Can Colts hold up their end in December push to playoffs?


Andrew Luck #12 of the Indianapolis Colts throws a pass in the fourth quarter against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on November 6, 2016 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The challenge awaiting the Indianapolis Colts as they returned from an extended weekend off and resumed their pursuit of a playoff berth was clear: Do your part. Or else.

And that very likely is the problem. Do the Colts have what it takes to take care of their own business?

With five weeks remaining in a wildly erratic season, the Colts find themselves right there in the AFC South. They’re 5-6 heading into Monday night’s road test with the New York Jets, a game behind Houston (6-5) and a half-game behind Tennessee (6-6).

“It’s on us,’’ Chuck Pagano said Monday, “and we can’t count on anybody else, so we control what we can control. That’s our preparation and how we play.

“We’re focused on one game and one game only.’’

Quarterback Andrew Luck, who’s expected back after missing the loss to Pittsburgh with a concussion, is in lockstep with his coach.

“There’s no point getting caught up in standings,’’ he said. “Handle your business and see what happens at the end of the year.’’

Since we’re not required to follow Pagano’s marching orders, we’ll take a wider view of what’s ahead.

The Colts put themselves in chaser’s mode by blowing late leads against Detroit and the Texans. That’s on them. And yielding two touchdowns in the final 3 minutes and losing in overtime at Houston could well be the loss that has them missing the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1997-98.

A quick recap of the remaining schedules of the AFC South contenders (with the opponents’ record):

  • Colts: at NY Jets (3-8), Houston (6-5), at Minnesota (6-5), at Oakland (9-2), Jacksonville (2-9).
  • Texans: at Green Bay (5-6), at Colts (5-6), Jacksonville (2-9), Cincinnati (3-7-1), at Tennessee (6-6).
  • Titans: Bye, Denver (7-4), at Kansas City (8-3), at Jacksonville (2-9), Houston (6-5).

Does anyone really believe Houston has a strong closing kick? With Brock Osweiler running the show? They’ve riled up their fan base by losing two straight, and face a revived Green Bay Sunday in Lambeau Field before their Dec. 11 rematch with the Colts in Lucas Oil Stadium. It’s easy to argue they finish at 8-8.

After the bye, the Titans must deal with AFC West powers Denver and Kansas City, both still in hot pursuit of the Raiders. Again, 8-8 is realistic.

If the Colts close by winning four of five – OK, that’s a stretch – they could win the AFC South outright at 9-7. A three-way tie at 8-8 would make things very interesting.

Something to keep in mind as December unfolds: A tiebreaker situation with Houston is bad while a tiebreaker situation with Tennessee is good.

But to get to that point, the Colts must make the transformation from an untrustworthy bunch to a team that quits dropping passes (a league-high 22), quits getting its QBs roughed up (38 sacks, second in the league . . . to Cleveland’s 43) and quits making things tough on itself.

There’s still time, but time’s running out.

“There is no margin for error,’’ Pagano said. “We have had our ups and downs, and that’s life in the NFL. That’s life in general.

“It’s all how you respond, so I expect these guys to respond like they usually do.’’

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