No shortage of heroes in Colts' inspiring tribute win; more Snaps
A few heroes stepped up as the Colts paid tribute to Chuck Pagano with their win
It may be a pass-happy era, but a number of quarterbacks struggled in Week 5
The Dolphins and Rams are showing stirring signs of becoming competitive again
FOXBORO, Mass. -- Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we take stock of an offensively sloppy but memorable Week 5 in the NFL....
There was a sorrowful sentiment expressed last week, shortly after Chuck Pagano's shocking leukemia diagnosis in Indianapolis, that perhaps the Colts' rookie coach hadn't had enough time to truly leave his imprint on his young team. Three games isn't really a body of work, and such a cameo doesn't allow for much time to mold and shape a club into one's own image. It was easy to wonder what would become of the Colts with Pagano's steadying presence taken away so quickly?
Those worries, however, were quickly proven unfounded. These Colts, as it turns out, already have plenty of Pagano's fight and resiliency, a fact we saw borne out in dramatic fashion Sunday afternoon at Lucas Oil Stadium. Down 21-3 at the half to the powerful Packers, the Colts refused to give up on the game and call it a losing day, mounting a remarkable second-half comeback to upset Green Bay 30-27 and earn an emotional and inspiring victory for their ailing coach.
What a storybook win for a Colts team that had little right to dream, trailing by 18 points at the half and looking out-classed by Aaron Rodgers and a Packers offense that seemed to be coming fully to life for the first time all season. But Indy would not go away, and the heroes were everywhere for the 2-2 Colts, who just matched their win total for all of 2011:
-- Quarterback Andrew Luck had a monster game he'll remember the rest of his life, completing 31 of 55 for 362 yards and a pair of touchdowns, leading the Colts to 27 points in the final two quarters. The 2012 overall No. 1 pick also ran six times for 24 yards and a touchdown, with the highlight being his silky-smooth execution of the game-winning 13-play, 80-yard touchdown drive, capped by a 4-yard touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne with 35 seconds remaining.
-- Wayne, a Colt since 2001, was every bit as magical as Luck, grabbing a whopping 13 passes for 212 yards, including that game-winner. Wayne's one-handed grab of a 30-yard pass in the first half was strictly highlight-film material, and his yardage total was the highest by a Colts receiver since Raymond Berry in 1957.
-- The Colts defense was borderline dominant in the second half, sacking Rodgers five times and limiting Green Bay to just six points in the final two quarters after three first-half touchdown drives. The Packers had just 18 first downs in the game, and punted seven times.
-- Lastly, there was interim head coach/offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who kept his team focused, even after it dug itself a huge first-half hole against a quality opponent. Arians has promised to keep the light on in Pagano's office as a sign of continuity in the organization, but in truth, having the Colts ready to make such a emphatic on-field statement against Green Bay was the best tribute he and his players could have made to honor Pagano.
Pagano's fight has really just begun. But the Colts made sure on Sunday to let the rest of the NFL know that they are Pagano's team, and his impact on them has not disappeared or lessened, even in his regrettable absence. Presenting him with the game ball from the win over the Packers will complete an unforgettable chapter in Colts history.
Well that was predictable. The inevitable scenario we all saw coming in Washington finally arrived in Week 5: The sight of Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III being knocked out of the game with a concussion, courtesy of a clean but violent hit delivered by Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon.
Griffin simply won't last physically if he continues to run the ball as often as he has in the season's first month or so, exposing himself to contact in a manner that seems to invite punishment. On the third-quarter play he was hurt on against Atlanta, Griffin could have gotten out of bounds and likely avoided the hit, but he instead started to slide somewhat belatedly on the field of play, and wound up catching Weatherspoon's left shoulder in the area of his jaw. Griffin reportedly needed some stitches to close a cut on his face, and he looked dazed after the blow, with Mike Shanahan saying afterward that Griffin didn't know the score or what quarter the game was in when asked immediately after the hit.
Griffin status for next week's home game against Minnesota won't be known until later, but the Redskins (2-3) clearly need him healthy to be competitive in the NFC East. Washington lost 24-17 to the Falcons (5-0) in part because rookie backup quarterback Kirk Cousins threw two ugly interceptions in the fourth quarter after replacing Griffin and briefly sparking the Redskins to a lead with a 77-yard scoring bomb to Santana Moss.
For quite a while in Week 5, it looked like Atlanta was about to leave Houston as the league's only undefeated team. But the Falcons overcame a slow start against Washington and then showed some fourth-quarter resiliency to post the first 5-0 start in franchise history. The Falcons scored 17 points in the final quarter against the Redskins, with quarterback Matt Ryan playing his best ball of the day when it mattered most.
Again, for the 17th time, nothing matters in Atlanta this season except finding a way to win in the playoffs, but it's a very good sign that this dome-oriented team is now versatile enough to consistently win on the road. The Falcons are 3-0 on the road this season, with all being wins outside, at Kansas City, San Diego, and Washington. That helps breed a team's confidence, and that always comes in handy in the postseason.
