Colts’ playoff hopes flickering, Hasselbeck hurting (again)

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Dec. 20, 2015) – One streak ended, but another continued Sunday afternoon at Lucas Oil Stadium. Each was painful to watch.

On a grand scale, the Indianapolis Colts saw their playoff push hit a major snag as their 13-game, unbeaten home winning streak against Houston went poof! The Texans did just enough to earn a 16-10 victory, grab sole possession of first place in the AFC South and put the Colts’ bid for a fourth consecutive postseason berth on life support.

On an individual level, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck’s streak of being roughed up and knocked out of games reached three. He went down, seemingly for the count, midway through the fourth quarter when Texans linebacker Whitney Mercilus drove him to the ground.

Hasselbeck stayed on the ground for several minutes, then had to be helped off the field. While Charlie Whitehurst finished the drive, Hasselbeck was being checked out – again – by the medical staff.

“I hurt my jaw,’’ he said.

How’d you get back into the game?

“I passed the test, I guess,’’ he replied.

That would be the NFL’s in-game concussion test.

“They asked me if I wanted to go in and I did, yeah,’’ Hasselbeck said.

It was the latest trauma to Hasselbeck’s 40-year-old body. We can add his jaw to a growing list that includes his ribs, back and neck. And let’s not forget him starting two games early in the season with a serious intestinal disorder.

Rib injuries forced Hasselbeck to depart the previous lopsided losses at Pittsburgh and Jacksonville, and rendered him at far less than 100 percent.

He declined to put a percent on his well-being as he started his fifth straight game in place of injured Andrew Luck (kidney).

“Just fine, okay,’’ Hasselbeck said. “Better than two weeks ago, maybe a little better than last week.’’

Which body part is throbbing the most?

“Only one hurts at a time,’’ he said with a weak smile.

More to the point, it’s fair to wonder how much more Hasselbeck has to give a team that’s now dealing with its second three-game losing streak of the season and flickering playoff hopes.

“Today, I’ve got nothing left,’’ he said. “When we practice Tuesday, we’ll see how I feel by then.’’

It’s possible Luck will return for Sunday’s latest must-win road trip to Miami, but coach Chuck Pagano offered no insight. Luck’s progress had him enduring limited practice last week, although he was held out of 11-on-11 drills.

“I still don’t have any information to give you,’’ Pagano said. “I’d love to. I wish I knew.’’

This much we do know: Hasselbeck not only is operating on fumes, his body is about to shut down. His stubbornness to play in the face of mounting injuries is admirable, but his declining efficiency is making it virtually impossible for the offense to operate with any consistency or rhythm. It finished with a season-low 190 total yards.

Consider the Colts’ six second-half possessions: four punts, a Griff Whalen fumble and a Hasselbeck interception. After the break, they netted 72 yards and five first downs on 25 plays.

As the Lucas Oil Stadium sellout crowd feared, the Colts’ glaring inability to capitalize on a pair of early takeaways by the defense and advantageous field position throughout the first half proved fatal. Three drives started in Houston territory – the 42, 47 and 35 – and a fourth at the Colts’ 47-yard line.

The result: Hasselbeck’s 11-yard touchdown to Donte Moncrief and Adam Vinatieri’s 29-yard field goal.

Hasselbeck lamented the “woulda, coulda, shoulda kind of situations.’’

He also second-guessed the team’s decision to attack Houston’s defense with an ultra-conservative game plan. The objective, he said, was to avoid turnovers.

“I thought we probably could have been a little more aggressive,’’ he said. “We were just kind of in this mode if we win the turnover battle, we win the game. We kind of thought to win this game, no one had to do anything super-hero.

“We just had to do everything right, just play a clean game. You don’t have to put a cape on or anything like that. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot, and we did.’’

Despite getting nothing done offensively and with Houston rallying behind Brandon Weeden after starting quarterback T.J. Yates suffered a knee injury in the second quarter, the Colts found themselves in position to regain control of the game and the AFC South.

Trailing 13-10 with 3 minutes to play, they had possession at their own 49.

“We had total confidence we were going to score,’’ said tackle Anthony Castonzo. “If you don’t, then just roll the ball out there and forget about it.’’

But on a short reception from Hasselbeck, Whalen lost a fumble – and suffered a rib injury that had him moving gingerly in the locker room – that led to Nick Novak’s 32-yard field goal.

Trailing 16-10, the Colts’ last gasp came with 1 minute, 52 seconds remaining. It, too, ended shortly after it began. Miscommunication between Hasselbeck and Moncrief on a deep post resulted in cornerback A.J. Bouye intercepting Hasselbeck’s pass.

“My fault,’’ Hasselbeck said. “It was a great play call and I mis-interpreted the angle (Moncrief) was going to take. It’s my fault all the way. I feel really bad about it because it was a good play call and good coverage for us.’’

Just like that, it was over.

Houston had its first win in Indy and control of the AFC South.

The Colts were pushed to the brink of elimination.

And Hasselbeck was dealing with more pain.

“I’m just going to give ‘em what I’ve got and see how it goes,’’ he said. “It’s December and everybody’s a little banged up.’’

It was mentioned that he seems a bit more banged up than others.

“Yeah, well, I just get more attention,’’ Hasselbeck said.

 

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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