Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is battered and bruised but will start for the Indianapolis Colts in Sunday’s all-important AFC South Division showdown with the Houston Texans at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Head coach Chuck Pagano said his 40-year-old backup has looked “really good” in practice the past two days. The 17th-year pro has been dealing with a rib separation that has made heavy breathing difficult. He’s also bothered by neck and back injuries.
But Pagano is confident.
“Very, very encouraged,” the coach said. “He had an excellent day (Thursday), came in today and did a nice job. He threw the ball around really well. He’s going to play really good.”
The Colts failed to score an offensive touchdown in Sunday’s 51-16 loss at Jacksonville. Hasselbeck was hurt twice in that game and exited in the fourth quarter after re-aggravating his rib injury.
He’s 4-2 as Andrew Luck’s fill-in this season, but this game means everything. The Colts and Texans are both 6-7 and tied for the division lead. Because the Colts beat the Texans in Houston, another win would give the two-time defending division champions the inside track to another crown and fourth consecutive playoff berth.
Hasselbeck was not made available to the media Friday, but expressed uncertainty about his status on Thursday. A day later, Pagano removed doubt about if Hasselbeck or journeyman Charlie Whitehurst would get the start.
The Texans have a formidable pass rush, led by All-Pro defensive end J.J. Watt.
“We’re going to take care of him,” Pagano said. “He’s a warrior. He’s a tough S-O you know what. He’s going to go play well, really good football. And we’re going to keep his butt clean, protect our butts off for him.”
What will undoubtedly help in that endeavor is the return of offensive left tackle Anthony Castonzo, who like Hasselbeck is listed as probable and is expected to play. The team’s best offensive lineman has missed the past three games with a left knee sprain.
In his absence, the Colts have had to shift right tackle Joe Reitz to the left side and play rookie Denzelle Good at right tackle. Hasselbeck has taken a pounding, particularly in the last two games at Pittsburgh and Jacksonville.
Pagano mentioned how he has showed the team boxing highlights, particularly of a fight in which Brazilian boxer @Arturo Gatti broke his hand in a 2003 fight against Micky Ward.
“What do you want me to do?” Pagano said. “That’s what I told him.
“We showed a fighter, Gatti-Ward, Gatti came to the corner in the fourth round, broke his hand on Ward’s hip. He said, ‘I think my hand’s broke.’ His trainer said, ‘What do you want me to do?’ He goes, ‘I guess I’ll keep fighting.’”
And Gatti won the fight.
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