Andrew Luck apparently won’t be ready to return and help the Indianapolis Colts continue their success against the rest of the AFC South.
Matt Hasselbeck figures to be under center for the second time in five days when the visiting Colts try for a 16th consecutive victory within the division Thursday night against the Houston Texans.
Coach Chuck Pagano said Luck "looked good" throwing passes at practice Tuesday and increased his workload, but a report early Thursday indicated the former No. 1 overall pick’s injured right shoulder is not sufficiently healed.
That would seem to make starting Hasselbeck, who went 30 of 47 for 282 yards with a touchdown in Sunday’s 16-13 overtime win against Jacksonville, an easy call. But the 40-year-old was in the emergency room with an illness earlier this week and hasn’t practiced.
Hasselbeck is still expected to start Thursday, with recently signed third-stringer Josh Johnson serving as his backup.
The Colts’ 15-game winning streak against South opponents began after Luck lost the first start in his hometown of Houston 29-17 on Dec. 16, 2012. He’s thrown 14 touchdowns and three interceptions while going 5-1 against the Texans (1-3).
However, Indianapolis (2-2) has beaten Tennessee and Jacksonville by a combined five points this season and Luck has thrown five TDs and seven picks while being sacked five times in three starts.
Though Hasselbeck proved serviceable, he was sacked three times Sunday. The Colts also were held to a season-low 60 rushing yards, though Frank Gore totaled 22 of his 53 on his final carry to help set up Adam Vinatieri’s 27-yard winning field goal.
”We’re fortunate,” said Pagano, whose team is tied for 26th with 18.0 points per game. ”I’ll never apologize for winning."
Looking for a sixth straight win over the Texans, the Colts will have receiver Andre Johnson on their side for the first time in the series. Johnson, who set team records for receptions (1,012), receiving yards (13,597) and receiving touchdowns (64) during his 12 seasons in Houston, asked to be released after he was told his role would be limited in 2015. He signed with Indianapolis in March.
"I had 12 great years (in Houston)," he said. "Eventually, it came to an end.
"I’m a Colt now. I’m just looking forward to going down there and win a football game."
Perhaps this will be the game Johnson breaks out after recording seven receptions for 51 yards in four contests, and nothing in the last two.
Houston yielded 184 combined receiving yards to Leonard Hankerson and running back Devonta Freeman in Sunday’s 48-21 loss at Atlanta.
However, it’s the Texans’ offense that has been a bigger issue through the first quarter of the season. They rank 24th with 19.3 points per game and committed four turnovers – two fumbles returned for TDs – against the Falcons.
Despite going 12 of 27 for 150 yards with an interception before being benched Sunday, Ryan Mallett remains Houston’s starter.
”He’s our starting quarterback,” coach Bill O’Brien said of Mallett, who has completed 51.8 percent of his passes for 720 yards with three TDs and three INTs. ”Like all of us, he knows that he has to play better. We all have to do better."
Arian Foster gained 10 yards on eight attempts in his season debut Sunday. Playing from behind, the Texans ran for 54 yards after gaining 186 one week earlier in a 19-9 win over Tampa Bay.
”We really need to work on the running game,” O’Brien said. ”We’ve got to be able to run the football.”
Foster has averaged 6.3 yards per carry and rushed for five TDs while gaining 505 in four home games against Indianapolis.
When Mallett goes to the air he’ll again look for DeAndre Hopkins, who ranks among the NFL leaders with 409 receiving yards after recording 157 on nine catches against the Falcons. He enjoyed the best of his four games against the Colts by hauling in five balls for 77 yards in a 17-10 road loss Dec. 14.
Houston will be missing receiver Cecil Shorts, who’s out indefinitely after dislocating his left shoulder Sunday.
Despite their early struggles, the Texans haven’t lost faith.
”There’s a lot of football to be played,” O’Brien said. ”This will be our first divisional game for us. That’s a great opportunity … We can’t do anything about what happened (Sunday). We’ve got to really focus on Indianapolis and try to improve.”