Chiefs offensive right tackle Eric Winston went off on Kansas City fans after the team's 9-6 home loss to Baltimore, calling it "sickening and disgusting'' that some fans cheered when the struggling Matt Cassel was sacked and knocked out of the game in the fourth quarter.
Winston is absolutely right, of course. No matter how badly Cassel has played this season -- and he had another fumble lost and two more interceptions on Sunday -- it's classless of anyone to boo an injured player. I'm sure not all Chiefs fans booed, but enough of them did that it made the moment difficult for players like Winston to stomach.
Is it surprising that things went down that way? Of course not. Chiefs fans are supremely frustrated by years of losing, and fans want what fans want: A winning team. But there are lines that can't be crossed, and Sunday in Kansas City a big bold one got jumped by quite a few people.
Remember when Baltimore's defense was one of the best in the business when it came to stopping the run? Those days seem long gone. The Chiefs shredded the Ravens for 214 yards on a whopping 50 carries (4.3 per rush), with Jammal Charles producing a game-high 140 of those on 30 attempts.
Couldn't have anything to do with that new, lighter and faster Ray Lewis we've heard so much about this year, could it? It was feared that Baltimore's Hall of Fame-bound middle linebacker might suffer some on run defense this year in the attempt to get more athletic in pass coverage, and perhaps those concerns were accurate.
Week 5 was an ugly one all around the league for quarterbacks, and it started Thursday night when Arizona's Kevin Kolb was sacked a ghastly nine times (and 17 in the past two games) in the Cardinals' 17-3 loss at St. Louis. Kolb took a brutal beating in the game, and kept getting up, putting the lie to Tommy Kelly's silly comments after a Raiders-Cardinals preseason game, when Kelly called Kolb "skittish" and "scared." The Rams' Sam Bradford somehow wound up on the winning end of the Thursday night game, despite completing just 7 of 21 passes for 141 yards.
Mix in Michael Vick's continued turnover issues, Cassel melting down again in Kansas City -- and then getting knocked out of the game by a crushing hit by the Ravens -- Joe Flacco's so-so numbers for Baltimore, Griffin's concussion and Cam Newton's woes at home against Seattle, and it wasn't a great week to watch the passing games in the NFL.
So much for the more turnover-conscious Vick. His new and improved ball-protection efforts lasted one week. Vick fumbled the ball three times, losing two of them in very costly fashion. Those mistakes came back to haunt the Eagles, who lost 16-14 in Pittsburgh on a last-second 34-yard Shaun Suisham field goal.
I'm not sure what else Philadelphia can do at this point about Vick's sloppy ball-handling. He has gotten better on the interception front, but five fumbles lost in five games is simply unacceptable. Vick's fumble at the 1-yard line in the first half essentially made the difference in Sunday's game, and his turnover trend has now been the weakness in his game that has dominated the past two seasons in Philadelphia.
Speaking of storylines that are getting so repetitive, Steelers safety Troy Polamalu had to leave the game against the Eagles in the first half after reinjuring his right calf. As great a player as Polamalu is when he's healthy, the thing is, he's rarely healthy. His body just seems to be breaking down before our eyes.
I know he's a rookie, but shouldn't the 28-year-old, been-around-the-block Brandon Weeden know by now that you can't catch your own deflected pass and then throw another pass? The Browns quarterback apparently just learned that rule on Sunday, the hard way, losing what he thought was a touchdown pass because you can't throw two passes on the same play.
Billy Cundiff, we hardly knew ye. The Redskins have to be thinking kicker tryout this week after Cundiff missed a 31-yard field goal in the first half in the loss to Atlanta, his fourth miss in five attempts in the past two weeks. Cundiff has missed five field goals this season, more than any kicker in the league.
And to think Cundiff was in a legitimate competition with thunder-footed rookie kicker Justin Tucker in Baltimore at one point this summer, with many pundits favoring him in that battle. Good thing the Ravens didn't tricked in to trusting Cundiff again this season.
Not to slight Victor Cruz and his three-touchdown afternoon against Cleveland, but the Giants resurgent running game was the star of the game on Sunday. If New York can run like that when it needs to in the season's final three months, the rest of the NFC East might be in trouble.
Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw broke loose for a career-best 200 yards rushing on 30 carries in New York's 41-27 win, after Bradshaw entered the game with a paltry 133 yards so far this season. New York ran for 243 yards on 34 carries overall (7.1 average) and even got a 40-yard David Wilson game-icing touchdown burst from their first-round pick.
Give credit to New York for this win, because the Giants were in an early 14-0 hole, but never panicked. And Tom Coughlin's team had to get to 3-2 in facing the Browns, because the schedule is about to get serious. In their last 11 games, the Giants play either division opponents or teams that made the playoffs in 2011.
