Jan 5, 2019; Houston, TX, USA; Indianapolis Colts offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo (74) against the Houston Texans during the AFC Wild Card at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Colts LT Castonzo (knee/ankle) won’t play Sunday

Indianapolis Colts left tackle Anthony Castonzo was ruled out for Sunday’s game in Pittsburgh due to knee and ankle injuries.

The Colts (10-4) were already missing starting right tackle Braden Smith for the showdown with the Steelers (11-3) after he was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Friday.

Castonzo, 32, had been listed as questionable. He was a limited participant Thursday, but did not practice Friday.

Castonzo has started 144 games, including 12 this season, since Indianapolis selected him with the No. 22 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft.

The Colts activated tackle J’Marcus Webb and guard Jake Eldrenkamp from the practice squad for Sunday’s game.

–Field Level Media

Dec 13, 2020; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) passes the ball against the Buffalo Bills during the first quarter at Bills Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Steelers, Colts meet with major playoff ramifications

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Indianapolis Colts have been moving in opposite directions lately yet will have plenty in common Sunday when they meet at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field.

The 11-3 Steelers have clinched a spot in the playoffs, due to their 11-0 start, but have lost three in a row and need one more victory to secure the AFC North title.

The 10-4 Colts have won three consecutive and seven of their past nine, with their own spot in the playoffs pending a victory, coupled with a loss by Miami or Baltimore this weekend.

Pittsburgh was the last undefeated team by several weeks, but the three-game losing streak, all by fewer than 20 points, has brought with it a good deal of unrest.

Fingers have been pointing toward the offense, and specifically quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Roethlisberger has heard the questions and the criticisms. He doesn’t or can’t throw downfield anymore; he gets rid of the ball too quickly; he doesn’t see open receivers; at 38 he’s nearing the end. TO that, he offered a succinct response.

“I don’t blame them,” he said. “When you play like poo, you should get talked about like that. I need to play better. If I’m not giving them a reason to talk good, then I’m giving them a reason to talk badly. That’s all on me. I need to play better.”

Roethlisberger gave barely a glancing measure of blame at the rest of the offense.

“We all need to perform better, and it starts with me,” he said. “I have to complete passes, if that’s the call. If it’s run, then we have to get hats on hats, if you will. Once again … if I had an answer to it, we wouldn’t be having these issues. We can’t fix anything until we get out there on Sunday, really.”

Roethlisberger revealed that the Steelers had a players meeting Wednesday that was heavy on the offensive side but insisted “it had nothing to do with the losses. It had everything to do with where we are, and where we’re going. It wasn’t a players-only panic meeting.”

Defensive tackle Cam Heyward agreed that Pittsburgh isn’t panicking.

“It’s a three-game losing streak, but that’s coming off an 11-game winning streak,” Heyward said. “I’m looking forward to getting back on this horse.”

The game matches Roethlisberger and a fellow veteran in Indianapolis quarterback Philip Rivers.

“The similarities are they’ve both been incredibly durable. They’ve both been incredibly productive,” Colts coach Frank Reich said. “They’ve been incredibly effective in the pocket.”

That’s just one story line.

“These are the games you dream about — going to Pittsburgh in December with something on the line,” Rivers said.

It doesn’t matter to Indianapolis what each team has done lately.

“When you go on the road this late in the season and in this meaningful of a game, it’s going to take a complete team effort,” Reich said.

Steelers linebacker Vince Williams was reinstated from the Reserve/COVID-19 list Wednesday, which could give a boost to a position that has been in flux in terms of personnel availability.

In addition, running back James Conner (quadriceps) practiced Wednesday after missing a game. However, tight end Eric Ebron (back), defensive end Stephon Tuitt (back) and linebackers Marcus Allen (stinger), Ulysees Gilbert III (ankle), and Ola Adeniyi (shoulder) didn’t practice.

For Indianapolis, defensive tackle DeForest Buckner (ankle) didn’t practice Wednesday, but that was considered precautionary after he returned from that injury last weekend.

Also sitting out practice were tackle Anthony Castonzo (knee) and receiver Marcus Johnson (quadriceps), along with Rivers, who simply is following his regular routine, Reich said.

–Field Level Media

Aug 26, 2020; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA;  Indianapolis Colts punter Rigoberto Sanchez (8) practices dropping the ball for a kick during colts training camp at the Farm Bureau Football Complex. Mandatory Credit: Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Colts P Sanchez nearing return after cancer surgery

Indianapolis Colts punter Rigoberto Sanchez could return to the team this week following surgery to remove a cancerous tumor.

Special teams coach Bubba Ventrone told reporters on Tuesday the team is hopeful Sanchez will return to practice ahead of Sunday’s game between the Colts (9-4) and visiting Houston Texans (4-9).

Sanchez, 26, missed the last two games following his Dec. 1 surgery but has been participating in virtual meetings.

