Five things we learned from Green Bay's surprisingly complete 34-14 conquest of Indianapolis on Sunday in Lambeau Field ...
1. The Colts' offense may not be ready to roll after all. After Indy dismantled Baltimore 31-3 last week, the consensus was the Colts' MIA offense had been located and would be at their disposal for the rest of the season.
Uh, maybe not.
Nothing about Indy's offensive performance against Green Bay bespoke a return to the form that we have grown accustomed to from Peyton Manning and Co., lo these many years. Indy had scored 52 points over a 64-minute span at Houston and home against Baltimore, and the thinking was that Manning's knee was finally healthy and receiver Marvin Harrison was a dependable threat once more.
But that assessment proved to be premature in Green Bay, as the Colts played a sloppy, ineffective offensive game that featured two Manning interceptions returned for touchdowns (only the second time that's happened in his 11-year NFL career), a blocked 45-yard Adam Vinatieri field goal attempt and a whopping 12 penalties for 110 yards. I can't remember the last time I saw a Tony Dungy-coached team look so ragged, but then again, the Colts have done a lot of uncharacteristic things this year. Like lose a game in October for the first time since 2004.
Ignoring the fourth quarter, when the Colts racked up some yardage while already down 27-7, Indy had just 11 first downs, 169 net yards and 11 penalties for 105 yards in the first three quarters. Up to that point, the Colts had had just six meaningful possessions, scoring only on their first one. Even when Indy did get on the board, it took a long time to do so, showing virtually none of the quick-strike, big-play ability that we're used to seeing from the Colts. Receivers Harrison and Reggie Wayne combined for just four catches and 35 yards all day, with a long gain of 15.
What's wrong with the Colts? Maybe Manning's twice-operated on knee still isn't 100 percent and he still can't plant and throw with his same level of accuracy. Maybe Indy's offensive line issues (injuries and ineffectiveness) are the root of all its problems. Maybe running back Joseph Addai's absence(hamstring) really hurt against Green Bay, and maybe the separation we saw Harrison and Wayne finally get last week will return again in the near future.
All I really know is that this kind of lackluster showing is getting very familiar. In reality, the Colts probably deserve to be 1-5 this season, rather than 3-3 after those miracle fourth-quarter comebacks at Minnesota and Houston.
"This is kind of the way we have been all year,'' said Dungy, with blunt honesty. "We have been up and down and not consistent. We showed more of that today. Green Bay played smarter and sharper than we did, and consequently won the game by a big score.''
Nothing to argue with there.
2. Aaron Rodgers is putting all the Brett Favre comparisons to bed. What's not to like about the Packers' new starting quarterback? He's really only had one rough game this season, and that's when he hurt his throwing shoulder at Tampa Bay. Against the Colts, Rodgers was superb, leading Green Bay to points on four of the first five drives, with only a missed Mason Crosby 36-yard field goal attempt marring his record.
And what may be most impressive about Rodgers is his ability to play so mistake-free and put together long drives. The Packers' first five drives went 13, 8, 11, 10 and 12 plays, and Green Bay had a season-best 19 first downs in the first half. Three of those first five possessions were for 60-yards-plus, which Green Bay turned into two touchdowns and a field goal. That gives Rodgers 20 drives of 60-plus yards on the season, and Green Bay has scored on all but one (13 touchdowns and six field goals). Through three quarters on Sunday, the Packers held a more than 10 minute lead in time of possession (27:57 to 17:03).
Rodgers is very efficient. He had no turnovers against the Colts, took no sacks and found eight Packers receivers in the course of completing 21 of 28, for 186 yards, with one touchdown and a sterling 104.2 passer rating. This guy knows how to take care of the football, and you certainly couldn't always say that about No. 4. When you factor in that Rodgers has been playing with a sore shoulder since Week 4, and the pressure on him at the start of the season, it's hard to not be impressed.
"This was just a big confidence boost for our team,'' Rodgers said. "We were 3-3 coming into this one and playing a team coming off a big win against Baltimore. We really felt we needed this one going into our bye week. This one was sweet for us.''
