Earlier this afternoon, the Indianapolis Colts announced that starting quarterback Andrew Luck suffered a lacerated kidney and a partially torn abdominal muscle in Sunday's win over the Denver Broncos, an injury that is expected to put him out somewhere between two to six weeks. The timeline is uncertain because of the uncertain nature of the injury, but this much is clear: for the time being, Matt Hasselbeck is the Colts' starting quarterback.
That's not as scary of a thought as it would have seemed at the beginning of the season, as Hasselbeck stepped in admirably for two games earlier this year when Luck was out with a shoulder injury. In a span of five days, Hasselbeck helped the Colts to wins over two division rivals (the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Houston Texans), completing 48 of 76 passes (63.2%) for 495 yards (6.51 yards per attempt), three touchdowns, and no interceptions for a passer rating of 95.0 - including one game in which he was very sick. He wasn't the dynamic playmaker that Luck can be, but he's about as good as it gets when it comes to a backup quarterback.
The Colts brought him back this offseason to return as Andrew Luck's backup for a third season, and this is exactly the reason why: if something were to happen to Luck (and this year has been brutal for him as he's dealt with shoulder, rib, ankle, and now abdominal injuries), Hasselbeck could step in and play well. He has produced in his 17-year NFL career, completing 60.5% of his passes for 35,443 yards (6.9 yards per attempt), 206 touchdowns, and 148 interceptions for an 82.5 passer rating. And after a shaky preseason, Hasselbeck showed that he can still play when he filled in for Luck earlier this year.
Many will be quick to point out that Hasselbeck led the team to two wins against the awful AFC South, and that is correct. The Colts wouldn't have defeated the Denver Broncos on Sunday without Luck at quarterback, to be sure, and they're not going to compete with teams like the New England Patriots without their franchise quarterback playing well either. But here's the good news: the toughest part of the schedule is over. Three of the past four opponents that the Colts faced were undefeated at the time of the game, with two remaining that way. The slate of quarterbacks featured Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Cam Newton, and Peyton Manning. The defenses faced were (outside of New Orleans) very good. The Colts' last four opponents are a combined 27-6 on the season (.818). That's a very, very tough schedule.
Now, however, it lightens up. The Colts' last seven opponents after the bye week have a combined record of 24-34 this year (.414). Only two of those teams have a winning record: the Atlanta Falcons, who have looked suspect recently and lost two in a row, and the Pittsburgh Steelers, who could potentially face the Colts without their own quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger (depending on how long his recovery is). The schedule also faces rematches with the three AFC South opponents in three of the last four weeks of the season.
We don't know how long Andrew Luck will be out. If it's only two weeks, he'll miss just one game (but that seems like an overly optimistic estimate). If it's six weeks, he would be back sometime around week 15 or 16. In the meantime, it will be up to Matt Hasselbeck to keep the season alive, and it's perfectly reasonable to think that he can do so. The Colts probably won't go on an eight-game winning streak to close out the season now that Luck is injured (and they very likely wouldn't have before, either), but Hasselbeck is a good enough quarterback to help lead the Colts to some wins against a relatively light schedule. Besides, if the Colts sweep the AFC South division, those six wins could possibly be enough to win the division anyway.
It's a big loss for the Colts that Andrew Luck is injured, and the first priority needs to be getting him healthy, not getting him back on the field. Until those two things happen, Matt Hasselbeck will be starting for the Colts, and the season isn't over yet. The Colts weren't going to get one of the top three seeds in the AFC playoffs anyway unless they went on a run and another team fell apart, so the four seed is still looking likely. If they can take care of business against some bad football teams (especially the three AFC South opponents), they should still be in line to host a playoff game. So while it absolutely sucks that Luck is out, the Colts aren't dead yet, and a big reason why is because they have a trustworthy backup quarterback. Let's just hope Matt Hasselbeck stays Chipotle-free for the rest of the season.