The aftermath of the Indianapolis Colts’ recent game focused almost exclusively on coach Chuck Pagano’s decision making, but lost in the furor was Andrew Luck’s fine performance in his return from injury.
Luck will try to duplicate that Sunday against New Orleans while finishing with a victory this time, and stop the Saints from building on a surprising win.
Indianapolis missed its chance to prevail in last weekend’s rematch of the "Deflategate" AFC championship game when a trick play went awry in the third quarter. The Colts’ one-point halftime lead against New England was quickly erased in a 34-27 loss that snapped a three-game win streak.
Indianapolis (3-3) claimed two of those wins with Luck recovering from an injured right shoulder and veteran Matt Hasselbeck at quarterback. The Colts star hardly looked like himself in the first three games with a 65.1 quarterback rating – the league’s worst among starters – and seven interceptions to five touchdowns.
Luck had a 98.1 rating, 312 yards and three TDs with no interceptions against the Patriots.
"Coach Pagano has done a great job ever since I’ve been here of win, lose, draw, whatever has happened the week before, you flip that switch and it’s on to the next opponent," he said. "You try to figure out how to get a win against New Orleans. That is 100 percent of everybody’s effort, and that’s the way it should be."
Luck will get to face a Saints pass defense that’s worse statistically than New England but New Orleans has fared even more poorly against the run, allowing 138.2 yards per game. The Saints (2-4) gave up 150 yards to Atlanta on Oct. 15 but won 31-21 over the previously unbeaten Falcons.
Michael Mauti provided early momentum by returning a blocked punt for a score, and New Orleans forced three turnovers. Drew Brees went 30 of 39 for 312 yards and a TD, topping 300 for the fourth time in his five games.
"This is really our time to begin to take steps forward," Brees said. "There are some things we have to get better at. There’s no time to sit back and relax by any means. We have a lot of work ahead of us. We have to show that we can do this on a consistent basis."
Brees produced that game while his line was on its third-string left tackle with Andrus Peat leaving due to a sprained MCL that’s expected to keep him out at least four weeks. The team’s original starting left tackle, Terron Armstead, has missed the past two games with a knee injury and did not practice Wednesday.
Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe was listed as not practicing (hip) while cornerback Keenan Lewis is also dealing with a hip issue and illness. Receiver Marques Colston, who sat out last week’s game with an injured right shoulder, returned to limited action as did punter Thomas Morstead.
The Saints will have a new kicker with Kai Forbath taking over for the released Zach Hocker, who went 1 of 3 against the Falcons. Forbath converted 87 percent of his attempts in his four seasons with Washington and more than 80 percent from 40 yards or greater.
It’s unclear if the Saints will have Joe Vitt at this matchup. The linebackers coach had his right leg immobilized and was on a motorized scooter.
Vitt was injured while chasing away a pair of car thieves this past weekend.
"Joe Vitt is on the injury report," coach Sean Payton said. "He’d probably be listed as doubtful. He tore his Achilles and broke his wrist, so he’s on a little scooter."
It’s also unknown if the Colts will have linebacker Jerrell Freeman (groin) or defensive backs Mike Adams (hamstring) and Clayton Geathers (knee) for this game. Pagano announced Wednesday that Robert Mathis could be seeing more snaps.
The outside linebacker missed the season opener because of issues with his surgically repaired Achilles tendon. The franchise’s all-time leader in sacks has one in five games this season and the Colts are near the bottom of the league with eight.
New Orleans has won seven of the nine matchups since the Colts moved to Indianapolis after the 1983 season, including its Super Bowl 44 victory in February 2010.
The Saints dealt the Colts their most lopsided defeat in franchise history and tied the most points in a game since the AFL merger in the most recent meeting, a 62-7 rout Oct. 23, 2011. Brees threw for five touchdowns and had a career-best 88.6 completion rate (31 of 35).