Charlie Whitehurst took all of the first-team snaps with the Indianapolis Colts offense Wednesday. Question is, will “Clipboard Jesus” do the same on Sunday against the Houston Texans at Lucas Oil Stadium?
“I don’t know what will happen,” said Whitehurst, 33. “I’ll prepare the same way I have the last couple of weeks. We’ll see.”
That is, prepare to start, the expectation for every NFL player on a weekly basis. But it just might happen.
In a day where starting quarterbacks were ruled out for both AFC South Division co-leaders — the Colts’ Andrew Luck (kidney) and Texans’ Brian Hoyer (concussion) — attention quickly shifted to backup plans.
Problem is, Colts 40-year-old backup Matt Hasselbeck is dealing with rib, shoulder and neck injuries. He didn’t practice Wednesday. The Colts hope he can work out Thursday, the operative word being hope. While Colts head coach Chuck Pagano said he expects the 17th-year pro to be able to play, it’s fair to say nothing is definite as of yet.
Enter Whitehurst, a timely waiver claim just after Luck was diagnosed with a lacerated kidney and partially torn abdominal muscle, injuries sustained Nov. 8. Whitehurst has been around the NFL for a decade but played in just 22 games with nine starts. He’s 2-7 in those starts, the last for Tennessee against the Colts in the 2014 season finale. He completed 12-of-28 passes with one touchdown in a 27-10 loss at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn.
“I didn’t play very good in that one,” he said.
But he has been the hero before. In 2010, he subbed for Hasselbeck and led Seattle to a 16-6 win over the St. Louis Rams in the regular-season finale to earn the Seahawks a playoff berth. The next week, Hasselbeck returned and Seattle knocked off the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints.
“The easiest way to do this stuff, this football thing, is just simplify as much as you can,” Whitehurst said. “What you can (do is) turn yourself into a robot if you go and (think too much) … I don’t think about ‘Oh, we did this. I did that back then.’ I don’t think about that stuff. At one time I did. I don’t anymore. Here’s the opportunity in front of us. Go and attack this chance and hopefully it goes in your favor.”
The Texans will start T.J. Yates, who spent his early childhood years in Indianapolis. He’s played in 17 games in his five-year career, six of them starts, including a 2011 loss at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Colts were 1-13 but upset the eventual division champion Texans 19-16. Yates completed 13-of-16 passes for 132 yards.
This season, Yates has appeared in three games with one start and completed just 22-of-47 passes (46.8 percent) for 302 yards and three touchdowns with one lost fumble and three sacks taken. But he came off the bench for Hoyer on Nov. 16 at Cincinnati and threw a 22-yard TD pass to DeAndre Hopkins for the game-winning score in a 10-6 victory over the previously unbeaten Bengals.
The Texans have never won at Indianapolis in 13 trips, but arrive this time with the same 6-7 record as the two-time defending division champs. The winner is in ideal position to claim the crown and a playoff berth. The loser would need help to achieve that objective with two regular-season games remaining.
So there’s a lot of pressure, not that the Colts’ Whitehurst gets caught up in any of that. How would he deal with the possibility of being thrust into the lineup in an all-important game?
“You don’t have a choice,” he said. “You go do it. There is an opportunity there. You go out there and you play well and you win and, hey, you’re part of something pretty cool. That’s how I approach it. I don’t try to think about it too much. We’re professionals in here and when we’re called upon, we perform. That’s what we’re supposed to do.”
Whitehurst has played for San Diego, Seattle, San Diego again and then Tennessee before coming to Indianapolis. His career numbers: 195-of-356 passing (54.8 percent), 2,190 yards, 10 TDs, seven interceptions, 34 sacks taken, one lost fumble.
The Colts are coming off 35-point losses in back-to-back games. Hasselbeck was knocked out of each game and Whitehurst entered in a mop-up role after the games had been decided. He completed 6-of-16 passes for 59 yards with one interception and three sacks taken.
“If my number’s called, I plan to go in there and perform,” he said.
Colts Pro Bowl wide receiver T.Y. Hilton was asked what the team could do to make life easier on Whitehurst, should he be called upon to start Sunday.
“Oh, just get open,” Hilton said.
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.