The Indianapolis Colts hope Andrew Luck can return from a concussion and signs are pointing he will play Monday night against the New York Jets.
Regardless of who the quarterback is, Indianapolis knows there is little margin of error and the visit to MetLife Stadium represents a must-win situation.
The good news for the Colts is Luck participated in Wednesday's practice with no restrictions and said he felt great.
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Luck suffered a concussion when the Titans 314-pound defensive tackle Austin Johnson landed on top of him in a Nov. 20 game after recording a sack — one of the 36 opponents have recorded against him this season.
At 5-6, the Colts are just behind the Houston Texans (6-5) and Tennessee Titans (6-6) in a competitive AFC South race. The Colts own the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Titans but lost in overtime to Houston, which they visit next week.
“To have opportunities to go out and try to win a football game and get a little closer to your goal, yeah, that's absolutely special,” Luck said. “It's all about focus on this game because if you don't take care of business this week it's a moot point.”
“Well I think the margin for error is obviously shrinking, but I think that, you know, we're still in the hunt,” Indianapolis general manager Ryan Grigson said. “There's, again, if you look through all the records in the league right now, I mean, the league, the way it's set up, it's beyond parity.”
Of course those things might become irrelevant for the Colts if they lose to the Jets. It remains likely Luck could start but as of Wednesday, he was still in the concussion protocol and if he misses more time down the stretch it will be the second straight season the Colts were without Luck late in the season.
“Yeah, you want to have all your guys out there and certainly Andrew is a guy you want to have on the field,” Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano said Wednesday. “I think everybody is excited about that. Whatever happens, this team will deal with it. It doesn't matter. They will respond to whatever the circumstances are, whatever the adversity is just like they did last year to find a way to win games and sometimes you have to do it without the guy and that is not the case right now hopefully.”
Last season, Luck missed nine games with rib injuries. The Colts were 4-5 when he was lost for the season, won the first two games without him but had an inopportune three-game losing streak and wound up 8-8.
The Colts are in their current predicament because of a 1-3 start that featured close defeats to the Detroit Lions and Jacksonville Jaguars.
Indianapolis has won four of its last six games but its first game without Luck did not go well.
In the 28-7 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Nov. 24, Scott Tolzien was 22 of 36 for 205 yards.
T.Y. Hilton was limited to three catches for 54 yards before bruising his lower back. Hilton practiced Wednesday after sitting out Monday and seems likely to play.
Like the Colts, the Jets' quarterback situation is driving headlines but it has nothing to do with health. Fans are clamoring for Bryce Petty to start but Jets coach Todd Bowles said Ryan Fitzpatrick will start despite a 3-8 record.
Fitzpatrick has struggled most of this season by throwing 13 interceptions in 10 games. Fitzpatrick has completed 57.6 percent of his passes, down from his 59.6 percent completion rate last season when he had 31 touchdown passes and only 15 interceptions.
Petty started Nov. 13 and threw for 163 yards in New York's 9-6 loss to the Los Angeles Rams. Fitzpatrick returned to the starting job and completed 22 of 32 passes with two touchdowns in Sunday's 22-17 loss to the New England Patriots when the team opted for a conservative game plan on dump offs and short passes.
“It's not about Bryce and it's not about Fitz, it's about our team trying to win ball games,” Jets coach Todd Bowles said Monday. “Right now, Fitz is our starter. He gives us a good chance to win.”
Last week, Tom Brady was listed as questionable with a knee injury against the Jets. While Luck's return is not official, the Jets are preparing to face him.
“I thought he'd play,” Bowles said. “They hadn't played since Thursday so they had a lot of days off for him to get ready to play. The challenge of facing him – he's another great quarterback.
“He's big, he's tall (and) he can run with the football, very intelligent, throws a great deep ball, can scramble and get out of the grass because of his size. You think you can run him down but he's pretty quick and pretty nimble for a big guy and he's always looking downfield to throw the ball so we have our hands full.”
The Jets have done well in two wins against Luck. In those meetings, Luck has completed 43 of 81 passes for 530 yards with one touchdown, five interceptions. He also has been sacked four times and has a career 52.0 passer rating against New York.
Last season, New York recorded a 20-7 victory in Indianapolis by forcing five turnovers in a Monday night game. Cornerback Darrelle Revis had an interception and recovered two fumbles but this year Revis has continued a slide that began late last season and included him allowing two touchdowns and four completions for 41 yards last week according to Pro Football Focus.