Indianapolis needs strong stretch run to make playoff push
FILE - In this Nov. 24, 2016, file photo, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck watches his teammates warm up before an NFL football game between the Indianapolis Colts and the Pittsburgh Steelers, in Indianapolis. Luck took the next step in the concussion protocol Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016, by returning to full workouts at the Indianapolis Colts headquarters. If he is cleared by an independent doctor following practice, Indys franchise quarterback should start Monday night against the New York Jets.(AP Photo/AJ Mast, File)
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) The Indianapolis Colts have spent the past few weeks talking about the need to finish strong.
It's time to deliver on their promise.
After Indy's first winning streak of the season ended last Thursday, the Colts had some extra time to ponder the playoff possibilities and the only plausible fix to make it – winning games.
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''It's December, it's playoff time for us – and for everyone else,'' safety Mike Adams said Wednesday.
With five games left, the Colts (5-6) are one game behind division-leader Houston and one-half game behind second-place Tennessee.
Indy still hosts the Texans (6-5) on Dec. 11, and owns the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Titans (6-6) because of another sweep in the season series.
The good news is Indy's once formidable-looking finishing flurry has softened significantly.
The Colts open December with a trip to the New York Jets (3-8), losers of three straight and seven of nine. Then Houston returns to Indy, where it ended a 13-game losing streak last season.
That is followed by back-to-back trips to Minnesota, which is 1-5 since starting 5-0, and AFC West-leading Oakland (9-2) before ending the regular season at home against last-place Jacksonville.
Given what Houston and Tennessee have left on their schedules and the potential tiebreaker scenarios, three or more wins could put Indianapolis squarely in the mix for a third AFC South crown in four years.
Lose two or more, and the odds shrink significantly.
The truth is the Colts have only themselves to blame for this predicament. They have lost three home games for the second time in Andrew Luck's five-year career, blew a lead in the final minute against Detroit, lost in overtime at Houston and even lost to the two-win Jaguars in London.
Of course, Indy can't do anything about those past results and looking beyond the Monday night matchup comes with even greater risk.
So inside the team complex, the message is simple: Work hard and remain focused.
''You have to look at it is a one-game season from here on out,'' tight end Jack Doyle said. ''We will focus on the Jets.''
At least the offense could be near full strength against the Jets .
On Wednesday, Luck and safety Clayton Geathers completed their first full practices since entering the concussion protocol last week. If they are cleared by an independent neurologist, both should return to action against the Jets.
''Full practice, no restrictions, felt good,'' Luck said.
Center Ryan Kelly, who left last week's game on the first series with a left shoulder injury, practiced for the second time this week. Right guard Denzelle Good (neck) and receiver T.Y. Hilton (bruised back) also practiced Wednesday.
Defensively, the news is not so encouraging.
Outside linebacker Robert Mathis (biceps) and starting cornerbacks Vontae Davis (groin) and Patrick Robinson (groin) have not practiced either day this week.
But with such a small margin for error, the Colts can't afford to pay attention to the injury report. They have to start winning.
''You want to have all your guys out there, and certainly Andrew's a guy you want to have on the field,'' coach Chuck Pagano said.
''But whatever happens to this team, we'll deal with it, it doesn't matter. We'll respond to whatever the circumstances are. Whatever the adversity is, you've got to deal with it.''
And somehow, they hope, find a way to piece together a strong stretch run – right back into the playoffs.
''It's all right there,'' Pagano said. ''It's on us and we can't count on anybody else. So we control what we can control. That's our preparation and how we play.''
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