It has been quite the week for Colts backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. Just ten days ago he was sitting comfortably as Andrew Luck's clipboard holder, knowing that there was no way he was getting into a game unless the worst-case scenario happened and Luck was injured.
And then Luck was injured. It was his throwing shoulder, too, making it even worse for a quarterback, so Hasselbeck took the first team reps in practice last week. Luck wasn't able to go, so Hasselbeck made his first start since 2012 and threw the football 47 times, completing 30 of them for 282 yards and a touchdown. The Colts pulled out a 16-13 victory over the division rival Jaguars in overtime, and it was a feel-good story for Hasselbeck.
Just before halftime of that Jaguars game, however, Hasselbeck started feeling sick. "I really, really lost it after the game," he said. It got bad enough that, according to NFL Network's Stacey Dales, he had to check himself into the hospital earlier in the week and wasn't at the Colts' complex at all on Tuesday. He continued to feel the effects of it all day on Thursday. He wouldn't specify what was wrong beyond saying that it was a bacterial infection and that it, "wasn't just a stomach bug."
After the game, he seemed surprised - pleasantly so - that he was even able to play in and finish the game. "I really don't have an explanation," he said. "I really had nothing this morning. I tried to get as hydrated as I could. I can't thank the team enough, my teammates and friends praying for me and letting me be just completely lethargic all day and letting me do nothing. I don't know. I've got nothing. I have no explanation."
It was bad enough that earlier in the day on Thursday, Colts quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen called Hasselbeck and told him that he didn't need to go through with it. "We'll find a way," Hasselbeck recalled Christensen saying. "You don't have to do this." Hasselbeck felt that, since his job is to fill in if Luck can't play (which rarely happens), however, that he needed to give it a go.
The Colts are thankful that he did. Despite being sick and playing in his second game in five days, Hasselbeck was masterful on Thursday night. He completed 18 of 29 passes for 213 yards and two scores without turning the football over - numbers that don't jump off the page at you, but a game that stood out nonetheless. He operated within the game plan perfectly, he made some beautiful passes (those over the shoulder dimes that he dropped in to both Andre Johnson and then to T.Y. Hilton at the end of the game were great), and most importantly, he didn't make many mistakes (he had one throw intercepted but wiped out due to penalty). It hasn't been the best year for Colts quarterbacks, but regardless, Hasselbeck's game on Thursday was the most well-quarterbacked game by a Colts signal-caller this year. He deserves a lot of credit.
Head coach Chuck Pagano called it the, "grittiest performance I have seen in a long, long time. He was outstanding."
"It's awesome," kicker Adam Vinatieri said of what Hasselbeck did Thursday night. "It's fun to see him. I know how he was around this last week sick and under the weather, to watch him go out there and put that behind him. I remember (Michael) Jordan in the playoffs doing that same kind of stuff. That was some pretty special stuff. "
The Colts aren't surprised by Hasselbeck's play, either. "We aren't surprised, we are comfortable with Matt," running back Frank Gore said. "He's been with us for a long time. He's been successful in the league. We know what he can do in this league."
Hasselbeck has had a long, successful career in the NFL, but he has definitely exceeded expectations while filling in for Andrew Luck. In two starts, he has completed 63.2% of his passes for 495 yards and three touchdowns without a turnover, all while helping to lead the Colts to two division wins in five days. It's a feel-good story, especially considering what Hasselbeck was dealing with this week, but he wasn't too big to miss an opportunity: he dedicated the game-ball to Michelle Bair, who lost her battle with cancer on Thursday.
A 40-year old backup quarterback dealing with an illness stepped up and has helped keep the Colts' season more than afloat in the absence of their star quarterback. That was $3 million well spent this offseason by Ryan Grigson, to be sure.