INDIANAPOLIS — The AFC playoff picture is tenuous for the Indianapolis Colts, who occupy the seventh and final spot entering Sunday's game at Houston.
That’s incentive enough to win in the Lone Star State, but they’re also inspired to “win for Rigo.”
Fourth-year punter Rigoberto Sanchez underwent successful surgery Tuesday to remove a cancerous growth. He shared the outcome on Twitter.
As the Colts (7-4) returned to the practice field Wednesday to prep for the Texans (4-7), Sanchez was on their minds.
“I think it would mean everything,” defensive end Justin Houston said. “It’s a division game. There’s a lot on this game. To go out there and win, knowing we’re playing for him, I’m pretty sure he’d be very happy.”
Houston and head coach Frank Reich said the team is focused on the task at hand, and won’t allow Sanchez’s situation to have a negative impact.
“We pray for him, we keep him in our prayers, and we always think about it but we don’t let it be a distraction,” Houston said. “I know that’s easier said than done, when one of your family members is down and going through a tough situation as that, but I think us going out here winning and playing for him will bring more joy to him than us actually using it as a distraction and actually causing us to take away from the game.”
The Colts are coming off a humbling 45-26 home loss to the Tennessee Titans, who at 8-3 took a one-game division lead. And they’re racing a Texans team that has gained momentum under interim coach Romeo Crennel with three wins in four games. The Texans have also benefited from extra rest in a weekend off after a 41-25 victory at Detroit on Thanksgiving Day.
Colts special teams coach Bubba Ventrone suggested that if the Colts “could take care of business” and make the playoffs, Sanchez might be able to return. The Colts haven’t made the playoffs in four of the past five years.
Reich, who constantly reinforces the weekly emphasis of finishing 1-0, reiterated the team has to concentrate on the game ahead, not what could happen later.
“We’re focused on the Texans,” the third-year head coach said. “I mean, fair question obviously, because we love ‘Rigo.’ We did talk today to the punt team about, ‘Hey, in ‘Rigo’s absence, let’s have our best effort because ‘Rigo’ is our guy and one of the best in the league. So in his absence, however long that is, let’s be at our best.’
“But I don’t mind telling you, the prognosis is positive for ‘Rigo.’ So we’re hopeful. And we’re hopeful it’s not months. We’re hopeful, I don’t know, this is out of my league, but the reports we’re getting are very positive.”
The Colts have yet to announce signing a replacement punter because, in accordance with NFL guidelines, that player must pass through COVID-19 testing protocol. That meant no live punting on Wednesday with rookie kicker Rodrigo Blankenship lining up there for walk-through work.