Hasselbeck as a viable starting quarterback? ‘I’m not really thinking long term’

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Matt Hasselbeck #8 of the Indianapolis Colts scrambles against the Houston Texans on October 8, 2015 at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Nov. 16, 2015) – This is why owner Jim Irsay invested $3 million in March on a then-39-year-old quarterback whose last NFL start was Oct. 4, 2012.

This is why Matt Hasselbeck, now 40 and the NFL’s oldest non-kicker, is on the Indianapolis Colts roster.

This is the Colts dealing with Andrew Luck’s latest injuries. He could miss up to the next five games, starting with Sunday’s trip to Atlanta, after suffering a lacerated kidney and a torn abdominal muscle in the Nov. 8 win over the Denver Broncos.

“My goal is to kind of hold the fort down until he gets back,” Hasselbeck said Monday.

So far, Hasselbeck has done precisely that. When an injury to Luck’s right shoulder forced him to miss earlier games against Jacksonville and Houston, Hasselbeck stepped in and led the Colts to what were season-saving victories while battling a debilitating bacterial infection.

“To be honest with you, the two games that I played I don’t remember a whole lot about them,” he said with a playful smile.

An ornery chicken burrito ravaged Hasselbeck’s inner workings.

“It’s going to be a little while till the trust is built back with that establishment,” he said. “One of my favorites, but it’ll be a little bit. I didn’t feel very well. It was all just kind of a blur.”

Now, he’s back under center for the foreseeable future, and the overriding question is whether Hasselbeck – again, 40-year old Matt Hasselbeck – can withstand the rigors of extended playing time in a collision sport that tests the stamina of players 10 years younger.

Even his younger brother is skeptical. Listen to Tim Hasselbeck, a former NFL quarterback and current analyst with ESPN.

“They have a 40-year-old backup that maybe has to play for six weeks, get you all the way to week 16 of the NFL season before you potentially get Andrew Luck back,” he said. “I know my brother played well in the two games he started this season, but I think anyone can attest… it’s one thing when it’s a shorter injury and you have a backup that’s going to play one week, two weeks, three weeks maybe. We’re in a situation where they have a 40-year old quarterback that’s potentially going to play half of their football games this year. Half of them!”

Matt Hasselbeck smiled when asked for a response.

“I don’t know,” he said. “He’s the middle child. I don’t know.”

That bit of levity aside, it’s a fair question.

The last time Hasselbeck started more than two games in a season was 2012, when he started five with the Tennessee Titans. He was a 16-game starter for the Titans in ’11.

Even Hasselbeck conceded extended playing time – four, five, maybe more until Luck returns – can be an issue.

“It’s a challenge,” he said. “I would say it’s hard to do all the time. That was probably the hardest thing I had to learn how to do. It wasn’t until 2005 that I was able to start every game. I remember when I first started in Seattle (thinking), ‘How does Brett Favre do this?’ It’s hard. It’s a physical, physical game. It’s a physical position. The guys that are able to do it I have a ton of respect for. It’s not easy to do at any age.”

The Colts have unwavering support for Hasselbeck. Against the Jaguars and Texans, he completed 48-of-76 passes for 495 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.

“You never want to be down your starting quarterback,” Coach Chuck Pagano said. “We are, but thank God we have Matt in the building and now Charlie Whitehurst as backup to Matt till Andrew’s back. We’ve won with Matt and we’ll win again with Matt.”

It’s worth noting the Hasselbeck-led Colts are an NFL aberration this season. While he’s 2-0 as a starter off the bench, the other 11 backups forced into the starting lineup due to injury are a combined 6-20, according to ESPN research.

“You look around, there’s not many guys winning football games with backup quarterbacks right now,” Pagano said. “Again, we’re very fortunate to have Matt in the building.”

Hasselbeck isn’t allowing himself to look at the situation as an opportunity to once again prove he belongs, that he still can be a viable starting quarterback.

“I don’t know if I’m quite there yet,” he said. “I’m not really thinking long term. My goal right now is just to get a win this week.”

He’s preparing himself for having direct input in offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski’s game plan and for a much heavier workload in practice. Hasselbeck emphasized he already has lobbied for Luck to be around and help in any way possible.

Luck was in the quarterbacks’ meeting room Monday and on the field for the morning workout.

“I told Andrew I’m going to rely on him heavily,” Hasselbeck said. “We didn’t win the Jacksonville game or the Houston game without his help. He was incredibly helpful. I pleaded with him, kind of begged him, ‘Please, even though you’re hurt (and) you’re not with us, I need you with us.’ He said, ‘Absolutely.’ I anticipate he’ll be very helpful.”