Colts keep finding ways to win without Luck
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts keep finding ways to adapt.
Andrew Luck gets hurt, they win. They change offensive coordinators, they win. Luck goes down again, they win again.
And now, the AFC South co-leaders are coming back home with two straight wins, a boost of confidence, full of momentum, and facing a schedule that includes only one more team with a winning record.
It's a dangerous combination for a team that has so far underperformed.
"This team knows how to finish," coach Chuck Pagano said Monday.
It also knows how to fight back.
After starting 3-5, with no wins outside its own bad division, the Colts ended Denver's perfect quest, and then on Sunday rallied behind a 40-year-old backup quarterback to come back from two 14-point deficits for a victory at Atlanta. They got two touchdown catches from the injury-prone Ahmad Bradshaw, who was re-signed a month ago, and an interception return for a score from 32-year-old linebacker D'Qwell Jackson.
The win allowed Indy (5-5) to stay atop the division and get back to .500 for the first time in almost a month.
If there's one thing these Colts know, it's this: Nothing is going to be easy over these final six weeks.
As players got an extra day off Monday, Pagano announced left tackle Anthony Castonzo, the best player on a line that has struggled to protect either quarterback this season, sprained the medial collateral ligament in his right knee. He is listed as week to week, a designation that in Pagano's lexicon usually means he'll miss a couple of games.
Indy adjusted Sunday by moving Joe Reitz from right tackle to Castonzo's usual spot, moving Jack Mewhort from left guard to right tackle and inserting veteran Lance Louis at left guard.
Pagano wouldn't say if that's the lineup he'd use if Castonzo's streak of 66 consecutive regular-season starts ends Sunday against Tampa Bay (5-5).
The offensive line has been in flux most of this season and it has showed.
Indy's opening day lineup had Castonzo and Mewhort at tackle, Louis and Todd Herremans at guard, and Khaled Holmes at center.
Since then, Herremans and Holmes have been demoted in favor of Hugh Thornton and Jonotthan Harrison, and Mewhort returned to his more natural spot at left guard.
There aren't even a lot of options for Pagano to currently consider. Rookie Denzelle Good is the only other tackle on the active roster, and the only other linemen are Holmes, Herremans and guard Ben Heenan, who is on the practice squad.
That could lead to another busy week of personnel moves.
"You hate to lose anybody, especially your starting left tackle," Pagano said. "Quarterback one week, now your left tackle. You hate it, too, because he don't miss (games), I think maybe he missed a couple of games his first year, but that's it."
Somehow, though, the Colts always seem to have an answer.
When Luck missed the first two games of his career, Matt Hasselbeck responded with back-to-back wins against division foes.
When the Colts replaced Pep Hamilton, one of Luck's mentors, with Rob Chudzinski, one of Pagano's longtime friends, the Colts responded with a quick start and a finishing flurry to beat Denver.
When Luck was diagnosed with a lacerated kidney and partially torn abdominal muscle during Indy's bye week, the Colts brought in two quarterbacks and put Hasselbeck back in the starting lineup.
"These are not perfect circumstances; you would love to have your starting quarterback playing," Hasselbeck said after improving to 3-0 on Sunday. "You would love to have a lot of different things. We have got Chud calling plays now and doing a great job. It's hard. It's not how we envisioned this year going, but he is doing a great job."
The question is whether Indy can keep it up after losing another key component in the offense.
"They keep grinding and scratching and clawing. They want to test your resolve and grit and perseverance every single week," Pagano said. "But it's quite a bunch. Got a ton of love and respect for everyone in that locker room."
NOTES: Pagano said he expects Pro Bowl safety Mike Adams (left ankle) and rookie receiver Phillip Dorsett (broken left leg) to be back on the practice field later this week, though Dorsett is expected to do only individual work. ... The only other significant injury the Colts sustained Sunday was to cornerback Vontae Davis (hamstring). He is considered day to day.