The Colts will never bench Andrew Luck for Matthew Hasselbeck. It’s ludicrous to even suggest it, notwithstanding Monday’s curious comments from tight end Dwayne Allen.
But coach Chuck Pagano doesn’t have to bench Luck to continue to play Hasselbeck. Pagano merely needs to declare that Luck won’t play until he’s “100 percent.”
“Got the best backup in the league right now,” Pagano said after Thursday night’s game regarding Luck. “He’s getting better every single day. He’s really, really close. We’ve got to make decisions based on what’s best for the player, first and foremost, and then what’s best for the team.”
So what’s best for the team, with the Patriots looming? Let’s consider Luck’s performances against the Patriots, when healthy.
As a rookie, Luck lost to the Patriots, 59-20. He completed 27 of 50 passes for 334 yards, with two touchdowns, three interceptions, and a lost fumble. In 2013, Luck lost to the Patriots in the postseason, 43-22. It was another four-turnover night for Luck.
Last year, Luck started a 42-20 loss during the regular season and a 45-7 blowout in the playoffs. In the AFC title game, Luck completed 12 of 33 passes for 126 yards, two interceptions, and no touchdowns. His passer rating? 23.0.
That’s an average of 17.25 points in four career games against the Patriots, with 11 total turnovers. When healthy. If Luck will be anything less than 100 percent, will Luck be any better against Bill Belichick and company?
Hasselbeck last started a game against the Patriots in 2004, a 30-20 loss in New England. More recently, Hasselbeck has become Jimmy Connors at the 1991 U.S. Open blended with Willis Reed in the 1970 NBA Finals. Ageless, heroic, and (most importantly) effective. Far more effective in two 2015 games as the starter than Luck’s three 2015 games as the starter.
Again, there’s no way Luck ever would be benched for Hasselbeck. But Luck can be kept off the field, technically for his own good, until he’s 100 percent. And it’s up to the doctors to determine when he’s 100 percent.
So the doctors, reading the tea leaves and/or following the wink-nod (or more direct) instructions from the coaching staff, simply would have to continue to say that Luck isn’t 100 percent until the hot dice in Matthew Hasselbeck’s right hand cool off.
“It’s awesome,” kicker Adam Vinatieri told reporters after Thursday night’s game. “It’s fun to see him. I know how he was around this last week sick and under the weather, to watch him go out there and put that behind him. I remember [Michael] Jordan in the playoffs doing that same kind of stuff. That was some pretty special stuff.”
Said receiver Andre Johnson: “That’s big of him to put the pads on and go out there and play through it. I know what kind of guy Matt is, he comes to work every day, works very hard and it shows when he goes out there and plays.”
Added running back Frank Gore: “We aren’t surprised, we are comfortable with Matt. He’s been with us for a long time. He’s been successful in the league. We know what he can do in this league. As long as you love the game and still want to play this game, you can do whatever you want. He’s been showing it.”
(Coincidentally, Vinatieri, Johnson, and Luck were the only guys to score points last night for the Colts.)
With that kind of positive vibe in the locker room and in light of Luck’s dismal track record (when healthy) against the Patriots, how can the Colts not at least seriously consider giving Luck another week to completely heal — and giving Hasselbeck nine days to prepare for what would be, if the Colts can pull it off, one of the best stories the NFL has seen in recent years?