Before the 2015 NFL season, NFL.com ranked Colts quarterback Matt Hasselbeck as the 14th-best backup quarterback in the league - right around the middle of the pack. Some in the Indianapolis media freaked out when the quarterback struggled in the preseason. Yet right now, with six games remaining on the schedule and the Colts barely hanging on to the AFC South lead, the Colts have turned their hopes over to the 40-year old quarterback. But that's not all: without Hasselbeck, the Colts wouldn't even be at 5-5 right now.
Signed to back up Andrew Luck in 2013 and re-signed this offseason, Hasselbeck didn't figure to see the field much with the incredibly durable Luck ahead of him. But after the Colts' week three win against the Titans, Luck was diagnosed with a shoulder injury that caused him to miss the next two games. Enter, Matt Hasselbeck. Then, after Luck returned to start four games in a row, he was once again injured, this time suffering a lacerated kidney and a torn abdominal muscle. Enter, Matt Hasselbeck - again. So far this season, Hasseslbeck has started three games, leading the Colts to three wins while completing 71 of 108 passes (65.7%) for 708 yards (6.6 yards per attempt), five touchdowns, and two interceptions for a passer rating of 91.9.
This NFL season could realistically be called the year of the backup quarterback, as a number of teams have had to turn to their backup as a result of an injury. Using numbers from NFL.com that have been updated with the numbers from this past weekend, backup quarterbacks have started 27 games due to an injury to the starter this year, going 9-18 in those games with 27 touchdowns and 23 interceptions. If you take away Matt Hassselbeck from that group, there have only been six games won (out of 24) in which the backup started due to injury.
Take, for instance, the Dallas Cowboys, who lost star quarterback Tony Romo for half of the season with a fractured collarbone. Without Romo, the Cowboys dropped seven games, going 0-7 with two different quarterbacks during the stretch. Now, with Romo back, the Cowboys are trying to dig themselves out of a hole. The most you can realistically expect a backup quarterback to do is to keep you in it until the starter returns - something the Steelers did for Ben Roethlisberger, going 2-2 during his absence earlier this year. Matt Hasselbeck, however, hasn't just kept the Colts in it, he's kept the Colts atop the AFC South and in line for a playoff spot.
That's not to say that it's all been Hasselbeck, as other players have stepped up their game with Andrew Luck out too and have helped the Colts go 3-0 without their franchise player. But it must be realized that winning with the backup quarterback in the NFL is uncommon, and this year is a great example of that. With a number of notable quarterbacks getting injured - Romo, Roethlisberger, Luck, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Jay Cutler, and now Joe Flacco, among others - teams have had to rely on their backups much more often, and it hasn't gone well for many of them. The exception to that statement has been Matt Hasselbeck and the Colts, who continue to win despite losing their starter.
General manager Ryan Grigson made a number of big-name free agent moves this past offseason to varied success, but it's quite possible that the most biggest one he made, in hindsight, was the re-signing of the veteran quarterback. Without him, the Colts wouldn't be 5-5, and in the year of the backup quarterback, Matt Hasselbeck is leading the way.