from Bengals safety Shawn Williams. Luck gave a thumbs up sign when he got up and Williams was ejected for the hit.

Reich's philosophy on offense is to not be predictable. And that's what they followed through with, as Luck completed passes to nine different players, with seven of them having receptions of at least 11 yards.

It appeared Luck could be on his way to capping off a long recovery period that had him miss the entire 2017 season when the Colts started their drive at their 25-yard line and down by four points with 3 minutes and 57 seconds left in the game. Luck completed nine passes on the drive when Doyle fumbled and Bengals safety Clayton Fejedelem recovered it and returned it 85 yards for the touchdown.