INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – A season is all but lost, and in the process the Indianapolis Colts are putting their future and that of their irreplaceable player at risk.
Andrew Luck was held out of practice Wednesday as the team ramped up preparations for Sunday’s road test with the Minnesota Vikings.
The reason: soreness in his right shoulder and elbow. The right shoulder has been an issue all season and resulted in Luck being limited in practice at least once each week and all three days last week.
Now, the elbow. And let’s not forget Luck missed the Nov. 24 loss to Pittsburgh after suffering a concussion the prior week against the Tennessee Titans.
Luck said he “absolutely’’ would be ready for the Vikings game, but conceded it’s not ideal to miss time on the practice field. All told, he’s now missed five practices entirely, been limited 16 times and been able to handle a full workload on 19 occasions.
“I’m a big believer in practice,’’ Luck said. “It hurts your soul not to be out there practicing, but obviously some things are done for the better of this team, for yourself, and not practicing today was the right decision by those involved.’’
The latest setback was a byproduct of yet another tough day at the office for Luck. In the 22-17 loss to the Texans that placed the Colts’ playoff hopes on life support, he was sacked only once but hit on another 12 occasions.
“He got whacked around pretty good last week,’’ coach Chuck Pagano said.
Luck wouldn’t argue the point.
“Didn’t feel as good after that game as you would like,’’ he said. “But again, it’s December football. Nobody feels like they want to at this point of the year. You make sure you’re ready to go on Sunday.
“It seems to be the way the season has gone.’’
For those who’ve lost track, Luck’s been sacked 37 times and hit 61 times, despite missing one game. Only Buffalo’s Tyrod Taylor, with 39, has endured more sacks. Arizona’s Carson Palmer matches Luck’s 37.
But sacks hardly offer a realistic picture of the abuse Luck has absorbed in his four-plus seasons. In 67 regular-season games, he’s been hit an NFL-high 473 times, which includes 152 sacks.
“It’s our job to make sure he doesn’t get hit, so one hit is one too many,’’ said left tackle Anthony Castonzo.
Added running back Frank Gore: “He’s a tough guy, but you don’t want your quarterback to get hit that much. I guess we’ve got to try and do something different. I don’t know what that is, but just gotta do something different.’’
Does Luck ever wonder how much abuse his 6-4, 240-pound frame can endure?
“I don’t worry about it. I don’t wonder about it,’’ he said. “I go out there and play football.’’
But it’s anyone’s guess how the continued, weekly punishment will impact Luck’s long-term career. Protecting their franchise QB has been an issue since the Colts selected him with the first overall pick in the 2012 draft. After 65 starts, he had played behind 32 different starting offensive lines, the most in the NFL by a QB since 1970.
“He’s a big, tough, strong, physical guy,’’ coach Chuck Pagano said of Luck. “We don’t ever want to get him hit.
“We’ve got to be better, we know that. We can’t afford to keep going down that road.’’
Yet here they are, going down that road. Again.
If Luck’s under center Sunday, he’ll face a Minnesota defense that’s ranked No. 2 in yards allowed (304.3 per game) and No. 1 in fewest points (17.3). The Vikings have generated 35 sacks, third-most in the league. Danielle Hunter (10.5), Everson Griffin (8) and Brian Robison (7) have combined for 25.5, or one-half more than the Colts’ defense.
Compounding matters, Luck’s offensive line will be without starting left guard Jack Mewhort, who’s lost for the season after suffering a chondral defect injury to his left knee against the Texans. Jon Harrison likely will replace Mewhort. Also, right tackle Joe Reitz missed practice with a back injury.
Injuries aside, Luck is totally focused on the Vikings and a strong finish to a frustrating season.
“We’re obviously in a desperate situation. It’s no secret,’’ he said. “And we know we have to take care of our business.
“It’s about this game. It’s about playing the Minnesota Vikings . . . it’s a great challenge for us.’’