Matt Hasselbeck tossed another game ball in his uniform bag Sunday afternoon.
“The kids will be playing with it in the driveway tomorrow afternoon,” the 40-year-old quarterback said of the football bestowed upon him after he led the Indianapolis Colts to a 25-12 victory over Tampa Bay at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“I used to do the same thing to my dad. What goes around, comes around.”
Hasselbeck can enjoy watching his kids toss that football around after becoming just the third quarterback in NFL history to win four consecutive starts at 40 years of age or older. The other two relics who shined in such a way were Brett Favre and Warren Moon.
"He's not playing like he's 40," said wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, who caught two touchdown passes in the second half.
In his 17th NFL season, many suggest Hasselbeck has discovered the mythical Fountain of Youth. He wouldn’t say that. He’d be quick to remind that winning any game in the NFL is hard work.
“We’re just playing team football,” he said, “and I’m just trying to not screw it up.”
The old pro tries to be smart. He admitted he was too cautious early against the Bucs (5-6), wary of committing a turnover. He quickly accepted a sack so the team could at least get a field goal when trailing 12-6 early in the third quarter.
Hasselbeck has excelled as a fill-in for the injured Andrew Luck because he typically throws the ball quickly, throws it away when the play isn’t there and has been willing to take a sack and live for another play rather than risk a turnover.
He’s taken eight sacks, including three against the Buccaneers, but hasn’t committed a turnover in three of his starts including Sunday. He’s completed 64.7 percent of his passes for seven touchdowns with just two interceptions.
The Colts weren’t able to run the ball this day. They finished with just 27 yards rushing on 26 carries, the third-fewest rushing total in a win in franchise history.
Hasselbeck had to drive this offense, which meant being more aggressive.
Luck and wide receiver Andre Johnson offered suggestions about receivers getting open late on certain plays that targeted tight ends over the middle.
“I got on the sidelines and they both mentioned it to me,” Hasselbeck said. “We came inside (for halftime), our coaches had mentioned it.”
So the Colts adjusted. Associate head coach Rob Chudzinski called plays that clicked. Hilton caught his two TD passes. Hasselbeck also found second-year wide receiver Donte Moncrief, who finished with eight receptions for 114 yards, and each of the catches gained a first down.
“I will say that being up here, this is my third year here now, practicing with Andrew Luck, he’s a really good player and he’s a very hard, hard worker,” Hasselbeck said. “They coach him hard, and he asks to be coached hard. I do believe that I’ve gotten better being coached hard and being around him. I’ve learned a lot of football. I came here kind of thinking, ‘What else could you know? What else can you do to the man or zone or this kind of thing?’ I’ve learned a lot of football here.”
Hasselbeck completed 26-of-42 passes for 315 yards with a passer rating of 100.8 against the Buccaneers. He enjoyed the 23rd career 300-yard game, and first since 2011. It was the 52nd time in 156 career starts that he’s had a passer rating of at least 95. His teams are 42-10 in those games.
“We knew it was going to be tough sledding,” head coach Chuck Pagano said of the Colts needing to rally from a 12-6 halftime deficit. “We were going to have to be patient. We were going to have to take what they were going to give us. Then once we figured out what they were determined to do, he’s played a lot of football, not of late but he’s played a ton of football and he played really good. We needed him to do that obviously.”
Hasselbeck’s 42 passing attempts boosted the career total to 5,224, which surpassed legendary Baltimore Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas (5,186) for 19th and Cincinnati Bengals passer Boomer Esiason (5,205) for 18th in NFL history.
The Hall of Famer Unitas subscribed to an acronym he referred to as KISS — Keep It Simple Stupid.
Hasselbeck will never be compared with Unitas, but obviously subscribes to the same philosophy.
“I’m just doing what I’m coached to do,” he said. “I give the coaches a lot of credit. I give the trainers a lot of credit, the strength coaches. My teammates, it’s really more them than me and I’m excited that I get to be out there playing with them.”
Added Pagano, “I think what you do is you got to count your blessings, you got to be thankful for what you have, you’ve got to be thankful for today and you’ve got to seize the moment, if you will.”
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.