Matt Hasselbeck heroics lift Colts again

Backup quarterback shakes off bacterial infection and steps in for Andrew Luck a second time to lead Colts to 27-20 win at Houston.

Matt Hasselbeck was overcome with emotion, and rightfully so.

Three days after spending time in a hospital due to a bacterial infection, the backup quarterback came through yet again for an injured Andrew Luck in leading the Indianapolis Colts to a 27-20 victory Thursday night at NRG Stadium in Houston.

The 40-year-old Hasselbeck threw a pair of touchdown passes to Andre Johnson in the wide receiver’s Houston homecoming and running back Frank Gore a touchdown run as the Colts won their second consecutive game without their franchise passer.

Hasselbeck tweeted a picture of his game ball with the explanation: “This game ball is in honor of Michelle Bair who lost her battle with cancer today.”

The 17th-year pro shed tears in an on-field interview with CBS sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson.

“You know what, it wasn’t as hard as I thought,” he said of playing through his illness. “Before the game, I honestly thought I didn’t know if I could make it through.

“For some unknown reason … (wipes eye) … I was able to finish. I can’t explain it. It was amazing.”

Asked where the tears were coming from, he said, “I got nothing left probably. I don’t know. It’s been an emotional day.”

Hasselbeck’s heroics in delivering back-to-back wins while Luck nurses a sore right shoulder vaulted the Colts (3-2) into first place in the AFC South Division. The Colts set an NFL record with their 16th consecutive victory against a division foe. A three-game winning streak came against all three division opponents.

He completed 18-of-29 passes for 213 yards and two touchdowns. More than the numbers, he was calm and cool and played smart. On a team with a league-high 12 turnovers, eight of them Luck’s, Hasselbeck didn’t commit a turnover.

“It’s really fun playing with these guys,” he said. “It’s a great group of guys.”

Hasselbeck said he didn’t even realize the next opponent was the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. As he walked away from Wolfson, he wiped away more tears and waved to some fans.

“We’re starting to come together,” head coach Chuck Pagano said.

The Colts never trailed as Hasselbeck hit Johnson on a 4-yard TD pass for a 10-0 lead in the opening quarter. His second scoring strike to Johnson on a 2-yard pass gave the Colts 27-17 lead in the third quarter.

Johnson, a seven-time Pro Bowl selection in a dozen years with the Texans, entered with just seven catches for 51 yards. The pricy offseason free-agent acquisition finished this game with six catches for 77 yards.

Gore ran for 98 yards on 22 carries, just two yards shy of becoming the first Colts back to gain 100 in 44 games.

Safety Mike Adams came up with his second interception of the game to thwart the Texans' final scoring drive. The Colts ran the ball twice, then took their shot to end it on third down. Hasselbeck floated a deep pass to wide receiver T.Y. Hilton for a 43-yard gain that enabled the visitors to kill the rest of the clock.

Hasselbeck didn’t practice during the week and said of his illness, “It wasn’t just a stomach bug, I’ll tell you that.”

But he ended up leaving the Texans (1-4) sick to their stomachs.

“I was sick all day long,” Hasselbeck said, “but during the game I was OK.”

Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.

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