I haven't had the Bengals ranked as highly in our SI.com NFL power rankings as some other rankers, or the Dolphins ranked as low as others, and I think Sunday's result bears out why. Miami beat the Bengals 17-13 at Paul Brown Stadium, and that showed me something given the Dolphins had lost two straight games in overtime. Miami is better and more competitive than its 2-3 record would indicate, and the Bengals falling to 3-2 convinces me that they weren't as good as their 3-1 start sounded.
The Dolphins also have to be pleased once again with the play of rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill. He didn't top 400 yards passing again, like he did last week at Arizona, but he was an efficient 17 of 26 for 223 yards, without a touchdown or interception. He certainly out-played the more highly regarded Andy Dalton, who threw two interceptions and was sacked three times, with 234 yards on 26 of 43 passing.
Miami's defense is getting the job done in impressive fashion, too. The Dolphins haven't given up a rushing touchdown in four games, since their season-opening loss at Houston.
Robert Griffin III might have changed the mojo and the feel of the future in Washington, but the Redskins have still managed to drop eight straight home games at FedEx Field. Washington is 0-2 there this season, and hasn't won at home since beating Arizona in Week 2 of 2011.
Speaking of losing streaks, there's a generation of Cleveland children growing up with no memory of a Browns victory. Pat Shurmur's 0-5 team has dropped 11 games in a row, dating to Week 11 of last season. Since starting last year 2-1, Cleveland is just 2-16 in its past 18 games.
Not quite sure where the Eagles pass rush has gone. Philly hasn't had a sack since the fourth quarter of its Week 3 loss at Arizona, and that's with Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger entering Sunday's game having been dropped nine times in the Steelers' opening three games.
It wasn't that long ago that Cardinals offensive line coach Russ Grimm was considered a prime head coaching candidate. He was even the conventional wisdom choice to succeed Bill Cowher in Pittsburgh, before the job went to Mike Tomlin in a late-search surprise.
But Grimm's track record is taking a beating these days. His Cardinals offensive line is one of the worst seen in recent NFL seasons, with Arizona giving up eight sacks in an overtime win over Miami in Week 4, and then nine more in that loss to the Rams on Thursday night. Grimm needs to get his own house in order before he ever dreams of running someone else's team.
The surest sign that a losing team is on its way back to relevance is when it starts to win home games again, and in that department, the Rams' 3-0 record at the Edward Jones Dome is a very positive development. St. Louis isn't an easy touch at home any more, as the Redskins, Seahawks and Cardinals have all discovered. Add in the narrow loss at Detroit in Week 1, and the Rams have been markedly better so far in 2012.
Hard to know where bottom might be in Buffalo. The Bills are doing their we-can't-stop-the-bleeding thing again, and head coach Chan Gailey's efforts to challenge his team's mental toughness didn't really produce results this week. Buffalo got obliterated at San Francisco 45-3 and has now been out-scored 90-10 since taking a 21-7 lead early in the third quarter at home against New England last week.
The Bills are too talented to be laying down and dying like this. The 49ers rolled up a franchise record 621 yards offense and did it with incredible balance, rushing for 311 yards and passing for 310. If Bills fans thought last week stunk, at least Buffalo held a significant lead against the Patriots for a good portion of the game. This week, the Bills didn't belong on the same field as the 49ers from the anthem on.
I haven't done any coaching hot seat updates this year, but Gailey and Bills general manager Buddy Nix at or near the top. Buffalo travels back west to Arizona next week, and then returns home in Week 7 against Tennessee. If the losing keeps up, the Bills' Week 8 bye might be time for change in Western New York.
I do believe that was a job-saving road win for Seattle rookie quarterback Russell Wilson at Carolina. The Seahawks still have passing-game issues to work on, but Wilson's 19-of-25, 221-yard, one-touchdown, two-interception showing kept the Matt Flynn movement at bay for now.
Even better, the win kept Seattle in the highly-competitive NFC West race. In improving to 3-2, the Seahawks tied St. Louis for second place in the division, with all four teams being above .500 this late in the season for the first time since realignment in 2002.
As Brandon Marshall goes, so goes the passing game in Chicago. Nothing wrong with that, though. The Bears paid for a No. 1 receiver in the trade with Miami, and it got one. Marshall had 12 catches for 144 yards and a touchdown in the visiting Bears' domination of Jacksonville, and no other Chicago receiver had more than two catches. With 19 receptions for 282 yards and a pair of scores in his past two games, Marshall has clearly re-emerged as the receiver Jay Cutler looked for first, second and always, back in the day in Denver.
Maybe the best news coming out of Minnesota's 30-7 hammering of Tennessee is that the Vikings can win by 23 points these days even when quarterback Christian Ponder throws his first two interceptions of the season. Ponder's streak of passes without a pick ended at 143, but no matter. The second-year veteran still had a highly productive game, completing 25 of 35 passes for 258 yards and a pair of touchdowns to go with his interceptions.
That's real progress for Ponder, in that his mistakes aren't so costly, and the Vikings, who can now beat an opponent in a lot of ways, without having to play anything resembling a perfect game.