Steelers face Colts without Andrew Luck
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin guessed wrong.
He expected Andrew Luck to overcome a head injury and suit up for Thursday night's primetime game.
Instead, the Indianapolis Colts ruled out their star quarterback Wednesday after he missed practice for the third straight day.
The likely replacement will be the rarely used Scott Tolzien, whom Tomlin doesn't have much tape on because Tolzien hasn't played since the preseason.
But Tomlin didn't win two Super Bowls without successfully devising contingency plans – and he'll have to rely on that experience to win at Indy.
''I just think it's prudent for us to prepare for Andrew and then react to whatever may transpire that's different than that, as opposed to the other way around,'' Tomlin told Indianapolis reporters during a conference call before Wednesday's injury report was released.
Indy (5-5), of course, did a good job keeping Luck's status shrouded because that's how NFL teams operate.
And Pagano didn't drop any hints about his backup plan, either, when he told reporters Tuesday simply that the Colts had ''options.''
The most likely scenario, of course, is that Pagano sticks with Tolzien.
Otherwise, Pagano could go with Stephen Morris, a practice squad player who was promoted to the active roster Wednesday, some combination of both or use running back Frank Gore in the wildcat formation as the Colts have done sporadically the past two games.
None of those options, of course, would be as promising as having Luck.
There's no choice now, and Pagano can't afford to fret with a critical game looming between two playoff contenders.
''It's just football. It's life in the National Football League,'' he said. ''They're not cancelling the game and so we'll put our best foot forward.''
Complicating matters is that Pittsburgh (5-5) has posed major problems for the Colts.
They've won the past three in the series, the past two by a combined score of 96-44.
Losing Luck, who entered the concussion protocol Sunday night after complaining of concussion-like symptoms following a victory over Tennessee, won't help.
But with only four days between Sunday night's diagnosis and this week's game there wasn't enough time to get him cleared by doctors and the Colts finally made the decision to hold him out.
''You can rub dirt on a lot of things, but you can't rub dirt on the brain so you have to be smart with that,'' said Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Here are some other things to watch Thursday:
Four days after honoring the Colts' 2006 Super Bowl team, they will have another halftime celebration when former coach Tony Dungy and former receiver Marvin Harrison receive their Hall of Fame rings. Both were inducted in August, were part of the title team and could not attend Sunday's ceremony.
BROWN & HILTON
Antonio Brown and T.Y. Hilton grew up together as youth league teammates and are still friendly even when they're on opposing sidelines.
This week, they'll be chasing the same goals. Brown needs 93 yards to join Hines Ward as the second Steelers receiver in history to record four straight 1,000-yard seasons.
Hilton needs 112 yards for his fourth straight 1,000-yard season, something only two other Colts' receivers (Harrison and Reggie Wayne) have done.
LEARNING ON THE JOB: The Steelers have three rookies starting on defense: safety Sean Davis, cornerback Artie Burns and nose tackle Javon Hargrave.
They're growing up quickly. Burns has two interceptions in Pittsburgh's past three games, Davis has rapidly gone from lost backup to first string and Hargrave recovered a fumble for a TD in Cleveland.
The Steelers will need their fresh legs over the final six games to make the playoffs for a third straight season, something they've never done under Mike Tomlin.
''I just hope they keep coming along the way they have,'' defensive coordinator Keith Butler said.
SOMETHING HAS TO GIVE
While Pittsburgh has lost four straight Thanksgiving Day games since 1983, the Colts have won the only two such games they've been involved in since the move to Indy.
The Colts also have won 10 straight Thursday night games since 2007. But they haven't beaten Pittsburgh since 2008.
LEAN ON LE'VEON: Oh the benefits of being 24. Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell is feeling good just a few days removed from a heavy workload against the Browns.
Bell touched the ball 32 times while piling up 201 total yards and Pittsburgh's only offensive TD in Cleveland. The more carries Bell gets, the better things seem to go for the Steelers.
Pittsburgh is 8-2 when he runs for 100 yards.
''He is a young guy that wants it all the time,'' offensive coordinator Todd Haley said. ''I haven't seen him ever dragging around after a big game, which is what he had.''
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