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Indy needs more than Luck to contend for championship

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By any measure of NFL stardom, Andrew Luck is a special player.

Possessed not only of special talent, he’s a special leader with a special gift for willing the Colts to wins. Moving forward, however, that might not be enough to get the Colts where they want to go.

With a leaky offensive line, a traction-less running game and a parade of injuries that have crippled a once-spry offense, Indy is going to need Luck to be something more than special to stay in the Super Bowl picture.

Extra-special won’t be good enough.

For the Colts to seriously challenge for something better than just the AFC South championship, Luck is going to have to be something closer to otherworldly.

The reality is that, apart from Luck, Indy doesn’t have anything remotely close to an offensive star. Not with Reggie Wayne on the injured list. Not with Dwayne Allen on the injured list. Not with Vick Ballard on the injured list. Not with Ahmad Bradshaw on the injured list.

Those components are lost for the season. And what’s left is hardly the material championship contenders are made of.

That’s become blatantly obvious the past two performances, during which Indy’s deficiencies have been on full display.

At Houston two weeks ago, the Colts were on their way to an ugly loss — until Texans’ head coach Gary Kubiak, who calls all the offensive plays, suffered a mini stroke at halftime. Although the Colts rallied for an improbable win in the second half, it would take a wild stretch of the imagination to suggest Kubiak’s medical emergency — and the shock and disruption it stirred on the Texans’ sideline — didn’t factor into the outcome in a significant way.

Perhaps that can be debated, but what happened last week cannot. The Colts were, in a word, horrid.

Even Luck, who committed four turnovers, was somewhere between “off” and “awful,” largely, but not exclusively, the result of shouldering too much of the offensive burden, all the while dodging unimpeded pass-rushers zeroing in from all directions.

You know the result: St. Louis 38, Colts 8.

In some corners, it’s been brushed off as “just a bad game,” something that happens occasionally to even the best teams, including Super Bowl contenders. And maybe that’s true. But when coupled with the first-half disaster at Houston, it’s hard to suppress the feeling that it was something more than just a “bad game,” that it was more indicative of what the Colts, at this point in time, are: an injury-riddled mess minus the depth to fix anything.

They have Luck, and not much else.

It would be easy to label the past two games anomalies were it not for the fact the Colts looked really bad against two really bad teams. Both had losing records. Both were down to backup quarterbacks. And both will miss the playoffs.

Though way too early to project, it’s fair to wonder whether the Colts will miss out, too. They got off to a good enough start to lead the AFC South, but the race is far from over.

At 6-3, the Colts have a two-game cushion on their nearest challenger, which happens to be tonight’s opponent, Tennessee (4-5). Win, and the Colts create much-needed breathing room. Lose, and it’s an entirely new playoff posture. Something called “slumping.”

True, injuries happen to all teams, are part of the game, you have to adjust, next man up, and all that. But at some point, contending teams still have to have enough play-making players, not just fill-ins, to stay in contention.

At the moment, the Colts have only one such player. His name is Andrew Luck. Time will tell whether one is enough.

But the postseason clock is ticking.

Rick Morwick is sports editor for the Daily Journal

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