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Colts’ notebook: Loss to Texans ‘the toughest yet’

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 11: Akeem Hunt #33 of the Houston Texans runs with the ball during the second quarter of the game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 11, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The proverbial 24-hour rule aside, it’s going to be difficult for the Indianapolis Colts to get past their latest, and most damaging, loss.

That would be Sunday’s costly 22-17 setback to the Houston Texans in Lucas Oil Stadium. Instead of controlling the AFC South and their path to the postseason, the Colts are reduced to, as running back Frank Gore lamented after the game, “wishing and hoping.’’

Considering the playoff ramifications, coach Chuck Pagano admitted Monday the loss was “probably the toughest (loss) yet.

“We’ll face our toughest test to this date on how we come back. It doesn’t get any easier. Life in this league as a player and a coach, you know, it’s tough business and it isn’t for everybody. But we have . . . the right men in this building to get the job done.’’

The Colts take a 6-7 record and flickering playoff hopes into Sunday’s road test with the Minnesota Vikings. With three games to play, the AFC South almost certainly belongs to either the Texans or Tennessee Titans, each 7-6.

“We had an opportunity and we let it slip through our fingers,’’ Pagano said. “We’ve got three left and we need to win them.

“I don’t want to look back and none of those players want to look back and say, ‘Man, I didn’t know that was going to happen.’ Or, ‘This happened, this happened, but we didn’t take care of what we needed to take care of.’ We’ll do our part . . .’’

Before focusing on the Vikings, Pagano was asked to sift through the debris from the Texans game.

He steadfastly defended the decision to call two critical plays: a strip/sack/fumble of quarterback Andrew Luck by Texans end Jadeveon Clowney and Luck’s failed fourth-and-1 screen pass to Robert Turbin in the closing minutes.

On Luck’s lost fumble on third-and-goal at the 3-yard line late in the third quarter, Clowney beat tight end Dwayne Allen.

Pagano declined to elaborate on why Allen ended up one-on-one against Houston’s most disruptive pass rusher, but insisted the play call “was excellent and we had what we wanted and we didn’t execute, we weren’t efficient, whatever.’’

Pagano was asked if the play called for Luck to get rid of the football quicker than he did.

“You never plan for a strip/sack and a fumble. Never,’’ he said, getting a bit feisty. “I have never been in a meeting room and sat there and said, ‘How can we design a play that gets our quarterback murdered from the backside and it is a tight ballgame and we know we need points and we want him to get hit and get the arm hit and get the ball out and have to recover from it and see if we can overcome it?’

“We don’t design stuff like that. There were a lot of things that went into that. It doesn’t fall on 83 (Allen). He has to be better, he knows that. But it doesn’t just fall on him.’’

Pagano also had no problem with the failed fourth-and-1, other than the end result.

“I liked it. I liked it,’’ he said. “You guys all think it was a screen and there is more to it.’’

Again, Pagano wouldn’t elaborate. However, on the loss-sealing play, Luck initially looked to his left where tight end Jack Doyle and wideout Chester Rogers were positioned. When he apparently didn’t like what he saw as their routes developed, Luck came back to running back Robert Turbin. Pressure from nose tackle Vince Wilfork contributed to an errant throw to Turbin.

“We had a great call on,’’ Pagano said. “The football gods weren’t with us on that fourth-and-1, so we dust ourselves off, clean ourselves up and we all came into work today roaring and rearing to go because we have another ballgame to play.’’

Injuries mount: The Colts placed starting guard Jack Mewhort (knee), rookie linebacker Curt Maggitt (knee) and safety Clayton Geathers (neck) on the injured reserve list. Mewhort and Maggitt were hurt against the Texans while Geathers’ injury was a previous issue.

“Hate to lose anybody, obviously,’’ Pagano said.

Heading into the week, guard Denzelle Good and defensive tackle Zach Kerr remain in the NFL’s concussion protocol. Linebacker Robert Mathis still is dealing with a biceps injury and cornerback Patrick Robinson with a groin injury.

Wideout Donte Moncrief was forced from the Houston game with a hamstring injury, and his availability for Minnesota is in doubt.

Roster moves: The team moved quickly to replace the injured players. Signed to the active roster were safety Duke Williams, cornerback Charles James and wideout Devin Street.

Street had been on the practice squad, and his elevation is a clear sign Moncrief probably won’t be ready for the Vikings game.