INDIANAPOLIS – Thanksgiving is near and the AFC South is extremely crowded.
In past years, the division that has been dominated by the Indianapolis Colts has rarely seen such parity within the division, this late in the year.
Before the start of 2015, many thought the Colts would once again runaway with the AFC South with Houston offering a potential challenge.
With November reaching its final week, the Colts early season struggles have three teams currently separated by just a half game in the AFC's most competitive division.
The Colts still control their own destiny, thanks to 16 straight AFC South wins and a perfect, 3-0, mark within the division this season.
Things are still very much unsettled though if the Colts want to capture their third straight divisional title.
Houston is tied atop the South (record wise) at 4-5. With Jacksonville's win on Thursday Night Football, the Jaguars sit just a half game back, at 4-6.
Matt Hasselbeck is tasked with the duty of trying to keep the Colts afloat during a season that's taken them through rocky waters.
With Andrew Luck sidelined for up to five games, this is why the Colts were so keen to bring the 40-year-old quarterback to Indianapolis back in 2013.
"You look around, there are not many guys winning football games with backup quarterbacks right now," Pagano said of Hasselbeck's rare 2-0 record this season.
"He's a great leader, got great experience. There's nothing he has not seen, still got arm talent, can still make all the throws, athletic enough to extend plays, good decision maker. We're very fortunate to have Matt in this building."
Another attribute Hasselbeck brings to the Colts is confidence across the locker room.
When backup quarterbacks are asked to take the reigns, red flags are immediately thrown up for any previous expectations established.
The flag is certainly not red with Hasselbeck back under center.
"Me against Matt in Seattle, he did great things," Frank Gore said earlier this week.
"I don't really look at him as a backup quarterback because he's done a lot of great things in this league. He can play the game. We would love to have 12 back, but he's got to get healthy. We'll be fine. As a team, we should be fine with it."INTERESTING MATCHUPS Colts running back Frank Gore versus the Falcons defense:Lost in the talk about the Atlanta playmakers, their run defense is ranked third in the NFL. Dan Quinn has the upmost respect for Frank Gore calling him the hardest runner you can find to go against. The two have left the NFC West, but they will match up once again Sunday with the Falcons trying to limit another perennial 1,000-yard runner.Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones versus the Colts secondary: Instead of "Colts secondary" the name "Vontae Davis" could be plugged in for this one. After not exclusively shadowing a receiver since Week One, Davis could be back on that duty this weekend against Jones. In 2015, Jones has 80 receptions for 1,029 yards after nine games, challenging league records for a single season.Quick Facts
- Colts quarterback Matt Hasselbeck was on the Seahawks in 2010 when, now Falcons head coach, Dan Quinn was Seattle's assistant head coach.
- Colts running back Frank Gore is looking for his eighth straight game of at least 75 rushing yards.
- Colts safety Dwight Lowery started 15 games for the Falcons last season.
- The Falcons have won six straight games following bye weeks.
- Atlanta leads the league in time of possession (33:56).
- Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has an NFL-best 16 straight game streak of at least 250 passing yards. Tom Brady is second with nine straight. NOTABLE QUOTESColts Head Coach Chuck Pagano
(on the Falcons offense):
"You look at what they've done, especially out of the gate. They win their first five and then struggled a little bit. I know they've lost three out of their last four, but that's by a combined 14 points. They're explosive. You've got a quarterback that's outstanding. Of course Julio that's fourth in the league in yards from scrimmage, No. 1 in pass yards or right behind Antonio Brown. (Devonta) Freeman, you mentioned, is second in the league with yards from scrimmage, got 11 touchdowns, nine rushing, two receiving, second-leading receiver. Then you've got Jacob Tamme, you've got Roddy White, who they've been talking about trying to get back involved in the offense, who's played at a high, high level for a long, long time. He's a great player. They've got a ton of weapons. Offensive line is solid. Again, it's going to be a huge challenge, and we're going to have to do a great job of stopping the run, winning on first down, trying to get them in third-and-long. They're fifth in the league on third down conversions at 45 percent, which is really good. Again, we're going to have to do a great job of stopping the run, play-action pass, get them in third down, get off the field. It's going to be tough."
Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano
(on "recruiting" Matt Hasselbeck back in 2013, during free agency):
"I was, I think, at the owners meetings and he was in the Bahamas and we got on the horn with Matt. I think it was his daughter's cell phone that actually picked up. It was just a conversation of we've got an opportunity here, we love the direction we're going, we'd love to have you. The ins and outs of it, I tried to play the born in the same hometown, Boulder, Colorado, all that stuff and play on the emotions a little bit. But really just—racking my memory here to see exactly what we said other than just try to be the best recruiter I could be and talk him into coming our way."
Colts Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck
(on if it's helpful knowing that he will be playing this week from a reps standpoint at practice, unlike the first two games):
"It's much more helpful to know because you get an opportunity to have a voice during the week in terms of planning. Obviously the starting quarterback situation isn't really the biggest change. It's probably the play-caller being the biggest change. Our offensive staff worked hard over the bye. We weren't here, they were – worked hard at kind of establishing what we are going to be going forward. Last week, we just kind of threw it together on a short week. This week, it's different. I think for me my focus is just really getting on the same page with what we're trying to do now and do it as quick as possible."
Falcons Head Coach Dan Quinn
(on the difficulties of facing so much unknown involved with the Colts offense):
"It's a unique challenge for sure and one that's certainly brought some thoughts in for us. When you look at the package from where Chud (Rob Chudzinski) was in the last game, it was a lot more of a certain personnel package than it had been in previous games. I think with Matt Hasselbeck, he's got such a football background and understanding. He's pretty capable in any scheme if that makes sense whether it's timing, this route. He's got kind of the moxie and the confidence to make all the throws and put it in the right spot. I don't know if it'll change as much based on the quarterback, but I did notice a change from some of the personnel as well."
Falcons Head Coach Dan Quinn(on Colts 32-year-old running back Frank Gore):
"If you had not told me the age, I would never have guessed that. I think probably one of the things, and I've coached against him a lot, is that I have the most respect for (is) I think it's his vision. He's been part of like a gap scheme where he totally understands the run fits. In other words, he may start in an A-gap where a linebacker is ready to go fit, he cuts, cuts again. Often times it's like, 'Man, where did that two-yard run turn into an eight-yard run and the eight one go to a 20-yard one,' where it looks like it's ready to be stopped and the feet kept going. He has the ability to make some runs go from where it looks like it may be small, to where it could go bigger. I know from personal experience of coaching against him we better have our tackling just right because he's a legit competitor for sure."
Falcons Wide Receiver Julio Jones
(on what makes Vontae Davis such a tough matchup):
"Just his heart, the heart he has. It takes a certain kind of corner to know that he's going to matchup with one guy the whole game and being comfortable playing both sides of the field. I just think it's his heart (that) sets him away from other corners in the league."