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INDIANAPOLIS — The Colts were able to overcome the toll COVID-19 took on their roster on Christmas night in Arizona.
A change to NFL rules might help Indianapolis avoid another game like that on Sunday against the Raiders, a game that can clinch a playoff spot for the Colts with a win.
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1:30 p.m.: Colts place Carson Wentz on reserve/COVID-19 list
The Colts placed starting quarterback Carson Wentz on the reserve/COVID-19 list Tuesday, making him questionable for Sunday's game, although a change in the NFL's protocols to reflect CDC guidelines make it possible for Wentz to play against the Raiders.
Wentz tested positive for COVID-19, becoming the 15th Colt to be placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list in the past week. All 15 appear to have a chance to play on Sunday against the Raiders, provided they meet the NFL's new criteria.
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Under the NFL's new criteria, any player, coach or staffer, vaccinated or unvaccinated, can return to the team after a five-day period of isolation beginning when the test was performed, provided the player has not had a fever in the past 24 hours and other symptoms are resolving.
The policy change deeply altered the situation the Colts are facing. Wentz has not been vaccinated, and under the old rules he'd have been forced to sit out at least 10 days, missing the game against the Raiders.
Wentz has been resolute in his decision to remain unvaccinated, even though vaccinated players faced less frequent testing — unvaccinated players must be tested every day — and were able to return earlier than 10 days if they produced two negative tests 24 hours apart or test at a viral load below a certain threshold.
"I’m not going to go in depth on why, but it’s a personal decision for me and my family," Wentz said in August. "I respect everybody else’s decision, and I just ask that everybody does the same for me."
Wentz almost certainly will not be placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list again this season. Under NFL rules that date back to the 2020 season, any player who tests positive for COVID-19 does not have to test again for the next 90 days, a period of time that covers the entire playoff schedule through the Super Bowl.
Wentz has played good football for the Colts, limiting mistakes and providing a big-play arm to an offense that has been carried by MVP candidate Jonathan Taylor at running back, all while playing 97.8% of the snaps to this point.
The Colts starter has thrown for 3,230 yards, 25 touchdowns and six interceptions. Twenty-seven quarterbacks have thrown more interceptions this season, and Indianapolis is tied for second in the NFL in sacks allowed, having given up just 25.
Wentz is also coming off of his best moment of the season, carrying the Colts on two critical second-half drives to beat a Cardinals team loaded up to stop Jonathan Taylor on Christmas night, capped off by a remarkable throw to Dezmon Patmon in the back of the end zone for the game-sealing touchdown.
Colts backup quarterback is rookie Sam Ehlinger
If Wentz isn't able to play on Sunday, the Colts would likely turn to sixth-round rookie Sam Ehlinger, although they could also choose to go with veteran Brett Hundley, one of the four practice squad players Indianapolis protected this week. When Wentz was initially placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list, there was speculation that the team might sign Philip Rivers as an emergency replacement, but that seems unlikely now.
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Ehlinger, a rookie taken in the sixth round out of Texas, has never thrown an NFL pass, and Hundley hasn't started an NFL game since 2017.
Ehlinger has been Wentz's primary backup the past two months, a position he took over from Hundley after coming off of injured reserve. Hundley, in turn, had won the job from Jacob Eason, and when Wentz's status was in doubt for the first Tennessee game because of his sprained ankles, the Colts moved Hundley into the starter's spot.
Ehlinger's position as the only backup available on game days the past two months does give the Colts a handle on how they'd prepare a game plan with the rookie in the starting role. Indianapolis has to prepare Ehlinger every week in case Wentz goes down with an injury.
"We go through the plan, he goes through it and (we ask), 'OK, what are your top calls that you feel comfortable with?' Doesn't have to be all of them," offensive coordinator Marcus Brady said. "We have that separate call sheet for him ready to go. He goes through all the reads just like Carson does. He may not get the live rep but he'll get it on the side. So he's ready to go."
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Carson Wentz: Colts QB on NFL COVID list could play vs. Raiders