Reggie Wayne and Peyton Manning want to keep playing this season. Or at least this week. Apparently, Jim Caldwell has heard their pleas.
The first-year coach walked into his news conference and announced Indy’s “healthy’’ starters would play Thursday night at Jacksonville.
“We’re going to approach the 14th game exactly like we did one through 13. We’re going to prepare just like we did for the first 13 and we’re going to play just like we did the first 13,’’ the still unbeaten Caldwell said. “The only thing that would deter anyone from playing is a health issue.’’
On the surface, it looks like a major change for a team that has lost playoff games after earning first-round byes in 1999, 2005, and 2007. And with 34 or 35 days between the last significant regular-season game and Indy’s next meaningful game in the divisional round, there is concern the Colts may get rusty.
Caldwell, though, has clearly left some wiggle room.
Last week’s injury report included nearly two dozen players, 13 of them starters. Among them: Manning (backside), Wayne (foot), defensive captain Gary Brackett (foot), and Pro Bowl defensive end Robert Mathis (quad). All played Sunday, when the Colts (13-0) clinched home-field advantage.
In two weeks, the Dolphins (7-6) have gone from playoff long shots to serious contenders. They’re tied with three other teams for the sixth-best record in the AFC - six make the postseason - and they can still overtake New England (8-5) for the AFC East title.
The Dolphins may need a sweep of their final three games to reach the postseason, but their remaining opponents all have losing records. Miami plays Sunday at Tennessee (6-7).
“The first goal that you have, obviously, is to win your division, which we still have some work to do to get that done,’’ Rivers said. “But you want to just get in. This game this weekend will allow that to happen if we go out and play well and win the game . . . We win this game and we can be assured of playing past Jan. 3.’’
The Chargers improved to 10-3 with Sunday’s 20-17 win at Dallas, their eighth straight win. San Diego has a two-game lead over Denver in the AFC West.
“He’s actually a lot better,’’ coach Wade Phillips said. “He’s really in a day-to-day situation as far as where he’s going to be, as far as being able to play. He took quite a hit but has really bounced back strong. That’s encouraging for him and us.’’
Ware got hurt in the fourth quarter of a 20-17 loss Sunday against San Diego. The Cowboys described Ware’s injury as a strained muscle in his neck. Ware was taken off the field strapped to a stretcher and went to the hospital for further evaluation before being released several hours later.