INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Andrew Luck might be playing the best football of his career.
He’s still going to need help reaching the playoffs with mounting injuries threatening to derail the Indianapolis Colts’ late postseason push.
One week after starting center Ryan Kelly went down with a left knee injury and one day after coach Frank Reich announced tight end Jack Doyle would miss the rest of the season with an injured kidney, Luck and his teammates started preparing for the closing five-game stretch that will determine whether they end a three-year playoff drought.
“We’ve done it before,” tight end Eric Ebron said Tuesday said when asked about the adjustments. “Everybody has to take on a heavier workload.”
Doyle was injured late in the third quarter or early in the fourth, returned for two plays before leaving for good and then wound up in the hospital Sunday night for what Reich called a “procedure.”
The team provided no immediate update on whether Doyle had been released from the hospital during Tuesday’s availability.
The adaptations start with Ebron, the lone remaining healthy tight end among the five listed on last week’s depth chart. He’s already caught 11 touchdown passes this season, matching his previous four-year total and tying Dallas Clark’s single-season franchise record by a tight end and has played the way Detroit envisioned when it made Ebron a first-round draft pick in 2014.
It’s unclear whether Mo Alie-Cox, Ryan Hewitt or Erik Swoope could return from injuries this week. All three were inactive last weekend, and Reich’s offense has benefited from creating mismatches among the tight ends.
“We are hopeful and optimistic that some of those guys — one or two or all three of those guys — will be ready,” Reich said Monday. “They have been making good progress.”
But the hits have come hard and fast for Indy (6-5), which has won five straight to jump back into the playoff conversation.
Kelly missed last week’s game with a sprained medial collateral ligament and without him, the Colts allowed their first sack in six games. Luck went 249 consecutive drop-backs without being sacked, the longest streak of his pro career.
Kelly’s status for this week is still to be determined though he said Tuesday he felt much better and was running on the treadmill.
“It’s been progressing pretty well,” said Kelly, who was replaced in the lineup by midseason signee Evan Boehm. “The brace has helped.”
Running back Marlon Mack entered the concussion protocol during the fourth quarter Sunday, did not return and now his status also is in doubt this weekend.
If he can’t go, the Colts will be down to their two rookies — Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins — and possibly Jonathan Williams, presuming nobody else is signed. Williams hasn’t played since Indy signed him to the practice squad Oct. 2. He was promoted to the active roster last week.
One saving grace for Indy: Rookie linebacker Darius Leonard escaped a serious knee injury that briefly knocked him out of Sunday’s game after the first offensive play. Leonard returned and finished the game and continues to lead the NFL with 114 tackles despite missing one game in October.
But losing Doyle may create the most damaging impact for Indy.
He followed his first Pro Bowl selection with 26 receptions for 245 yards and two touchdowns in six games. The Colts went 1-4 when he missed five games earlier this season with a bad hip and they had won all four since his Week 8 return against Oakland.
Doyle’s absence leaves a big hole on the field — and in the locker room.
“It hurts,” Ebron said. “I’m more hurt because of the type of player he is and what he means to the team and to me. But we’ve done it before. We just have to adjust a few things.”
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