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Matt Hasselbeck, Jameis Winston headline battle for the ages in Indy

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Matt Hasselbeck still plays young.

The 40-year-old quarterback has won all three of his starts this season, kept the Colts in contention for a third straight AFC South title, and still enjoys life in the NFL.

Jameis Winston looks more polished than a 21-year-old rookie. After a rugged start, Tampa Bay’s new franchise quarterback has rallied to win three of four and gotten the Buccaneers back into playoff contention.

No, Sunday’s game might not be the marquee matchup between No. 1 overall picks that everyone wanted to see, but it will be full of intrigue as Hasselbeck and Winston both try to prove age doesn’t matter.

“I think there are some pretty smart 25-year-old quarterbacks out there,” Hasselbeck said. “I started playing football when I was 12 and I think by the time I was 25, I had a pretty good grasp of situations. I think it’s just a matter of making those decisions quickly and communicating that stuff to the guys you’re on the field with.”

On paper, the contrast is stark.

Hasselbeck has been to three Pro Bowls, started a Super Bowl, backed up Brett Favre and Andrew Luck, and remains Seattle’s career passing leader.

Winston still dreams of adding most of those lines to his resume and one more that Hasselbeck hasn’t yet achieved: Super Bowl champ. So far, Winston has five wins, 15 TD passes and nine interceptions as a pro.

But neither is immune from cracking jokes about the first matchup between the league’s oldest and youngest starting quarterbacks since John Skelton and Jon Kitna squared off five years ago, according to STATS.

“One thing about playing against old people is I could say that he’s balding, but we have so many bald-headed 20-year-olds on this roster I can’t even make any funny jokes about it,” Winston said. “He looks better at the age of 40 than some of the young guys on our team.”

On the field, it’s serious stuff.

With six weeks left in the regular season, the Bucs (5-5) and Colts (5-5) find themselves in exactly the same spot.

Both quarterbacks have won two straight and are trying to build momentum for a stretch run they hope will lead to a deep playoff run. Both teams are leaning on players who studied under Dirk Koetter, now the Bucs’ offensive coordinator.

And while Winston would love to show he’s ready for prime time, Hasselbeck would settle for demonstrating he’s not past his prime.

“That’s where our focus is, just trying to figure out how we can slow an offense down that has been very productive for them — and a quarterback who has found the fountain of youth,” Bucs defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said.

Here are some other things to watch Sunday:

HOLDING THE LINE: With left tackle Anthony Castonzo expected to miss the game with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee, the Colts will shuffle their offensive line. They finished last week’s game by moving right tackle Joe Reitz to left tackle, left guard Jack Mewhort to right tackle and inserting Lance Louis at left guard. They’ve spent this week looking at other options, such as plugging in rookie Denzelle Good at right tackle, to avoid a major makeover. But coach Chuck Pagano isn’t saying who will start.

THE MARTIN: After rushing for 235 yards last week at Philadelphia, Bucs running back Doug Martin is onto his next big quest. He needs 59 yards to become the second player in the league this season to reach the 1,000-yard mark. If he rushes for 100 yards, he’ll also break a tie with Warrick Dunn (11) for No. 2 in franchise history.

CHART CLIMBERS: Frank Gore, Andre Johnson and Adam Vinatieri are all in position for milestone accomplishments this week. Gore needs 42 yards from scrimmage to pass Hall of Famer Jim Brown (14,811) for No. 23 all-time, and 15 carries to move into the top 20 on the NFL’s career list. Johnson needs 35 yards receiving to move into the league’s top 10, and Vinatieri will tie John Carney for No. 9 in NFL history with 301 games played.

ROAD WARRIORS: Tampa Bay already has three road wins this season, matching its combined total from the previous two seasons. If the Bucs can win again this week, they would have their highest victory total on the road in one season since 2012.

TURNOVER DIFFERENTIAL: Tampa Bay forced three turnovers last week and has had at least one in a league-high 17 consecutive games. The Bucs are ninth in the NFL at plus-3 in turnovers this season. The Colts, meanwhile, continue to struggle in this area. They are minus-6 for the season, No. 27 in the league.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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