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Colts trying to pick up pieces for final stretch

Posted at 6:23 AM, Dec 22, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-22 06:23:36-05
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- The Indianapolis Colts' postseason plans are in tatters.
They've lost their grip on the AFC South. Their slim hopes are in the hands of other teams. Andrew Luck and Matt Hasselbeck are still battling injuries, and on Monday, their depth chart at quarterback got even thinner.
With two weeks left in the season and their playoff chances fading, one of the summer's trendy favorites is trying to dig itself out of this mess.
"Keep fighting," Pagano said, explaining his message to the team Monday. "Like I said, we signed up for 16 regular-season games and we're going to finish. I told them to finish the race."
There are far bigger problems than effort in Indy (6-8), and they don't seem to be getting any better.
Pagano had no update on Luck, who has missed five straight games with a lacerated kidney and a partially torn abdominal muscle. He still has not been cleared to compete during the team portion of practices, but if he is cleared before the end of the season, Pagano said Luck would play.
Pagano didn't have much more on Hasselbeck. After being knocked out of each of the last three games with back, shoulder, neck and rib injuries, the three-time Pro Bowler said he hurt his jaw in Sunday's 16-10 loss to Houston -- or as Pagano described it, Hasselbeck is beat up from the feet up.
More pain came Monday when the Colts learned Tennessee had signed practice squad quarterback Alex Tanney to its active roster. And as if that wasn't enough, receiver Griff Whalen, Indy's emergency quarterback, went on injured reserve with a fractured rib.
That leaves the Colts with only one healthy quarterback on the team, third-stringer Charlie Whitehurst, and a real quandary. The depth chart has shrunk so much that Pagano was even asked about using punter Pat McAfee as a quarterback at practice this week.
But that's not how the Colts are going to salvage their sinking season.
First, they must start taking advantage of their opportunities.
Four times in the first half Sunday, Indy started drives near midfield or in Houston territory, and all the Colts got was one touchdown and one short field goal. They have 36 points in the last three games combined, and one of the scores came on a defensive touchdown.
Defensively, the Colts forced two turnovers Sunday, knocked Houston's backup quarterback, T.J. Yates, out of the game and still lost.
Yet Indy can still claim its third straight division title with two wins and two losses by Houston (7-7), or through other more complicated scenarios, all of which require one thing --  getting a little luck along the way.
Indianapolis plays at Miami on Sunday and closes the regular season at home against Tennessee. Houston finishes against the Titans and Jacksonville.
Pagano believes it can happen.
"I'd hate to sit there and let something slip by and then all of a sudden look back and say, `Boy, I didn't know they were going to lose two games,"' Pagano said.
There's more at stake than just this season, too.
After three straight losses left the Colts on the outside of the playoff picture, the chatter around town has again focused on the futures of Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson.
Grigson went all in on making a Super Bowl run by spending heavily in free agency. Pagano gambled he could hit the jackpot by leading the Colts to a Super Bowl in the last year of his contract.
Instead, those offseason moves came up short and are raising questions about what must be fixed next season -- even if Pagano's not ready to give up on 2015.
"All I worry about is us, and us preparing, us working, us doing all the little things, everything that you can with who we have in this building to prepare, put the time in and try to go win a football game. That's all you can do," Pagano said. "It's out of our hands right now, but stranger things have happened."