Sanchez has averaged a career-best 47.2 yards per punt in 11 games this season. He has played in 59 games since starting his NFL career with the Colts in 2017.

In his absence, Ryan Allen has averaged 46.0 yards on six punts.

–Field Level Media

Dec 6, 2020; Houston, Texas, USA; Indianapolis Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton (13) reacts after scoring a touchdown during the first quarter against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Late turnover lifts Colts past Texans

Anthony Walker recovered a fumble with 1:22 left and the visiting Indianapolis Colts escaped with a tense 26-20 victory over the Houston Texans on Sunday at NRG Stadium.

Texans center Nick Martin handcuffed quarterback Deshaun Watson with a bad snap on second down at the Indianapolis 2-yard line and Walker pounced on the loose football to seal the victory and lift the Colts (8-4) into a first-place tie with Tennessee atop the AFC South.

Watson passed for 341 yards but had a hand in both Houston (4-8) turnovers. Kenny Moore stripped a pass from Brandin Cooks with 54 seconds left in the third quarter for the first interception of Watson since Week 5 against Jacksonville.

The Colts sacked Watson five times, with Justin Houston notching his third in the end zone for a safety that spotted the Colts a 26-20 lead with 6:02 left. That play followed the Colts’ failed 4th-and-1 run at the Houston 5 where Nyheim Hines was stopped by Texans linebackers Zach Cunningham and Tyrell Adams.

The Texans, depleted at receiver, got 141 yards on eight receptions from Keke Coutee and five catches and 101 yards from Chad Hansen, who was elevated from the practice squad.

Philip Rivers completed 27-of-35 for 285 yards and two touchdowns for the Colts, and Jonathan Taylor added 91 rushing yards on 13 carries.

The first half was an offensive extravaganza with the two teams combining for 502 yards.

Rivers hit T.Y. Hilton for a 21-yard scoring pass for a 7-0 lead at the 9:52 mark of the first quarter. The Texans responded as Watson beat a blitz and completed a 64-yard pass to Coutee before scrambling 11 yards for a touchdown that knotted the contest.

The Colts took a 14-10 leads on a 5-yard Hines scoring run, then extended to a 21-10 lead by converting a 4th-and-4 via Rivers’ 39-yard touchdown pass to Jonathan Taylor on a wheel route.

Houston repsponded with a 6-yard David Johnson touchdown run and added a 52-yard Ka’imi Fairbairn field goal with eight seconds left that cut the deficit to 24-20 at the half.

Indianapolis’ point total was a season high for the first half. Hilton posted 110 yards on eight catches for his first 100-yard game since Dec. 23, 2018.

–Field Level Media

Nov 12, 2020; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Indianapolis Colts quarterback Philip Rivers (17) hands the ball off during the second half against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Report: Colts QB Rivers needs foot surgery after season

The toe injury that has bothered Indianapolis Colts quarterback Philip Rivers the last two weeks will require offseason surgery to correct, NFL Network reported Sunday.

Rivers, who turns 39 on Tuesday, has a plantar plate rupture to the big toe on his right foot, per the report.

He also has an active streak of 235 consecutive regular-season starts stretching back to the 2006 opener. Only Hall of Famer Brett Favre posted a longer streak among quarterbacks with 297 consecutive regular-season starts from 1992-2010.

Rivers injured the toe during a 34-31 win against the Green Bay Packers in Week 11.

He has completed 67.3 percent of his passes for 2,978 yards with 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions through 11 starts heading into Sunday’s game in Houston between the Colts (7-4) and Texans (4-7).

Rivers signed a one-year, $25 million contract with the Colts in the offseason after playing his first 16 seasons with the San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers.

–Field Level Media

Nov 12, 2020; Nashville, Tennessee, USA;  Indianapolis Colts defensive tackle DeForest Buckner (99) during pre game warm ups against the Indianapolis Colts at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

Colts activate DT Buckner from COVID-19 list

The Indianapolis Colts activated defensive tackle DeForest Buckner from the reserve/COVID-19 list Friday.

Buckner was placed on the list on Nov. 25 and missed Sunday’s 45-26 loss to the Tennessee Titans.

Without the 6-foot-7, 300-pound lineman in the lineup, Tennessee’s Derrick Henry rushed for 178 yards and three touchdowns in the AFC South clash.

Buckner started the first 10 games in his first season with Indianapolis and has 41 tackles, 16 quarterback hits, 2.5 sacks and a fumble recovery.

Buckner, 26, spent his first four seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, who drafted him seventh overall in 2016. He made the Pro Bowl in 2018 and has 304 tackles and 31 sacks in 73 career games (all starts).

The Colts (7-4) are a game behind the Titans in the division heading into Sunday’s game at the Houston Texans (4-7).

–Field Level Media