Former Longhorn quarterback Sam Elinger to play for Colts against Texans on Sunday

Another loss on Sunday would have made the Texans eligible for the first pick in the draft for the fourth time since the franchise entered the league in 2002.

INDIANAPOLIS – Sam Elinger’s crazy season ride will include a final turn on Sunday.

He returned as the starting quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts, this time against one of his home state teams, the Houston Texans.

No, that’s not how Elinger or Indy envisioned ending this season, with an early January contest to determine the draft position. But the revolving merry-go-round of the Colts quarterback became a routine part of Elinger’s daily routine.

“I started the year as (#)3 (on the depth chart), moved to 2, then 1, then 2, then 3, then 2, and now back to 1,” he said. It’s literally a roller coaster. I was just trying to stay consistent in my routine.”

Elinger’s dance with the seven step depth chart explains why the Colts (4-10-1) are in this location.

Two of their most experienced quarterbacks, Matt Ryan (shoulder) and Nick Falls (ribs), were injured. Thus, acting coach Jeff Saturday returned the reins to Elinger, who will start his career for the third time in a game where the underdog could be the big winner.

If Indy can’t stop their six-game losing streak, they’ll get a top five and maybe finally find the quarterback they’ve been looking for since Andrew Luck retired.

Houston (2-13-1), meanwhile, played better until last week’s 31-3 rout against Jacksonville. Another loss on Sunday would have made the Texans eligible for the first pick in the draft for the fourth time since the franchise entered the league in 2002.

But no one, of course, wants to describe the stakes in this way.

“I’ve been asked this question for weeks because we’ve been in that role,” first-year coach Lovie Smith said when asked about losing to help in the draft. “I understand. We tried to win for a long period of time, in every game. None of that has changed.”

Definitely not for Elinger, who lost his first two starts after completing 61.5% of his passes, throwing one interception and sacking 11 times. He was more effective last week, taking over from Fowles, going 9-of-14 from 60 yards and throwing his first career touchdown.

What would he like for an encore? Collects his first career victory.

“I have experience with that in college — you win your bowl game and feel a lot better in the offseason,” Elinger said. “It creates a little momentum in the off-season. Being able to end the year with a win adds a bit of positive psychology to it.”

While Colts owner Jim Irsay will start looking for a coach this week, the Texans must first decide whether to keep Smith or try their third coach in three seasons.

Last year, Houston fired David Calley after just one season, and Smith could suffer the same fate, though he insists he’s not worried about his future after one of his toughest seasons yet.

“We didn’t win many games,” Smith said. “Whenever you don’t win a lot of games, it’s tough. It has an emotional impact on everyone. However, having said that, the way the guys have performed lately has given you (hope) – you can see what the future looks like.”

Colts rookie Rodney Thomas II spent much of Tuesday in Cincinnati visiting Damar Hamlin, the bills guard, in the hospital.

The two were teammates at Central Catholic High School in Pittsburgh, and Thomas said he spoke to Hamlin almost daily, including Monday, before Hamlin collapsed and was resuscitated on the field during a Bills game in Cincinnati.

Earlier this season, Thomas credited Hamlin for helping him get into the NFL, and Thomas said he wouldn’t hesitate to play this week – or whatever he’s playing for.

“I’m putting it exactly where it needs to be, right in my head – playing for him, playing for what he represents,” Thomas said. “If you look at who he is, he is a great man. I went to high school with him. He took me under his wing. I play for him. I do it all for him.”

Quarterback Davis Mills faced defeat again last week, failing to take Houston to the end zone for the second time this season. He also lost a fumble, which was returned with a score.

It was a tough second season for the former Stanford star, who played two games on the bench before returning to work. Davis’ 13 steals are second in the league and could prompt the Texans to pick a new player in April, though he’s keen to make a last impression this season.

“Glad to have another opportunity to go to Indy and try to find a way to win the last game of the season,” he said.

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