HOUSTON --- With a look to the ceiling and a long exhale, Matt Hasselbeck got off the earliest team bus to arrive at NRG Stadium Thursday afternoon, with the color almost completely flushed from his face.
He looked like death, but maybe because he was just foreshadowing his role as the most unlikely of Grim Reapers to an opposing defense.
A Bacteria infection put him in the hospital after midnight early Tuesday morning. Regardless, Hasselbeck was about to make his second straight start at 40-years-old, with starting quarterback Andrew Luck ruled out with a shoulder injury.
Pre-game, he told NFL Network Reporter Stacey Dales he was just hoping to make it through four quarters. Post-game, Hasselbeck said he felt sick all day long but fine during the game.
The bacteria never had a chance.
18-of-29 passing for 213 yards, two touchdowns, zero interceptions, a 107.4 passer rating...and the win, 27-20. With Hasselbeck under center, the Colts tied and broke a record held for more than 40 years set by the Dolphins of the '70s with their 15th and 16th consecutive division wins.
"I feel like this isn't even real right now," said Hasselbeck after the game. "I got nothing left. It's been an emotional day."
"He was very sick, in and out of meetings," said wide receiver T.Y. Hilton after the game. "He didn't practice with us at all. We knew he was a guy we could count on...He came straight from the hospital and gave us his all today.
"Matt Hasselbeck," said right tackle Joe Reitz. The question? Chuck Norris or Matt Hasselbeck? "I get emotional talking about him. What he's been through and the performance he had coming out, just a true pro's pro."
Whatever Matt Hasselbeck was taking to battle this bacteria infection, perhaps it's time to mass market it.
"I'm going to find out, because I want some of that too," said kicker Adam Vinatieri. "To watch him go out there and just put that behind him, I remember (Michael) Jordan in the playoffs doing that kind of stuff. Same kind of stuff. That was some pretty special stuff."
#8's target in the endzone recognized how special it was too.
"That's big of him to go out and put those pads on and play through it," said wide receiver Andre Johnson, who caught both of his touchdown passes. "I know what kind of guy Matt is. He comes into work everyday and works very hard."
Head Coach Chuck Pagano knows it too. Last season during training camp he was asked about the importance of having Matt Hasselbeck as a back-up quarterback, a former starter with a lot of success in the NFL. Pagano matter of factly replied if the Colts had a good back-up signal caller in 2011, he wouldn't be head coach. With Thursday night's performance as the final verdict, truer words have never been spoken about a 2nd string quarterback in Indianapolis. .
"Nowhere near," said inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, when asked how close Hasselbeck was to 100%. "The guy's been down this road a thousand times. You wouldn't want anybody else under that center, if (Luck) couldn't go."
"He was pretty bad," said safety Mike Adams, who helped with two interceptions. "I tip my hat off to him, and that game ball is just for him."
"He was white as a ghost for a lot of the week," said left tackle Anthony Castonzo. "I'm not sure he had anything in him for the game. He just went out there and balled."
There's an old superstition among golfers. Beware of the sick guy. He usually plays well. That isn't supposed to apply to professional football players, but on this night it did.
And Matt Hasselbeck provided a performance that won't soon be forgotten among Colts fans.