Two weeks before the start of the season, coach Frank Reich and the Indianapolis Colts were hit with a body blow as star quarterback Andrew Luck walked away from football after suffering countless injuries and losing his love for the game.
Losing your best player to retirement that close to the season would have broken a lot of teams, but Reich's group responded with impressive mental toughness and has gotten off to a 2-1 start ahead of Sunday's Week 4 matchup with the Raiders at Lucas Oil Stadium.
After losing their opener to the Los Angeles Chargers, the Colts scored a late touchdown in Week 2 to sink the Titans and beat up the Falcons in Week 3. Quarterback Jacoby Brissett has been solid in place of Luck, throwing for 646 yards and seven touchdowns through the first three games.
Ahead of Sunday's game against the Raiders, Reich praised his team's character and leadership when discussing how the team withstood the loss of Luck.
"Well, I guess to play off your term ‘body blow', I would say you have to have a strong core and that's what we have in our locker room," Reich told the media Wednesday on a conference call. "We have a strong core of guys. We're high character guys who believe in each other, strong leadership that can take something like that and not flinch."
With a huge matchup against the Chiefs looming in Week 5, the Raiders might be catching the Colts in a look-ahead spot, but Reich's club has shown they have the mental fortitude to block out the distractions.
Indy also could be without some very valuable pieces.
Star wide receiver T.Y. Hilton is day-to-day with a quad injury, and if he is unable to go that could severely limit the Colts' offensive potential in the pass game. Through three games this season, Hilton has 20 receptions for 195 yards and four touchdowns. All other Colts have combined for46 catches for 451 yards and three touchdowns.
The Colts also will be without star safety Malik Hooker (knee), and could be without linebacker Darius Leonard which should, in theory, zap the defense of some of their play-making ability, opening the door for Derek Carr and the Raiders' offense to get going early in Indy.
That means a lot will fall on Marlon Mack's shoulders. The Colts running back has flexed his muscles early on this season, and after the Raiders were gashed by Vikings star Dalvin Cook in Week 3. Logic would dictate Reich and the Colts will try to pound the Raiders on the ground.
Reich, however, believes the Raiders are a much better team than what they showed in Minnesota.
"Yeah, they are very tough to run on," Reich said. "Like you said, the first two games, very stout on defense. Very stout up front and then Dalvin Cook has been, I think, having that kind of day on everybody so far. We expect it to be a good challenge. It's really good on good. Yes, we think we have a good offensive line and a good running game, but we think they're a very formidable run defense and it'll be a good match."
With three stars potentially out and a big game next week, the Colts will have to use the "strong core" that helped them stomach Luck's departure in order to fight off a desperate Raiders team come Sunday.
The Colts have shown they are a resilient bunch. After starting 1-2, the Raiders will need to show their own brand of resiliency or risk the season spiraling out of control.