Matt Hasselbeck stepping up and saving the Colts' season
The Indianapolis Colts invested in their backup quarterback position this offseason, and it's paying off in a huge way currently as Andrew Luck is out with a lacerated kidney and a partially torn abdominal muscle. He's expected to be out until mid-December, leaving Matt Hasselbeck in charge of the offense for the time being. With the Houston Texans playing well and looking to take the AFC South division, the Colts have little room for error, but Hasselbeck has helped keep them in first place in the division. Earlier this year, Hasselbeck helped lead the Colts to two wins over division opponents (including the Texans), and now he has led the Colts to wins over the Falcons and the Buccaneers. Along the way, he has completed 97 of 150 passes (64.7%) for 1,023 yards (6.8 yards per attempt), 7 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions for a passer rating of 94.4.
On Sunday against Tampa Bay, Hasselbeck played his finest game of the season. The Colts rushed for 27 yards on 26 carries. They were starting two new tackles along the offensive line. And yet Hasselbeck simply went out there and, after a few early mistakes, played fantastic. He completed 26 of 42 passes for 315 yards and two scores without turning the football over, notching his first 300-yard passing game since 2011. The entire team has stepped up, and several others deserve credit (like the defense, which has played well in the past several weeks), but Matt Hasselbeck has held things together at the most important position in the game. With the Texans trying to catch up to the Colts, it's Indy's quarterback - Matt Hasselbeck - that's helping keep them in front.
Wide receiver duo gives plenty of hope for the future
There's honestly a number of things that I want to highlight in this article, but it's limited to three main things. I could talk about how fantastic Adam Vinatieri has been this year or how the defense has really stepped up recently, both of which deserve credit and recognition. But in this space right now, I'll point out something else that was noticeable on Sunday: the wide receiver duo of T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief. There's no doubt that Moncrief has surpassed Andre Johnson as the Colts' number two wide receiver, and it's easy to see why. Moncrief caught eight passes for 114 yards, coming up big with eight first downs. But while Moncrief was great, so was T.Y. Hilton, the Colts' number one wideout, who caught six passes for 95 yards and two touchdowns. Combined, they caught 14 passes for 209 yards and two scores, averaging 14.9 yards per catch. Of their 14 catches, 13 of them went for first downs and five of them came on third down. When targeting either Hilton or Moncrief on third down, Matt Hasselbeck completed five of seven passes, converting five times. On plays that were either runs or targets to other receivers, the Colts converted just twice in nine tries. Without a doubt, the duo of Hilton and Moncrief was great on Sunday, and even more encouraging is the fact that they could potentially provide a top wide receiver duo for years to come. T.Y. Hilton is just 26 years old and locked up for another five years after this one, while Donte Moncrief is only 22 years old and under contract for two more years. With Andrew Luck the team's franchise quarterback for the long-term, we're starting to see that perhaps Hilton and Moncrief can provide a top duo for him moving forward. Again, that was the hope when Moncrief was drafted, and even though it was just one game on Sunday, we saw a glimpse of that potential as the two receivers (who have both been having good years) both came up big.
Chuck Pagano, coaching staff deserve a lot of credit for recent success
A few weeks ago, the Colts were left for dead. They were 3-5, had lost three in a row, and were not impressive whatsoever. They fired offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton following a Monday night loss to the Panthers, and up until that point there was plenty of talk about whether head coach Chuck Pagano would be fired during the bye week. That obviously didn't happen, and perhaps one of the biggest reasons why the move wasn't made mid-season was this: the Colts haven't quit on their coach. That has never been more evident than in the past three weeks, as the Colts knocked off an undefeated team but lost their starting quarterback in doing so, yet Pagano has held this team together and they've put together two more wins in a row. On the season, the Colts are 4-0 without their franchise player. It would be easy for players to see Luck go down and give up, but Pagano has kept them fighting and, in turn, kept them winning. Furthermore, on Sunday against the Buccaneers Pagano and his staff out-coached their opponent. It's not often that we've said that, but they made the necessary adjustments in the second half that the Buccaneers didn't, and the result was the Colts outscoring Tampa Bay 19-0 in the second half. This isn't saying that the Colts should keep Pagano after the year nor is it saying he's a great coach, but if you're going to have those discussions you need to look at the whole picture rather than just the elements of it that fit your idea the best. And right now, Chuck Pagano is doing a heck of a job keeping this team together, keeping them fighting and playing well, and leading them to four wins without their franchise player. He deserves credit for that.