A day after a second consecutive 35-point loss, head coach Chuck Pagano repeated his mantra that his Indianapolis Colts are all-in with their proverbial poker chips for the regular season’s final three games.
That doesn’t mean quarterback Andrew Luck is in the fold — he hopes to practice this week but Pagano didn’t confirm that possibility or provide an update on his three-time Pro Bowl passer, who suffered a lacerated kidney and partially torn abdominal muscle on Nov. 8.
But Pagano did express optimism Monday about many of his other key chips, most notably backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck (neck, ribs), offensive left tackle Anthony Castonzo (knee), inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman (hamstring), outside linebacker Erik Walden (heel) and cornerback Greg Toler (knee).
All but Hasselbeck are expected to be back on the practice field Wednesday. Pagano said Hasselbeck would likely get a day of rest and then return Thursday.
The Colts host the Houston Texans Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium in a matchup of 6-7 teams tied for the AFC South Division lead. The winner earns the inside track to a playoff berth while the loser would need help to win the division title.
Hasselbeck was wearing a sling after Sunday’s 51-16 loss at Jacksonville, in which he exited in the fourth quarter. But Pagano sounded like he’s counting on the 40-year-old passer to be ready for Sunday.
“Yeah, I mean, I’m hopeful,” the coach said. “He’s banged up like a lot of the guys, but he’s a warrior. He came back into that game after taking a pretty good lick. Matt is a tough guy, and he’s a great competitor. I fully anticipate him being available for us.”
The sling is to immobilize the arm and give pain relief to Hasselbeck, who has been experiencing spasms from the rib injury.
“He had an MRI today, and he’s got a rib issue that he’s dealing with,” Pagano said. “It causes some spasms and makes it hard to breathe, and it’s pretty uncomfortable. Especially when you get hit and knocked around like he did.”
Castonzo has missed the past three games after suffering a left medial collateral ligament strain in the final quarter of a 24-21 win on Nov. 22 at Atlanta. The Colts’ best offensive lineman said he still needs to do some rehab work on Tuesday but was optimistic he will practice and play against the Texans.
Freeman, the team’s No. 2 tackler, missed the last two games after aggravating his hamstring injury against Tampa Bay.
“Nobody is 100 percent right now,” Pagano said. “Go take a poll in that locker room and not one guy in there is 100 percent.”
When Pagano was asked about if he’s approaching the Texans test like a playoff game, he gave his chips analogy.
“That’s what it is, right? That’s what it is,” he said. “We’ve got all our chips in the middle. They’re still there. Last time I looked, we’re still leading the division, right? So, one goal: win a game.”
The coach was asked if he’s still carrying a poker chip in his pocket. He reached in and pulled one out and showed it to reporters.
“All of the chips are in the middle,” Pagano said. “Whoever is in is going to be in. If the stakes are too high, get out.”
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.