The separated rib is still a pain, then there’s back, neck and jaw injuries, so nobody would blame Matt Hasselbeck if he decided his 40-year-old body had absorbed enough punishment.
Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano even gave the battered quarterback the option to step down.
“Coach Pagano and I had a good talk about that today,” Hasselbeck said Wednesday. “He basically kind of gave me a green light if that was how I wanted to handle this.”
But Hasselbeck won’t sit come Sunday, when the Colts (6-8) visit the Miami Dolphins (5-9). Why is that?
“I think just who I want to be to the guys in this locker room and the example you want to set,” the 17th-year pro said. “I mean everybody is banged up. Like I said (after last game), I was sort of joking when I said it, my injuries get more attention than the other guys, but we’ve got all kinds of guys banged up right now. Every team does and now is the time to be mentally and physically tough.
“It gets challenging. We’ve lost a few games, the atmosphere is not ideal, it can be a little toxic so we just need guys to stick together, toughen up mentally and physically and fight. We’ve got guys like Robert Mathis and Frank Gore, guys that I’ve played against that are just absolute studs or warriors that play through injury, come back from surgery, those kinds of things. It’s inspiring to play with those guys. Not putting myself in their category at all but if I can do my part, I’m going to.”
The Colts have lost three consecutive games and are on the verge of being mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. A loss to the Dolphins and Houston Texans win at Tennessee would put an end to postseason chances.
After leading the Colts to four wins as Andrew Luck’s replacement, Hasselbeck has struggled in the past three losses and the offense has managed just two touchdowns in those games. The Colts had just 190 total yards in Sunday’s 16-10 home loss to the Texans, the lowest yield since 2011.
Hasselbeck has been sidelined in each of those losses, but came back to finish the latest game. He insists his body is feeling better. He shares Pagano’s expectation for him to start, although the Colts claimed another quarterback, Stephen Morris, off Philadelphia’s practice squad. Charlie Whitehurst is backing up Hasselbeck.
Hasselbeck was asked if he’s wearing down.
“I don’t know if it’s that necessarily,” he said. “I think that’s an easy thing to say because of my age, but I had a significant injury in the Pittsburgh game and I just haven’t been able to take any time off.”
That’s when he suffered the separated rib. In his last three starts, he’s completed 51-of-91 passes (56 percent) for 568 yards with two touchdowns, three interceptions and two lost fumbles. He’s taken seven sacks and more than twice as many hits.
“I think every year you got to come into it expecting to play every game and I know that’s how I have to approach the offseason,” Hasselbeck said. “Every offseason, people say the exact same thing to you the whole offseason. In my time here, it’s been something due to the effect of, ‘Hey we’re glad you’re here, we hope you never play’, something like that. I understand what everyone is saying, but you can’t fall for that trap. You’ve got to train and work as if your team is going to need you every game.
“I was healthy for the first few, I think the first four, and then I was dealing with something the last whatever it’s been, three I think. It’s unfortunate but that’s football and you got to find a way to play winning football and we’ve been close, but we haven’t got it done.”
Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton said Monday the offense has struggled because it has relied upon a short-range passing attack. Not stretching the field and utilizing speed receivers like Hilton, Donte Moncrief and rookie Phillip Dorsett has allowed defenses to crowd the box, which also makes running Gore more difficult, the receiver said.
Pagano took issue with Hilton expressing that opinion.
“We have a sign in our locker room that says, ‘What you see, say and hear here stays here,’” the coach said. “I don’t think any of us should air our dirty laundry outside this building, to be quite frank and honest with you.”
Hasselbeck mentioned the need to be more aggressive against the Texans, but clarified Wednesday he was talking about his own play.
“I think for me, I’ve had this mindset of, ‘Hey, just don’t screw it up,’” the quarterback said. “Be very, very careful. Let Adam (Vinatieri) have his three points in the red zone.”
In his four wins, Hasselbeck committed had just two turnovers, both interceptions, while throwing seven touchdown passes. He completed 97-of-150 passes (64.6 percent) for 1,023 yards. He was still sacked eight times.
The Colts have dropped to 24th in points scored and 26th in total offense. In the past three losses, the Colts have converted just 11-of-43 third downs (25.6 percent). And the red-zone offense has dropped to 23rd with touchdowns on just 52.2 percent of those opportunities.
“Clearly we’ve not come away with enough touchdowns,” Hasselbeck said. “We’ve come away with field goals and not touchdowns and even a couple turnovers.
“Hindsight is 20/20 but for me, we had a lead in that (Texans) game, at that time I felt like the way that we could best win that game was to just one play at a time, play a clean game, not turn the ball over, neutralize their pass rush. They’ve got a great pass rush. (Jadeveon) Clowney is playing great football. J.J. Watt is J.J. Watt. He’s a great player. That’s how I thought we could win the game. but didn’t do it so I regret it now. But at the time, at halftime at least, that’s what I thought we could do.”
As Hasselbeck has said before, he will give the Colts whatever he can. After Sunday’s loss, he said he had nothing left. Three days later, he sounded recharged and ready to go.
“I’m way, way better off this week than I was the Jacksonville week or then I was the Houston week,” he said. “I don’t know what to say. It’s not my call. My job is just to get ready and show them what I got.”
Associate head coach Rob Chudzinski, who replaced offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton as playcaller six games ago, says he still has confidence in Hasselbeck.
“A guy like Matt can do a lot of different things, and he has for us,” Chudzinski said. “He’s versatile enough to be able to if you can’t do these couple things, you can do those other couple things. You wish it was as easy as just calling a different type of play. You wish it was, but it’s not.
“I’m happy we have Matt and certainly he’s been big for us and playing for us. Hey, we ripped off three games in a row. We haven’t played well offensively the last three and so hopefully we can get it back on track this weekend.”
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.