When asked Monday if he anticipated Hilton would be back after missing Sunday with a sore left hamstring, coach Chuck Pagano said, “Yes.”
While it's next-to-impossible the Titans game could impact the Colts’ AFC playoff seeding — they’re a No. 4 unless they win and the Pittsburgh-Cincinnati game ends in a tie — Pagano reiterated Sunday’s trip is important for his team’s psyche after a 42-7 loss Sunday at Dallas.
And Hilton is a key cog. He leads the team with 82 catches for 1,345 yards and his seven touchdown receptions are second to tight end Dwayne Allen’s eight.
“You want to be confident going into the playoffs,” Pagano said. “You want to go in feeling good about yourself. Nobody wants to go through a day like we went through yesterday. But you’ve got to bounce back and you’ve got to keep moving forward.
“We’ve got a game to play this Sunday. We better prepare, we better practice and do the right things, try to clean up what we can clean up in a short amount of time and go play well and come out of that game hopefully with a win and try to get your ‘mojo’ back and get feeling good about yourself. That’s obvious. Hopefully we’ll get some guys back. Definitely you’d love to go in on a winning note.”
The Colts’ offense has struggled of late, setting season lows in points and total yards against the Cowboys after registering previous season lows the week before in a 17-10 home win over Houston that clinched the AFC South Division title. Quarterback Andrew Luck passed for a career-low 109 yards before being pulled in the third quarter of a lost cause at Dallas.
A shuffling offense line has had nine different starting combinations. The Colts ran for a franchise-low 1 yard in 10 carries against the Cowboys. They surrendered four touchdowns before gaining a first down. It was beyond ugly.
That doesn’t bode well for the playoffs, in which the Colts (10-5) will likely host the loser of Sunday night’s Cincinnati (10-4-1) at Pittsburgh (10-5) AFC North Division showdown. The Colts defeated the Bengals 27-0 at home and lost to the Steelers 51-34 on the road this season. In the event the Steelers and Bengals tied -- the NFL has had one tie in 240 games this season -- the Colts could move up to a third seed with a win.
So the clock is ticking on trying to fix what’s wrong and regain lost “mojo.”
“Yeah, when you look back earlier in the season like you talked about, you saw the way the offense was moving the football on the ground, through the air mostly, guys making plays, third down, moving the chains, staying on the field, winning the time of possession, taking care of the football for the most part,” Pagano said. “We have not played well and have not executed well. We need to get it fixed and we need to get it fixed in a hurry. Hopefully the health status of our guys, you get all your guys back and the continuity up front with the offensive line, we hopefully settle into something there, and you get rolling.”
Regardless of who plays, the Colts will be heavy favorites to dispatch the Titans (2-13), who have lost nine consecutive games and are tied with Tampa Bay for the NFL’s worst record.
The Colts will switch up the weekly routine due to the holiday and practice on Tuesday, the players’ normal day off, and Wednesday before taking Christmas off and returning to work on Friday.
“We’ve got to have a great week of practice and preparation,” Pagano said. “You want to go down there and you want to play well. You want to win a football game. You want to compete. We’ve got to play better obviously than we played yesterday. You want to have momentum going into the playoffs and the only way I know to do that is to go down there and play well and try to win a football game. So that’s what we’ll prepare for.”
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.