Analysis: Can Colts survive without quarterback Andrew Luck?

Pro Bowl quarterback estimated to miss 2-6 weeks with a lacerated kidney and partial abdominal muscle tear suffered in Sunday's win. Backup Matt Hasselbeck will take his place after a bye week.

So much for a quiet bye week.

Still basking in the glow of their most impressive win of a roller-coaster season, the Indianapolis Colts were blind-sided by the Tuesday news that quarterback Andrew Luck suffered a lacerated kidney and partial tear of an abdominal muscle in Sunday’s 27-24 home win over previously unbeaten Denver.

The Colts say their star will miss two to six weeks, but head coach Chuck Pagano said on a conference call it’s too soon to know for sure how long Luck will be sidelined.

So now the question is quite simple: Can 40-year-old backup Matt Hasselbeck keep the Colts in the hunt until or if Luck returns?

Yes, Hasselbeck is a seasoned pro in his 17th season and led the Colts to a home win against Jacksonville and road victory at Houston when Luck was inactive for Weeks 4 and 5. This is why the Colts paid Hasselbeck $3 million to be their insurance policy.

We thought the Colts had collected before, but now they’ll really need to do so.

After the bye, the Colts (4-5) are at the Atlanta Falcons (6-3), who have struggled of late with losses to San Francisco, Tampa Bay and New Orleans. Then five of the last six Colts opponents have losing records.

So, sure, the Colts can still accomplish their first goal and win the underwhelming AFC South Division and make the playoffs.

Anybody wondering about if Luck will be affected by his injuries when or if he returns this season need only to look at Sunday’s game at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Most watching will remember the play. It was the first of the fourth quarter. Luck scrambled. He first got drilled in the gut by Broncos linebacker Danny Trevathan, then as he was falling backward his body was snapped forward when Broncos defensive end Vance Walker smashed him from behind in the shoulder area.

Offensive guard Jack Mewhort helped Luck up. The TV camera showed a close-up of the quarterback. If he knew he was seriously hurt, Luck didn't show it.

On the next play, Luck threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to running back Ahmad Bradshaw for a 24-17 lead. Luck is as tough as they come, and everybody should have known that before today, considering the punishment he’s endured in four NFL seasons.

Luck finished the game.

It was his best performance of the season and his team’s most impressive and much-needed victory in recent memory.

But Pagano said Luck was still sore and in pain on Monday, hence the team had him checked out. 

“We’ve faced a ton of adversity,” Pagano said. “You guys know it and we know it and everybody in this building knows it. It is one heck of a blow. You don’t want to lose anybody, especially your starting quarterback. Our guys will respond like they always do. It will galvanize us even more. We’ve been through a ton already this season and in the past and we’ll get through it. We’ll get through it.”

The coach in a contract year with his job reportedly on the line conceded it’s been a trying season, the likes of which he’s never experienced before.

“I can’t recall,” he said. “I don’t think so, but it’s the National Football League and we’re getting our fair share of tests and adversity. Like I said, we’ve come through the fire before and we’ll come through this one again.”

Including after Sunday’s win, Luck has repeatedly reminded nobody in the NFL feels sorry for anyone else. That’s the nature of the business.

But moving forward, presuming Luck returns healthy this season, one has to wonder about the ramifications from what’s transpired. Granted, this time, Luck got hurt while scrambling because the play broke down.

Some can blame his O-line again, but Luck obviously didn’t see anybody open, either. Some can say No. 12 could have avoided the punishment if he slid. Again, that same aggressiveness enabled him to run for two first downs earlier in the game.

Some will ask if this is somehow a further indictment of general manager Ryan Grigson and Pagano to not give Luck a better offensive line to protect him. No argument the Colts have failed in this regard. The difference Sunday was associate head coach Rob Chudzinski going with more maximum protections, utilizing all three tight ends, to give Luck time to make the right decisions and play turnover free.

Bottom line, all of that should-he-stay-or-go stuff will sort itself out after the season. Worry about it later.

What matters now is Luck gets healthy. He reminded any doubters out there that all things are possible when he plays well and the game plan doesn’t subject him to taking long drop-backs and getting drilled into submission each game.

It’s undeniably the saddest day for the Colts organization and fan base since before Luck was selected No. 1 overall in the 2012 NFL draft.

“When you take a hit with your franchise quarterback and all that stuff, it is a tough blow,” Pagano said.

Tough doesn’t begin to sum this up.

The Colts will have to show as much resolve as Andrew Luck has in this painful season to endure.

Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.

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