VIDEO Jack Syke
Full disclosure. I’m a Patriots fan. I’m supposed to want bad things to happen to Colts players, coaches and staff and anyone who ever influenced any of them to pursue a career in football. Instead I find myself rooting for the career of Andrew Luck and I still believe him to be the future of Indianapolis glory. Up until this season everything was certainly going as scripted. The Colts endured a relatively smooth transition from the Manning Era and went through a rebuild, poking their way further into the playoffs each year. In losing the 2015 AFC Championship Game they suffered the same obligatory heartbreaking playoff loss every team endures prior to finally winning it all. The stage was set for 2015-2016 as the season of Luck. But then something happened. Instead of licking their (gaping 45-7) wounds and looking on to the next phase the Colts cried foul and caused themselves two problems: 1) Unnecessary pre-season distractions and 2) Unnecessary poking of an already angry and motivated proverbial bear. Looking at this from a strictly Colts point of view, all it did was increase the magnitude of pressure that was already placed on the outcome of the 2015-2016 season.
Heading into the season I think the expectation became too much. The football season is short and every regular season game is more meaningful than in any other sport. There are obviously several key MUST win games for any playoff hopeful. One thing that’s easy to forget though is that you don’t have to win them all. As a pre-season favorite the Colts were not hot out of the gate, starting 0-2. Luck was at best somewhat good. His supporting cast looked very uncomfortable, never helping him get into a rhythm. Panic mode was setting in. Before things got too bleak they were fortunate enough to get a win against division rival Tennessee in week 3. Then Luck was mercifully sidelined with a “shoulder” injury. With the spotlight dimmed a bit and with the first win under their belts, capable second string Matt Hasselbeck stepped up and quietly delivered two more crucial division wins throwing 3 TDs and 0 interceptions. Things settled down and the players could just play again. Crisis averted. Then came week 6.
There isn’t one person who didn’t have the week 6 game vs. the Patriots circled on their calendar from the day the schedule was released. Although the significance was mildly lessened due to Tom Brady’s reinstatement, the bitterness of the atmosphere wasn’t any less prevalent. Instead of it being the exciting potential moment of the changing of the guard for Luck, it ended up having nothing to do with him. Having already not yet played like himself this season, having teammates let him down all over the field, having not played at all in three weeks, he was thrown into this mess as merely a faceless pawn in a game between a horseshoe (the symbol of football integrity and decency), a hoodie (responsible for everything evil in the world from terrorism to baldness), and, well, Tom Brady (he had a face for this as he just represented himself). Forgetting all the history and emotion, for the short term championship goals of the season this was NOT a must win game. As shaky as their 3-2 start was, everyone else in the AFC South was and still is hideous. Sure, if they had pulled it off it would have been an incredible moment but the risk was far greater than any possible reward. There was no reason why Hasselbeck shouldn’t have started this game. Yes, he’d played through a bacterial illness the game before but doesn’t it say something that in a MUST win divisional game Luck was deemed to be in worse shape than an aging QB on IV with a stomach virus? Why then a week later would they throw someone who’s vital to the organization and still a little rusty into what was really a nothing game?
All through the season and especially since that decision, there’s been a lot of drama surrounding the Colts with interceptions, a gloriously self-destructive 4th down trick play against the Patriots, interceptions, recent speculation of some minor tweaking to the injury reports, interceptions, and the firing of their offensive coordinator. It’s certainly a better time to be lined up on the other side of the ball from Luck these days. As they could potentially hit the dreaded 6 loss mark the Colts are more desperate than ever to stop their downward spiral and will look to Luck and their new OC to find some chemistry right away in the hopes of putting up a fight against the 7-0 former Colts’ hero Peyton Manning. This is exactly why Luck should be on the sidelines for this game.
The Colts at 3-5 still sit first place in their division. They have a bye next week. This is NOT a must win game. After three more weeks of rest for his (shoulder, ribs, ankle?) and a chance to really develop and work on the new offensive approach, Luck could start fresh in Week 11 vs. the Falcons as a good way to see how they sum up against a surging team. Even if they lose to the Broncos and the Falcons they’ll only be 3-7 and they end the season with 6 straight games against opponents that will probably be under .500. This includes one game against all three division rivals, the only teams at this point the Colts should be worried about finishing higher than. Having a rested and more confident Luck leading into those crucial must win games and into the playoffs would be my choice vs. the risk of having him physically and mentally depleted in a senseless frustrating loss, essentially repeating the mistakes of week 6. Starting Hasselbeck is not only their best chance at victory for week 9, it’s their best chance at Luck preparing himself for the grind down the stretch.