Colts keeping focus on Giants as playoffs come into view
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Andrew Luck has a one-track mind.
With two regular-season games left, the Indianapolis Colts quarterback insists he’s paying no attention to playoff possibilities, scoreboards or other teams’ schedules. Instead, he’s focused on the only thing he considers important this weekend — beating the New York Giants on Sunday.
“I’ve been a part of teams where you sit and say, ‘We need this to happen with this.’ It doesn’t work like that,” Luck said. “You’ve got to handle your own business.”
Few teams can match what the Colts (8-6) have done lately. They’ve rebounded from a 1-5 start to win seven of eight and put themselves back in the postseason hunt. After losing their first two home games, they’ve won five straight at Lucas Oil Stadium, and if they can beat the Giants (5-9), they could control their own playoff path.
Coach Frank Reich doesn’t do business that way, though.
The former NFL quarterback simply asks his players to do their jobs: keep two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning and Offensive Rookie of the Year contender Saquon Barkley in check; prepare for the possible return of Pro Bowl receiver Odell Beckham Jr.; and expose the holes in New York’s defense.
New York, meanwhile, hopes it can continue a strong second half after starting 1-7. While winning two of three and four six, the Giants already have knocked off NFC North champion Chicago and playoff hopeful Washington. They will be playing spoiler at Indianapolis.
“You’re chasing wins,” Manning said. “We’re football players and this is what we do. We play football, that’s our passion, that’s our job, and we’re going to go out there and do it well and be able to celebrate some wins.”
It won’t be easy.
Indy pitched its first shutout in four years while rushing for 178 yards against Dallas’ No. 3-ranked run defense last week. Luck is playing the best football of his career and the defense looks as stout as it has in almost a decade.
The combination has made Indy a trendy pick as the team nobody wants to play, and if the Colts can win their last two, they could end a three-year playoff absence. But the Colts know they must stick to the plan.
“I am just very convinced there is no other way to approach it,” Reich said. “I have been around a lot of good coaches, a lot of good players (and) that is just what I have come to believe, experience and learn. There can’t be any wavering from that (focal point).”
It’s been feast or famine when it comes to sacks for the Giants. They had 14 in the first 11 games, and then picked up five each in the next two weeks against Chicago and Washington.
The added pressure resulted in four interceptions, including touchdown returns by linebacker Alec Ogletree against the Bears and Curtis Riley against the Redskins. Things got back to the norm in last week’s shutout loss to Tennessee when New York had one sack and no interceptions.
Facing the Colts might not help. Indy has allowed just 16 sacks this season, tied for fewest in the league.
Rookie linebacker Darius Leonard acknowledged he was “heartbroken” not to make the AFC’s Pro Bowl team this week despite leading the league with 146 tackles.
And he hopes to take out his frustration on the Giants this weekend. Leonard says his weekly goal is to get 25 tackles, though he’s upped the ante this week by saying he’s hoping to finish with 40. If he hits either mark, Leonard will break Jeff Herrod’s 27-year-old franchise record for tackles in one season.
Leonard needs 15 tackles to move past Herrod (160).
Pro Bowl running back Barkley was held to 31 yards on 14 carries in the loss to the Titans, his second-lowest total this season. The rookie ran for just 28 yards against Dallas in Week 2.
The second pick overall in the draft also had 56 yards from scrimmage last week, marking the second time in 14 games he’s been held below 100.
Despite the bad game, Barkley is third in the league in rushing with 1,155 yards and he is not looking for a break even though the Giants have been eliminated from playoff contention.
“I would love my workload to be whatever it can be to help the team win,” Barkley said. “I’ve said multiple times, if that’s 10 carries or if that’s 40 touches. I bumped it up to 40 this time.”
THE COMEBACK KID
Luck’s comeback season has been better than expected.
His completion percentage (67.3) is at a career high and he’s six completions away from a career best in that category, too.
What else? Luck heads into the final two games needing 810 yards and seven TD passes to break his previous career highs.
AP Sports Writer Tom Canavan contributed to this report.