INDIANAPOLIS — This game certainly wasn’t exciting — until it was. It was not a 125-point shootout, but it didn’t have to be. This win for the Indianapolis Colts was downright ugly. But at the same time, it was beautiful.
The last time Colts veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck threw for more than 300 yards, fourth-year starter Andrew Luck — who remains sidelined with a lacerated kidney and a partially torn abdominal muscle — was just a clean-shaved rookie out of Stanford.
Four years later, 40-year-old Hasselbeck, the oldest quarterback in the NFL, clearly still has what it takes to get the job done. And after an impressive 25-12 win against red-hot rookie Jameis Winston and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-6) on Sunday, in which the Colts scored 19 unanswered points in the second half, Hasselbeck is 4-0 as the Colts’ No. 1 quarterback. Luck is just 2-5.
Case in point: This Colts team, specifically the offense, needs a quarterback like Hasselbeck, not Luck. In other words, this team needs a point guard, not another scorer.
Consider the weapons Indy has in its pockets: Two small and quick mismatches (T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief), a tall and physical receiver (Andre Johnson) and two of the toughest backs in the league (Frank Gore and Ahmad Bradshaw). Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener? Remember those guys, too, the tight ends? They still play, but you wouldn’t know it with Luck under center.
Hasselbeck has used them, though, just as he should. Because when the ball is spread around this offense, it’s nearly impossible to stop. No need for home-run throws — until they’re necessary (see Hilton). No time for turnovers (12 interceptions by Luck) and no time for holding the ball in the pocket — quick throws have been the offense’s bread and butter this season.
Which proves this team does not need a Russell Westbrook running the show, it needs a Steve Nash — a true facilitator. Is Luck clearly the better quarterback? Of course. But Hasselbeck is the one who has found a way to win with all the new pieces. Hopefully, Luck is taking notes.
But what has this regular-looking fellow, Hasselbeck, who threw for 315 yards and two touchdowns on Sunday, figured out that others his age — or Luck for that matter — haven’t?
“We’re just playing team football, and I’m trying not to screw it up,” Hasselbeck said.
Luckily for this Colts team, a team whose season looked in jeopardy from the start, Hasselbeck has not done anything of that nature. This signal caller is really doing it the simple way: Establishing the run (trying to at least), spreading the ball around through the air and using the play-action pass (medium to long throws if needed).
Against Tampa Bay on Sunday, Hasselbeck was 11 fort 17 for 191 yards and one touchdown off a play fake. For the season, he has used the play-action pass 60 percent of the time and is 25 for 33 for 346 yards and three scores (out of 1,023 yards and seven touchdowns).
“We needed to get the backers (linebackers) to go upfield on the play action,” Hasselbeck explained. “They are a team with eyes in the backfield.”
That formula is working. And after the win, a Texans victory and a Jaguars loss, Indianapolis still is tied for first in the AFC South with Houston but has a more favorable schedule ahead — three of five games against its division — and a chance to soundly make the playoffs.
Indianapolis head coach Chuck Pagano said his team “keeps finding a way to win.” But the biggest key to Sunday’s victory was an adjustment at the half. One of the Colts’ receivers wasn’t too happy in the locker room at the break, in the nicest words possible.
But after hearing from several coaches and players that Hilton could “get open,” Hasselbeck adjusted and found the speedster for two touchdowns in the second half.
Hilton finished with six catches for 95 yards after pulling in just two receptions in the first half. Now for the season, Hasselbeck has throw only two interceptions.
“Really proud of these guys,” Pagano said after the game. “Guys have to step up. That’s a good football team and a really good defense. It isn’t pretty, but at the end of the day we have a gritty group.
“Matt came through and that’s what you have to be able to do, you have to be able to win.”
Oddly enough, Hasselbeck didn’t even expect to be playing this season, let alone producing W’s.
But now that he is, it sure is beautiful.
Kris Mills is a sports reporter for the Daily Reporter. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org