INDIANAPOLIS – The Indianapolis Colts may have to make their final playoff push without receiver Austin Collie.
Less than 24 hours after Collie left his third game in seven weeks with a head injury, coach Jim Caldwell said he didn't know when — or if — one of their top play-makers would return this season.
"We lean totally upon those who are in charge," Caldwell said, referring to the doctors. "Here's the thing. There's not a coach that makes any decision based on anybody who has a concussion. Once he's cleared and ready to go, that's the case."
The second-year receiver was injured late in the first half Sunday when Jacksonville linebacker Daryl Smith appeared to hit Collie in the head with his forearm as Collie went low to make a catch.
Unfortunately for Collie, it's been a recurring theme.
Since the second half of a Nov. 7 game at Philadelphia, Collie has played in only three quarters, leaving games twice with diagnosed concussions and a third time with what the team described as "concussion-like symptoms." Caldwell couldn't say definitively whether the third instance was considered a full-blown concussion.
But losing Collie could be damaging to the Colts' postseason hopes.
Despite missing five games and more than a half in three others, he leads all Indy receivers with eight TD catches, is second in receptions (58) and third in yards (649). And when four-time league MVP Peyton Manning was mired in the worst slump of his pro career, Collie wasn't wearing pads.
When he returned Sunday against the Jags, for what amounted to a playoff-elimination game, Manning threw 10 passes to Collie in the first half. He caught eight for 87 yards and two TDs, and, perhaps not surprisingly, his presence helped open things up for Indy's suddenly rejuvenated ground game.
And although Caldwell has not ruled out Collie for this week's game at Oakland, few expect him to play.
"At this point, we're certainly going to err — we did the last time — but we're certainly going to err so far on the side of caution that you can't see the other side," Colts President Bill Polian told radio listeners Monday night. "But it's too early in the week to make any type of judgment because you want to see how he responds over the next 48 hours."
Clearly, Collie's health has become a serious concern for the Colts (8-6).
Caldwell said it was his top priority, and teammates understand why doctors are likely to be even more cautious given Collie's recent history and the league's new guidelines dealing with concussions.
"I talked to him (Collie) and he said it wasn't as bad as the last one, so that's the good news," Pro Bowl receiver Reggie Wayne said Sunday. "But they're all bad."
Meaning, Indy will probably have to finish its playoff push without Collie.
If the Colts win at Oakland and beat Tennessee at home, they will win their seventh AFC South title in eight years and earn a ninth straight playoff berth.
At least the Colts are playing more like the defending AFC champs.
After limiting Tennessee's Chris Johnson to 111 yards rushing and one TD, Indy held the league's hottest running back, Maurice Jones-Drew, to just 46 yards and no scores. This week, they'll have to contend with Darren McFadden and Michael Bush, who helped Oakland run for 264 yards in Sunday's victory over Denver. Then comes the rematch with Johnson.
The other promising sign is that Indy has added balance to its offense.
The Colts ran 32 times, compared with 35 passes, against the Titans, and ran 24 times while throwing 39 times against Jacksonville.
Clearly, it's made a difference in Manning's play. He's thrown four TD passes and no interceptions the past two weeks — a stark contrast to the 11 picks he threw in the previous three games.
"Your play-action, it (balance) probably gives it a little more pop," Manning said. "Collie's second touchdown was on play-action, so we've got to keep that going."