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Hasselbeck Leads Colts to Another Win

Colts undefeated with Hasselbeck at the helm
Add humility to the list of things Matt Hasselbeck still does better than most.
 
After he passed for more than 300 yards for the first time since Jameis Winston was in high school, carrying the Colts offense in a solid 25-12 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium, Hasselbeck was handed a horn and asked to toot away.
 
Instead, came this: “We’re just playing team football, and I’m just trying not to screw it up, that’s all.”
 
In a season ruled by improbability, the Colts improved to 4-0 behind their 40-year-old backup quarterback, remained tied with Houston atop the AFC South (both teams are 6-5) and gave a little more rise to hope that this season may not end as badly as it appeared when Andrew Luck was sidelined by a lacerated kidney. Hasselbeck joined Warren Moon (1997-98) and Brett Favre (2009) as the only quarterbacks in their 40s to win four starts in a row. 
 
“I don’t know how many more opportunities any of us are going to have,” said embattled head coach Chuck Pagano. “We’re just going to try to prepare and work extremely hard day-in and day-out and try to play as good of football as we can and just try to keep this thing going.”
 
Two road games loom, at Pittsburgh and Jacksonville, before the Colts return home for what could be a division showdown game on Dec. 20 against the Texans. Houston has won four in row but faces the Bills and Patriots before coming to Indianapolis.
 
Luck may be back by then. Or maybe not. Either way, the Colts are comfortable they’ll be in good hands.
 
THE GOOD
 
>> After a cautious first half produced two field goals and a 12-6 deficit, Hasselbeck was much more aggressive and nearly flawless in the second, completing 14 of 20 for 175 yards. He followed a 31-yard hookup to Donte Moncrief with a 19-yarder to T.Y. Hilton for the Colts’ first touchdown. He found Hilton again from three yards out for his third consecutive start with at least two touchdown passes, the first time that’s happened since 2007 when he was Seattle’s starter.
 
“I was probably just playing a little too careful (in the first half). … I probably was just maybe a little too safe with the ball in those situations which is a silly thing to say but protecting the ball is a major focus,” he said. “… Once we got a touchdown, we felt a lot better.”
 
>> Hasselbeck’s passer rating of 94.4 would be the second-best of his career, behind only the 98.2 he posted with Seattle in 2005. He has completed 65 percent of his passes for 1,203 yards, seven touchdowns and two interceptions.
 
>> With a career-high eight receptions for 114 yards, Moncrief moved into the team leadership for receptions with 52, one ahead of Hilton. The third-year wideout exploded in the second half with six catches for 97 yards, including four on the final touchdown drive. 
 
>> After failing to get off the field in the first half, yielding scoring drives of 60, 68 and 76 yards, the defense pitched a shutout in the second, yielding just 120 yards, including 38 rushing. The Bucs were 5-of-7 on third down in the first half but just 1-of-6 in the second. Dwight Lowery punctuated the performance by intercepting Winston’s badly overthrown pass with 2:20 remaining, his career-high fourth of the season.
 
>> Winston wound up 20 of 36 for 245 yards but the Colts generally did a solid job against 6-5 wide receivers Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson, who combined for nine receptions (covering 140 yards) on 20 targets. Winston’s longest completion was 21 yards to Jackson, while Hasselbeck had 31-yarders to both Hilton and Moncrief.
 
>> The Colts also produced four of their five sacks in the second half, two from Erik Walden, who also had two quarterback hits and two tackles for loss. Trent Cole also broke through with his first sack of the season.
 
>> Even when they did wrong, the Colts could do no wrong, at least in the second half. On the 15-play, 76-yard drive that resulted in the final touchdown, they lost two fumbles but neither counted. Griff Whalen was stripped after making a reception and the return would’ve pushed the Bucs inside the Colts’ 25, but offsetting penalties negated the play. On the play before Hasselbeck’s short TD pass to Hilton, Ahmad Bradshaw appeared to lose the ball on the way to the ground and the Bucs challenged but officials ruled in the Colts’ favor. And keep in mind, the Colts had settled for a 30-yard field goal but a personal foul on Chris Conte for leaping into holder Pat McAfee took those points off the board and gave the home team first-and-goal.
 
>> The only guy on the roster older than Hasselbeck might be the only one playing better at the moment. Vinatieri made four more field goals to run his streak to 16. Of course, he missed his second PAT of the season, so he wasn’t quite perfect.
 
THE BAD
 
>> The running game continued to struggle. Frank Gore carried 19 times for 24 yards overall and totaled 13 yards on his final 15 carries. The most common sight of the afternoon was Gore pounding the turf in frustration at the end of a short gain. In the last four games, Gore has averaged just 2.5 yards per carry (211 yards on 83 attempts). 
 
>> Pagano was 0-for-2 on challenged plays, and neither seemed worth the risk. Late in the first half he challenged a 4-yard reception by Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans, but replay officials confirmed the ball didn’t come loose until after he was down. That cost the Colts a timeout and when they regained possession with 1:54 left in the half, they had just one and were unable to move into field goal range. Late in the third quarter, Pagano challenged a called incompletion on a pass to Hilton on a low throw that hit the turf before the receiver snatched it. The Colts didn’t wind up needing that timeout, but the coach needs to be more judicious with the red hanky.
 
>> Though he didn’t play badly in his first career game, rookie right tackle Denzelle Good did commit four penalties: a personal foul, a hold and two false starts. Regardless of how he played the rest of the game, those mistakes will need to be cleaned up.
 
>> Though the run defense was generally adequate, it continued its propensity for giving up the occasional huge play by yielding a 56-yard run to Doug Martin that set up the visitors’ only touchdown of the afternoon. Martin wound up with just 41 yards on his other 13 carries. It was the seventh run of at least 31 yards surrendered this season; the Colts themselves have produced none.
 
THE UGLY
 
>> Jerrell Freeman left the game late in the third quarter after injuring his hamstring and did not return. The inside linebacker was replaced by Nate Irving, who quickly made an impact with his first sack of the season to stall Tampa Bay’s next offensive possession.
 
>> Bradshaw did not return after injuring his wrist on the play when he nearly lost the ball inside the Tampa Bay 5-yard line. Bradshaw carried four times for six years before leaving. Boom Herron, who returned to the Colts earlier this week after being released by Buffalo, was active but only played on special teams.
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