3. It's going to be awfully tough for the Colts to win their sixth consecutive AFC South title, if they don't pull the upset at Tennessee next Monday night. Just do the math. The Colts are 3-3. The Titans, the league's only remaining unbeaten team, are 6-0. Give Tennessee another win and it'll be 7-0 and 3-4, a four-game Indy deficit with nine games remaining? Impossible? Certainly not. Unlikely? You bet. Especially since the Colts don't get the Titans in the rematch at Lucas Oil Stadium until Week 17, and who knows how much meaning that one might have by then (see 2007, Week 17, Titans at Colts).
So, in my book that makes Indy's game at Tennessee a must-win, at least in terms of the Colts' division-title hopes. It sounds a bit early for that, but I don't think it's an overstatement. Especially given the Colts' challenging schedule in the next five weeks: at Tennessee, New England, at Pittsburgh, Houston and at San Diego. That's four of the five teams, besides themselves, who made the 2007 playoffs in the AFC, leaving out only Jacksonville.
Boil it all down, and even though it'll only be Week 8, the Colts have no time to lose. Mainly because, unlike the Titans, they've been losing a fair amount of the time.
4. The Packers defense may not be as dominant as last year, but it's hanging tough. Green Bay still can't seem to generate any pass rush this season (its 12 sacks ranks squarely in the middle of the NFL pack), and that didn't change Sunday when the Packers failed to drop Manning even once. But that doesn't mean Green Bay didn't find other ways to get the job done against the Colts.
For starters, the Packers defensive backs played very physically against the Colts receivers, getting their hands on them at the line of scrimmage and disrupting their routes. That's straight out of the "How to Beat the Colts" handbook, of course, but it rarely works as well as it did for Green Bay in this game. Not only did the Packers secondary hold Manning without a touchdown pass, but also it picked him off twice, taking both interceptions back for touchdowns.
First, there was free safety Nick Collins' 62-yard catch and run 2:32 into the second half, making it 24-7 Packers and effectively putting this one out of reach. That Manning pass went off Wayne's hands, and Collins made a nice move inside the Indy 20 to take the interception in for the score. Later, second-year Green Bay safety Aaron Rouse added insult to injury, stepping in front of a Manning pass intended for receiver Anthony Gonzalez and returning it 99 yards for the Packers' final score with 4:27 remaining.
That tied the Green Bay franchise record for longest interception return (Tim Lewis versus the Los Angeles Rams in 1984), and meant that Manning had thrown two interceptions returned for touchdowns in the same game for only the second time in his career (against New England in 2001).
Remarkably, it's the second time this season that Green Bay's defense had returned two interceptions for scores in the same game. Collins and cornerback Charles Woodson accomplished it in Green Bay's wacky 48-25 win at Detroit in Week 2. The two scores Sunday also gave the Packers an NFL-best five interception return touchdowns this season, an astounding total through seven games.
"All I saw was green in front of me,'' Rouse said. "Once I saw that real estate, I'm going to go and get it. Nobody was going to catch me.''
And the performance of Green Bay's secondary is even more impressive when you consider that starting corner Al Harris is out with a spleen condition, starting strong safety Atari Bigby has missed the last five games with a hamstring problem, and Woodson is playing cornerback with a sore toe.
5. Nobody's saying it, but it looks like Colts second-year left tackle Tony Ugoh has permanently lost his starting job. This marked the third consecutive game that Ugoh has been active. Third-year veteran Charlie Johnson started at left tackle -- the slot Ugoh manned so capably as a rookie last year after Tarik Glenn retired. No one in the Colts organization is saying that Indy has given up on Ugoh, but no one's saying much of anything about him at all. Good or bad. That's kind of the Colts' way of doing business under longtime general manager Bill Polian.
Earlier this season Ugoh was injured and replaced by Johnson, but once he got healthy, he lost the job based on his performance. With victories at Houston and home against Baltimore coming off their bye the past two weeks, the Colts may not have wanted to change their wining combination on the offensive line. But now it bears watching once again to see if Ugoh re-enters the starting lineup in the near future.