Andrew Luck has been so good, so fast, it’s easy to overlook the soundness of Plan B should the unthinkable ever happen to the Indianapolis Colts’ starting quarterback.
Disaster doesn’t necessarily loom.
With a résumé that includes career totals of 34,647 passing yards, 201 touchdown passes and 11 postseason starts, Matt Hasselbeck isn’t your typical backup.
Only a few years removed from being a full-time starter in Tennessee, he was among the NFL’s top quarterbacks through most of the previous decade during 10 seasons in Seattle. He’s been to three Pro Bowls; one Super Bowl; led the Seahawks to five straight playoff appearances in the 2000s; and is their all-time leader in passing yards.
Now in his 17th season, Hasselbeck is beginning his second as Luck’s backup. With any luck, the Colts won’t ever need to turn to Plan B. But if they do, it will be with the assurance that their season won’t necessarily implode.
Hasselbeck, again, isn’t your typical backup. He’s a proven winner that, in previous seasons, the Colts have seldom had at that vital position.
“It’s a great luxury,” Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano said. “Matt’s obviously taken a team to a Super Bowl. He’s got a ton of snaps under his belt, a ton of confidence. He’s a great leader. He can still throw it, still make all the throws.
“So having a guy like that as your backup, we certainly know that we can still, if we’ve got to use him, we can still go win football games with Matt Hasselbeck.”
That was seldom, if ever, the case during the Peyton Manning era — a reality that had disastrous consequences in 2011, when the Colts finished 2-14 when Manning sat out the year with a neck injury.
Fortunately for Indianapolis, it hit the jackpot with Luck as the top pick of the 2012 draft and has gone 11-5 the previous two years. But the lesson learned was to make a quality backup a priority.
Enter Hasselbeck, who signed a two-year deal in 2013 and has given the Colts peace of mind ever since. He is expected to play a quarter, possibly a little more, during Thursday’s preseason-opener at the New York Jets.
Approaching his job with a starter’s mentality, Hasselbeck expects to make the most of each snap. Not just for himself, but for the host of young players who are vying for roster spots.
“Try to make every play a great play and try to grade out well,” said Hasselbeck, who appeared in only three regular-season games last year. “Sometimes you see guys, especially young receivers, have a great training camp. They’ll be practicing well, and they get into the game and all of a sudden a couple of things go haywire, and they’re all excited and they don’t do what they do in practice.
“I think if you work really hard on the practice field and make everything like a game out there, it translates to the game, and hopefully you don’t have to do anything different, and (it) just happens naturally.”
Hasselbeck, who led Seattle to a runner-up finish in the 2005 Super Bowl against Pittsburgh, prepares like a starter but is comfortable with his role backing up one of the league’s shooting stars.
Playing for his fourth NFL team, the 38-year-old still enjoys training camp, still enjoys competing and still enjoys learning new tricks at an age most players have long since retired.
It’s why he still looks forward to preseason games.
“You get a short window,” said Hasselbeck, who completed seven of 12 regular-season passes last year for 130 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. “I have played some games where I started out poorly, threw a pick on the first play of the game. You kind of get to redeem yourself. I’ve had games where I’ve thrown three picks in the first half and four touchdowns in the second half. You win the game and you are the NFC Player of the Week.
“But that doesn’t happen in the preseason. You may get four passes, so you have to make them count. You don’t get to ease into it.”