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McDaniels in focus as Colts visit Patriots

McDaniels in focus as Colts visit Patriots

Thursday night’s battle in Foxborough, Mass., between the Indianapolis Colts (1-3) and New England Patriots (2-2) was supposed to be a clash of pupil vs. mentor: Josh McDaniels vs. Bill Belichick.

Instead, McDaniels and Belichick will be on the same sideline, opposite the man who benefited after McDaniels backed out of an agreement in February to be the Colts’ next head coach.

“Certainly very glad about that,” said Colts coach Frank Reich, who helped the Philadelphia Eagles beat the Patriots in Super Bowl LII before getting hired as Indy general manager Chris Ballard’s second choice. “It’s a funny league, strange circumstances, lotta things out of my control. …Thankful for the opportunity I have.”

Ballard famously declared, “The rivalry is back on,” after McDaniels reneged, but when asked Monday, he dismissed the idea that the matchup carries any extra juice.

“Not at all,” Ballard said. “It’s just another game, and it’s the New England Patriots, and we’re happy to go play on Thursday night.”

Being “happy” to play on a Thursday is relative, as these two banged-up squads have very little time to get healthy. Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski has missed practices this week after re-injuring his ankle Sunday against the Miami Dolphins, and cornerback Eric Rowe (groin) missed Tuesday’s session after being limited Monday and sitting out vs. Miami.

Whether or not Gronkowski plays, New England’s offense will get back wideout Julian Edelman, who just finished serving a four-game PED suspension. Tom Brady, who has completed 397 career passes to Edelman, isn’t worried about any rust from the wideout’s absence.

“I think we’ve played so much football together,” Brady said. “I really have no doubt where he’s going to be at, what he’s capable of.”

Ever the gamesman, Belichick sounded less sure of Edelman’s ability to contribute in his first game back.

“I don’t know,” Belichick said when asked what Edelman will bring. “He hasn’t been here in a month and it’s a short week. We’ll just have to see how things work out.”

Colts top target T.Y. Hilton, however, will miss the contest after injuring his chest and hamstring in Sunday’s overtime loss. The Colts will be counting on several receivers who stepped up in Hilton’s absence against the Texans: Chester Rogers, Ryan Grant and Zach Pascal combined for 19 catches, 205 yards and a score.

“As far as gameplanning, we have a lot of confidence in the next guy up,” Reich said. “I think that showed this past week — when T.Y. went out, we still were able to move the ball well.

“…So we’ll miss T.Y., but at the same time, you’ve just gotta have the next-man-up mentality.”

Other next men up will be needed. A whopping 16 Colts were on Tuesday’s injury report, including 11 listed as DNP. The latter group comprises six players who have started every game this season (Hilton, C Ryan Kelly, LB Darius Leonard, CBs Kenny Moore and Nate Hairston, S Clayton Geathers), three others who have started at least one game (TE Jack Doyle, CB Quincy Wilson, RT Denzelle Good) and kicker Adam Vinatieri.

Given all the injuries, and a short week following a 70-minute contest against the Texans, Reich decided to hold only a walkthrough on Tuesday, meaning the Colts won’t have an actual practice before playing the Patriots.

“[It’s] most important to take care of the guys physically and just really get focused in mentally on what we’re gonna do,” he said.

–Field Level Media

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