NEW YORK — Over the first five weeks of the season, the Colts have repeatedly proven their competitiveness and football character.
But it's time to start collecting wins.
Indianapolis (1-4) enters the New York metropolitan area this week with a banged-up roster but also a stretch of games that could allow the team to regain some footing before the bye week.
It starts Sunday against a Jets team coming off an impressive 34-16 victory over Denver in which it rushed for more than 300 yards.
“We do take a mentality of a 1-0 approach, that nothing else matters before or after this game,” Colts head coach Frank Reich said. “But certainly, from the outside looking in and the scope of things given that we are 1-4, (it's) certainly a big game. Certainly a big game for us to get back on track.”
Once again, Indianapolis will have to make it happen at less than full strength.
On Friday, the Colts ruled out wide receiver T.Y. Hilton (chest/hamstring), tight end Jack Doyle (hip), safety Clayton Geathers (concussion/neck) and defensive lineman Denico Autry (hamstring). Safety Matthias Farley (shoulder/groin/wrist) was placed on injured reserve, and right tackle Denzelle Good won't play after missing last week's game at New England and the early part of this practice week while attending the funeral of his brother, Overton, in South Carolina.
On Saturday, Indianapolis downgraded defensive end Margus Hunt (knee) and cornerback Arthur Maulet (hip) to out from questionable. Neither player made the trip east with the team, meaning for the second straight week the entire seven-man game day inactive list will be known well before kickoff.
The Colts actually had just 44 players dressed against the Patriots — two shy of the 46-man maximum — and left tackle Anthony Castonzo was available only in an emergency. Four more players came out of the game with injuries.
Castonzo is expected to make his 2018 debut against the Jets (2-3), and running back Marlon Mack is expected to play for the first time since Week 2 at Washington.
Others expected to return to the lineup are cornerback Nate Hairston (ankle), cornerback Kenny Moore II (concussion), defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway (calf), linebacker Anthony Walker (concussion) and cornerback Quincy Wilson (concussion).
The rotating bodies have been difficult to juggle each week, but Reich takes a simple approach.
“We talk about our whole team as the entire roster,” he said. “So, from that perspective as the coach, I see our team as is, and when guys go down it is just part of the nature of the league — that (the) next man steps up. Now we get some guys healthy for this game, and we just kind of keep rolling. They give us a boost, and more guys go. But, yeah, we just feel confident with the guys we have been playing with all year.”
The offensive line has seen as much turmoil as any unit.
Castonzo will be the sixth offensive tackle to start already this season, and Indianapolis will employ its fifth different starting five.
Right guard Matt Slauson also was placed on injured reserve with a back injury this week. It appears as though Mark Glowinski will start in his place, with rookie Braden Smith returning at right tackle for the second consecutive game.
Center Ryan Kelly is questionable with a calf injury. He didn't practice Wednesday or Thursday but was a full participant Friday and was optimistic he'd be able to play. If he can't, Evan Boehm — signed Monday from the Rams' practice squad — will get his first start with the Colts.
“Certainly it’s not ideal,” quarterback Andrew Luck said of the constantly shifting line. “I am not going to say it’s a perfect situation, but it is the situation that we are in. So we will roll with it. There is a reason you have a deep roster at o-line. There is a reason you have to have guys fighting for every position, and they have. I think everybody who goes out there I feel very, very comfortable with because they have earned the right to go out there with some confidence and competence.”
As much as the injuries have affected the team's slow start, inconsistent play has been an even greater factor.
Critical errors have spelled the difference in nearly every loss.
Doyle fumbled with Indianapolis driving for a potential go-ahead score late in the fourth quarter of a Week 1 loss to Cincinnati. Luck was sacked on fourth-and-goal at the 4-yard line in a similar situation two weeks later at Philadelphia. And a pair of first-half fumbles spotted Houston 14 points in a devastating overtime loss at home on Sept. 30.
Even the 38-24 loss at New England last week included a pair of second-half turnovers that helped derail a comeback that cut the deficit to seven points early in the fourth quarter.
Luck hinted Indianapolis might be its own worst enemy after that game. He said the team needs to get out of its own way and clean up its mistakes if it's going to win consistently.
Reich saw steps in that direction in practice this week.
“I thought there was not only good energy — we talk about, ‘Hey, you can have good energy and good effort, but you also need discipline, execution, focus and attention to detail,’” Reich said. “(I) felt like this week was one of our better weeks in that regard.”