INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Matt Hasselbeck’s inspiring comeback might be gaining popularity outside the Colts’ locker room.
Inside the team complex, nothing has changed.
Coach Chuck Pagano made it clear Monday that the 40-year-old quarterback with the 4-0 record will return to backup duty when Andrew Luck returns from a lacerated kidney and partially torn abdominal muscle.
“Andrew is our starting quarterback,” Pagano said, essentially laughing off the notion that there’s any quarterback controversy in Indy.
“When he is healthy and he is 100 percent healthy and the doctors and our trainers say he is ready to roll then he is going to be under center.”
Of course nobody knows when Luck actually will be 100 percent.
After suffering the two most recent injuries in a season-saving victory against Denver on Nov. 8, Pagano said Luck would miss two to six weeks.
On Monday, at the midway point of the initial timetable, Pagano said only that Luck is “doing better” and is considered week to week — a phrase he uses to suggest a return is not necessarily imminent.
Last week, Luck said his rehab activities have increased and he remains confident of playing again this season even though he’s not yet returned to practice.
Until then, it’s Hasselbeck’s job and the comparisons have helped fuel a public debate Pagano called “ludicrous.”
Hasselbeck has won all four of his starts this season, giving him twice as many victories as Luck, who has made seven starts.
And with Hasselbeck running the show, the Colts’ offense has finally started to look more like the one people expected when Indy was the trendy preseason pick to dethrone defending Super Bowl champion New England.
The result: Luck’s win over Denver and Hasselbeck’s past two wins have Indianapolis (6-5) on a three-game winning streak.
All three victories came against foes outside the AFC South, against playoff contenders and despite an ever-expanding injury list.
The latest addition is running back Ahmad Bradshaw, who will finish his third straight season in Indy on injured reserve after sustaining a wrist injury in Sunday’s game.
But with December looming and Hasselbeck thriving, the once-struggling Colts appear to be surging just in time to take advantage of a seemingly favorable schedule that could help them capture a third straight division crown.
For that, Pagano is thankful.
“He (Hasselbeck) does a great job of preparing. He takes care of himself, he understands football, he understands what we’re doing, he works extremely hard Monday through Sunday preparing himself, watching himself, correcting himself, getting the plan down,” Pagano said. “Obviously, at his age, being 4-0 as a backup quarterback it’s great for us. We’re very, very fortunate and I just hope he keeps it going.”
Luck, meanwhile, is 2-5 and tied for the third-most interceptions (12) in the NFL despite sitting out four games with injuries. Only two qualifying quarterbacks, Nick Foles and Peyton Manning, have lower ratings than Luck’s 74.9, too.
And there are other concerns to deal with.
Frank Gore rushed 19 times for 26 yards in Sunday’s 25-12 victory over Tampa Bay, a game in which Indianapolis averaged a paltry 1.04 yards per carry. Indy’s revamped offensive line also gave up three sacks and 11 quarterback hits.
But Hasselbeck isn’t worried about the public discussion. He’s content playing his role until Luck is healthy enough to reclaim the starting job.
“I obviously wish Andrew wasn’t hurt, like everybody in the state of Indiana,” Hasselbeck said last week.
“Everyone wishes he was 100 percent and that he was the guy under center. But that’s part of my job. I have to be ready to go and to help carry his team while he’s out.”