Colts' Matt Hasselbeck: 'I know my limitations'

How much can Colts count on a 40-year-old backup quarterback?

Matt Hasselbeck doesn’t look anything like Clint Eastwood, but the Indianapolis Colts quarterback subscribes to a popular philosophy quoted in one of the actor’s famous Dirty Harry movies.

“A man’s got to know his limitations,” Eastwood’s Harry Callahan said, the last line from 1973’s Magnum Force.

On Monday, Hasselbeck offered a similar take on replacing the injured Andrew Luck when asked if he would change how he plays.

“I know my limitations,” the 40-year-old sage said with a smile. “That might actually be a strength, you know? I don’t know. But I have a lot of limitations, so I don’t know.”

Amusing banter aside, what can the 4-5 Colts expect to achieve with the 17th-year pro? Younger brother Tim Hasselbeck, an ESPN analyst, has questioned how much of the load Matt can handle at his seasoned age.

“He’s a middle child,” Matt Hasselbeck said with a laugh.

He once led Seattle to a Super Bowl and prevailed in both of his starts for an inactive Luck earlier this season. That he’s 2-0 this season whereas the other NFL teams are 6-20 with backups thrust into a starting role speaks well for Hasselbeck.

Head coach Chuck Pagano is grateful to have him.

“Thank God we got Matt. We’ve won with Matt and we’ll win again with Matt.”

But the Colts have struggled on the offensive line — Luck and Hasselbeck have taken 67 hits according to NFL.com, which bases that number on game book counts. That ranks third most in the league. They’ve also been sacked 18 times in nine games.

When Hasselbeck led the Colts to victories at Houston and against Jacksonville at home, he got rid of the ball quickly and the playbook was simplified. Since then, offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton has been fired and replaced with associate head coach Rob Chudzinski, whose first attempt at more simplification delivered a 27-24 upset win over Denver eight days ago at Lucas Oil Stadium.

While players enjoyed a bye week off, Hasselbeck stuck around and worked with coaches to refine the playbook for him. Luck could miss as much as six weeks with a lacerated kidney and partial tear of an abdominal muscle, so the Colts’ playoff hopes hinge on putting Hasselbeck in the most advantageous situations to succeed.

“You look at what he’s done over the course of his career,” Pagano said. “He’s got obviously a ton of experience. You look around there are not many guys winning football games with backup quarterbacks right now. You guys looked at the same numbers I probably looked at. But he’s a great leader, got great experience, there’s nothing he has not seen, still got arm talent, can still make all the throws, athletic enough to extend plays, good decision maker. Again, we’re very fortunate to have Matt in this building.”

He was last a full-time starter and didn’t miss a game for the Tennessee Titans in 2011. He appeared in eight games, five of them starts, in 2012. Those were his last starts before this season.

“I’m for sure biased, but I think I could have started all 16 games in 2012,” he said. “It was sort of a coach’s decision or an ownership decision or however you say it, whatever.”

The question about his age will continue to be asked, but Hasselbeck is confident he can handle whatever the Colts throw at him. He re-signed for $3 million this season to back up Luck because he liked the team’s chances to contend for a Super Bowl and understood his role to be ready at a moment’s notice.

Asked about the challenge of starting at his age, he said, “I would say that it’s hard to do all the time. That was probably the hardest thing that I had to learn how to do. It wasn’t until 2005, I think, I was able to start every game. I remember when I first started in Seattle, I was like, ‘How does Brett Favre do this?’ It’s hard. It’s a physical, physical game. It’s a physical position. The guys that are able to do it I have a ton of respect for.

“It’s not easy to do at any age.”

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


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