Despite neck, rib injuries, Colts expect Hasselbeck to start vs. Jaguars

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Matt Hasselbeck #8 of the Indianapolis Colts looks to pass in the first half of the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on December 6, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Dec. 7, 2015) – It appears it will take more than neck and rib injuries to keep Matt Hasselbeck from remaining at the forefront as the Indianapolis Colts embark on what will be a defining, season-closing four-game stretch.

Despite this age-defying quarterback exiting Sunday night’s 45-10 loss at Pittsburgh with a sore neck and a mild rib separation, coach Chuck Pagano said Monday Hasselbeck is expected to practice Wednesday and make a fourth consecutive start Sunday when the Colts travel to Jacksonville for a critical AFC South matchup.

Asked if he’s confident Hasselbeck will be under center against the Jaguars, Pagano replied, “Yeah. It’s early still. I haven’t seen Matt…haven’t had a conversation with him.’’

The team’s medical staff informed Pagano of Hasselbeck’s likely availability when practice resumes Wednesday, but Hasselbeck’s workload might be limited.

“If we have to monitor and limit some reps here and there, certainly we’ll do that,’’ Pagano said. “But fairly confident he should be alright.’’

Hasselbeck said he suffered the injuries on two separate plays, and the most damaging appeared to occur in the third quarter when Steelers defensive lineman Cameron Heyward drove center Jon Harrison back into him. As Hasselbeck crumbled to the ground, the 288-pound Heyward fell on him, compressing Hasselbeck’s neck.

After the game, Hasselbeck admitted he was in “a little bit of pain.’’

It could have been so much worse as the Colts attempt to secure a fourth straight playoff berth.

Andrew Luck is expected to miss at least one more game while recovering from a lacerated kidney and torn abdominal muscle. Owner Jim Irsay said his franchise QB could return for the Dec. 20 home game with Houston, or the Dec. 27 trip to Miami.

Any significant injury to Hasselbeck means the Colts turn to Charlie Whitehurst, claimed off waivers from Tennessee Nov. 12.

“You got a small sample last night when we put him in that he can function in our offense,’’ Pagano said.

After Hasselbeck was yanked in the fourth quarter, Whitehurst completed 4-of-8 passes for 51 yards. He was sacked three times on 11 drop-back attempts as the Steelers cranked up their pass rush with the game out of hand.

Playoff push: 

Even though the Colts absorbed their worst loss of the season and one of the most-lopsided in club history, they still find themselves tied with the Houston Texans atop the AFC South standings with a 6-6 record.

“We control our own destiny and in December, that’s what you want,’’ cornerback Darius Butler said.

The Colts own the tiebreaker over the Texans based on their 27-20 win on Oct. 8, and currently are the AFC’s No. 4 seed. But so much can change.

After Sunday’s visit to Jacksonville, the Colts entertain the Texans Dec. 20, are at Miami Dec. 27 and close the regular season at home Jan. 3 against Tennessee.

Houston, meanwhile, is home against suddenly-reeling New England Sunday before its visit to Indy, where it’s 0-13 all-time, a Dec. 27 trip to Tennessee and a Jan. 3 home game with Jacksonville.

Tight end Dwayne Allen noted how the Colts are in somewhat uncharted territory with so much uncertainty heading into the final four games of the season. They’ve won the last two AFC South titles, and there was only modest drama each time.

Last season, the Colts clinched the division title with two games remaining. In 2013, they wrapped it up with three games to play.

“We’ve never experienced this,’’ Allen said. “The way coach Pagano said, you can either see it as a sign or a test. We believe it’s a test. It’s a test of our character as a team, an organization.

“What are we going to do? Are we going to fold it up or are we going to dig down deep and go out there and do what we need to do in order to get into the playoffs?’’

Added Pagano, “We control our own destiny and everything’s out there in front of you. We’re not going to sit around and wallow in self-pity or any of that other bullcrap.’’

Medical update: 

Linebacker Nate Irving is week-to-week after suffering a fractured wrist against the Steelers. A cast will be required. Also, safety Colt Anderson is week-to-week with an ankle injury.

Pagano also described left tackle Luck, Anthony Castonzo (knee) and linebacker Jerrell Freeman (hamstring) as week-to-week.

It appears rookie receiver Phillip Dorsett (fibula) and guard Hugh Thornton (elbow) will return to practice Wednesday.