Over the next few weeks, we will be taking a look back at the Colts' 2015 season position-by-position, and today we begin by taking a look at the quarterbacks. To be completely honest, looking at the quarterback position provides the biggest explanation as to why the Colts missed the playoffs and went just 8-8 this year.
Of course, you know exactly where this one is going: Andrew Luck missed nine games due to injury, leading to a mess at the quarterback position that ultimately doomed the Colts.
The season began with incredibly high hopes for Andrew Luck and the Colts, as the team was mentioned among the top Super Bowl contenders and the quarterback was mentioned among the top MVP contenders. The year got off to a very rocky start, however, as the Colts dropped their first two games (to the Bills and the Jets) and then looked bad for much of the third game against the Titans as well. Then, however, Andrew Luck caught fire. Through the first three quarters of that game, Luck was just 7 of 17 for 116 yards and two interceptions as the Colts trailed by 13 points entering the fourth quarter. In the final period, Luck completed 11 of 13 passes for 144 yards and two scores, including throwing for 110 yards on a single drive (made possible due to penalties). The Colts won 35-33, and there was hope once again in Indianapolis despite an ugly start.
Later that week, however, rumors that Luck was playing hurt were confirmed: the Colts said that Luck suffered a shoulder injury during the win over the Titans, but head coach Chuck Pagano said he was "supremely confident" that Luck would play. As it turned out, Luck missed the next two games.
In stepped Matt Hasselbeck, who was re-signed in the offseason for this very reason. He did everything you could have reasonably expected him to do in filling in for Luck, as the Colts notched an overtime win over the Jaguars and then, just five days later, a road win over the Texans - with Hasselbeck still sick with an illness that had landed him in the hospital earlier that week. The Colts were 3-2 and hopefully had their franchise quarterback coming back - the season wasn't over just yet.
Luck did return ten days later for the massive showdown against the New England Patriots, and he played his best half of the season as he had the Colts up 21-20 at halftime. The Colts went on to lose 34-27, but it was the closest they had been to the Patriots in the Luck era, so even that wasn't terrible. The following week, however, the struggles returned against the league's worst defense as Luck had another rough day, this time against the Saints. The following week, Luck had his most miserable game of the year in Carolina, massively struggling in the first three quarters. Once again, Luck caught fire in the fourth quarter and overcame a big deficit to send the game to overtime, but the Colts eventually lost.
The following week, offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton was fired. The Colts made the change in coordinators to Rob Chudzinski on a short week mid-season the week before the bye week with the league's top-ranked defense coming to town. And finally, for the first time all season, Andrew Luck put together a complete game at the level of play we knew he could play at. Facing the then-unbeaten Denver Broncos and the number one ranked defense in the NFL, Luck was tremendous. He completed 21 of 36 passes for 252 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions while also adding 34 yards rushing on six carries. Luck took a huge beating but stood in there, took the hits, and continued to make plays. Mile High Report summed it up quite nicely when talking about Luck's performance against the best defense:
Andrew Luck and his freshly hired offensive coordinator just figured out how to beat the Denver Broncos defense. If your QB can run like a fullback, throw accurate darts and survive a multitude of wicked (and perfectly legal) hits, then you can put up
3027 points on our defense. Thankfully there aren't many QB's in the NFL who can do what Andrew Luck can do when he is healthy.
Finally, the Colts seemed to be on the right track. They were just 4-5 at that point, but they were through the toughest point of their schedule and it appeared as if Andrew Luck was returning to form. And then, on the Tuesday following the win over Denver, the Colts sent out the press release: Luck had suffered a lacerated kidney and a torn abdominal muscle in the team's win and would be out 2-6 weeks. Of course, that was just a rough timetable, as the Colts were going to make sure he was healthy since it was a medial issue first and foremost.
In stepped Matt Hasselbeck (again), and he (again) led the Colts to two straight wins - this time over the Falcons and the Buccaneers. It all came crashing down early in December, though, when the Colts were embarrassed by the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday Night Football. The Colts managed just ten points, but even more concerning was the fact that Hasselbeck was injured during the loss. He wouldn't be healthy for the rest of the season.
The Colts continued to play Hasselbeck anyway instead of backup Charlie Whitehurst, but Hasselbeck continued to struggle. The Colts were then blown out by the Jacksonville Jaguars and then suffered a crippling loss to the Texans in which the Colts' offense amassed just ten points and 190 total yards of offense. Hasselbeck, who was incredibly beat up, hadn't finished a game since the win over the Buccaneers.
In week 16, Hasselbeck was injured in the first half against the Dolphins and didn't return, though Charlie Whitehurst did enough to ensure that the offense didn't blow an early lead. Whitehurst, however, injured his hamstring late and was placed on injured reserve shortly after the game.
Whitehurst wasn't available for the regular season finale, and neither was Andrew Luck or Matt Hasselbeck (though the Colts kept the latter two on the active roster in case they made the playoffs, in which case one or both may have been ready to go). Instead, they signed Josh Freeman and Ryan Lindley off the street to join Stephen Morris on the active roster, and the duo of Freeman and Lindley did enough to lead the Colts to a win over the Titans in the final game of the season.
So there you have it - the Colts' 2015 season in a nutshell, as seen through the quarterback position. And, again, that's really all you need to know: the Colts' franchise quarterback struggled and missed nine games, while the team's 40-year old backup was also injured. From training camp through the end of the regular season, the Colts had ten different quarterbacks come through their doors, five different quarterbacks play in a regular season game, and three different quarterbacks start a regular season game. When considering all of that, the Colts' 8-8 season doesn't look so bad.
It was a year to forget for the Colts, particularly at the quarterback position, and so I'm sure the quarterbacks can't wait to move on to 2016. So what's the outlook for the position moving forward? Hint: it's pretty good. And that's because Andrew Luck is still around. It was a very, very rough season for Luck in which almost everything went wrong, but that doesn't erase what he did in his first three years, his talent level, or even what we saw him do this year - such as against the Broncos.
"We'll never know what could have been after Denver, but we sure want to find out about the future because I think great things are in store," Colts owner Jim Irsay said after the season, and he's got a point. Luck showed up in a big way in the team's win over the Broncos, but that was his last action of the season. Moving forward, there's every reason to expect a healthy Luck (there are many who suggest that Luck was never truly healthy this year, as he also had a rib injury that we don't know the extent of) to turn things around and be a very good quarterback in this league for a long time.
The Colts will likely give Andrew Luck a long-term contract extension this offseason, taking care of their most important piece. After that, they need to find a backup. Matt Hasselbeck will be a free agent, and after the beating his 40-year old body took this year, it's uncertain whether he'll even decide to play another year. If he does, then the Colts have to decide whether they want to bring him back as their backup for a fourth season. They also have guys like Josh Freeman and Ryan Lindley under contract for 2016, so it's possible that one or both could try out for the team's backup job in training camp next year.
All in all, it was a rough and painful year for the Colts' quarterback position, but the arrow is still pointing up for the future of the position (thanks to Andrew Luck), which is good news for the Colts.