With much on the line, Matt Hasselbeck expected to start for Colts

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Matt Hasselbeck (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Dec. 18, 2015) – With his team’s playoff hopes squarely on the line, Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano expects battered quarterback Matt Hasselbeck to answer the bell.

Too cheesy? Of course.

But Pagano referred to a boxing-related motivational video shown to his players a few weeks ago when asked if he’s concerned Hasselbeck, 40 and dealing with a rib injury that’s impacted his deep breathing and throwing, will be effective enough in Sunday’s AFC South showdown with the Houston Texans.

“‘What do you want me to do?’ That’s what I asked him,’’ Pagano said Friday.

The pugilistic video was from the final act in the Arturo Gatti-Micky Ward trilogy – June 7, 2003 – and the pertinent snippet involved an exchange between Gatti and his trainer at the end of the fourth round. Gatti broke his right hand in Round 4 after landing a punch to Ward’s hip. The gist of the back-and-forth:

Gatti: I think I my hand’s broke.

Trainer: Huh, what?

Gatti: I think I broke my hand.

Trainer: What do you want me to do?

Gatti: I broke my hand.

Trainer: What do you want me to do? Want me to throw the towel in?

Gatti: Nope. Guess I’ll go fight.

And Gatti did, earning a unanimous decision in one of boxing’s greatest fights.

Although the motivational effort failed to generate the desired results – the Colts have lost consecutive games by 35 points – it was Pagano’s colorful way of explaining what’s being asked of Hasselbeck.

Yes, the NFL’s oldest non-kicker has taken a beating the last two weeks at Pittsburgh and Jacksonville, and been forced out of each with a rib injury. Hasselbeck conceded Wednesday the rib issue has impacted his heavy breathing and ability to throw. He said he’s “taking some things for the pain.’’

But there’s a critical game ahead. At stake for a pair of 6-7 teams is sole possession of the AFC South with two games remaining and the inside track for the division title and a playoff berth.

The Colts won’t get any sympathy from Houston. The Texans will start T.J. Yates in place of Brian Hoyer, who is out after suffering a second concussion in a month in last Sunday’s loss to New England.

While Hasselbeck is expected to make his fifth consecutive start in place of Andrew Luck and seventh overall, it’s anyone’s guess whether he’ll be able to finish. If not, the Colts will turn to Charlie Whitehurst.

Pagano is confident Hasselbeck will be up the challenge, and that he’ll receive the necessary support.

“We’re going to take care of him,’’ Pagano said. “He’s a warrior. He’s a tough S-O-you-know-what. He’s going to play well, really good football.

“We’re going to keep his butt clean. We’re going to protect our butts off for him.’’

Hasselbeck’s offensive line should receive a boost with the return of left tackle Anthony Castonzo, who’s missed the last three games with a sprained ligament in his right knee. With Castonzo back, Joe Reitz returns to his more natural right tackle spot.

“We’re going to block and we’re going to protect . . . do a phenomenal job, best job they’ve done all year and keep him clean and upright,’’ Pagano said. “We’re going to run the football and we’re going to have success running the football.’’

More medical matters:

Luck (kidney), safety Colt Anderson (ankle) and rookie cornerback D’Joun Smith (knee) have been ruled out of Sunday’s game. Wide receiver Donte Moncrief (toe) and cornerback Greg Toler (knee/hamstring) are questionable.

Starting inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman returns after missing two games with hamstring and rib injuries.

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