It’s time to take Indianapolis seriously.
One week they hold off division rival Tennessee. The next, they overcome a 14-point deficit to beat NFC heavyweight Green Bay. Now, they’re on top of the AFC South and maybe, just maybe, headed to the playoffs for the second time in the last six years.
That wasn’t supposed to happen with Philip Rivers as their quarterback. At least that’s what an ESPN pre-game panel that included Rex Ryan told us last month after the Colts started 3-2. The 38-year-old Rivers, we were told by Ryan, is “too slow” ... and “his arm isn’t what he used to be” ... and he needs to sit down.
“How long are you going to wait to replace him?” he said. “To me, he’s part of the problem, not part of the solution.”
That was strong. It was also wrong.
Since then, Rivers has thrown 10 touchdown passes and three interceptions, produced passer ratings of 100 or more in all but one game, completed over 65 percent of his passes in all but one game and, most importantly, gone 4-1 – including Sunday’s win where the Colts outscored Green Bay 20-3 in the second half.
In short, he’s been part of the solution as the Colts kept their hold on first place (based on a head-to-head tiebreaker with Tennessee) in their division.
Look, I understand that some of that criticism was warranted. I also know Rivers can struggle and that he has a recent history of late-game turnovers in crucial situations. But that’s not happening now, and maybe it’s time to acknowledge it.
And maybe it’s time to acknowledge that Green Bay isn’t the best team in the NFC North, too. The Colts are, and you can look it up. They’re 4-0 vs. the division, the first time they’ve been 4-0 vs. the NFC since 2009 … or the last time they went to the Super Bowl.
No, I don’t know that they get back there this season. In fact, I believe they probably don’t. But I do know that they can run the ball (140 yards Sunday), that they can play defense and that three of their remaining games (twice vs. Houston and once vs. Jacksonville) are vs. opponents with losing records.
I also know they have a quarterback who has become part of the solution, not part of the problem. And that makes them dangerous.
SUNDAY SCHOOL: FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED
1. The season is a lot less interesting without Joe Burrow. Shame on Cincinnati. It didn’t do enough to protect its rookie quarterback. Now he’s out for the season with a torn ACL, and nobody should be surprised. Burrow entered Sunday’s game having taken 72 hits, tied with the Giants’ Daniel Jones (2019) for the most by a rookie quarterback since 2000. Now he’s gone. Please tell me this isn’t The Greg Cook Story, Act II.
2. Cleveland's on the right path. At 7-3, the Browns are off to their best start since 1994 when they finished 11-5 and not only reached the playoffs but won a game there. Teams that start 7-3 make the postseason 84 percent of the time, and the Browns may have the schedule on their side: Granted, they still have Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Tennessee left, but they also have the Jets (0-10), Jacksonville (1-9) and the N.Y. Giants (3-7).
3. You don't beat Andy Reid coming off the bye. With Sunday night's last-minute defeat of the Raiders, Reid moves to 19-3 in games immediately following byes. He hasn't lost since Nov. 10, 2019, going 18-1 since (including the playoffs), and is on target to win his fifth consecutive AFC West title.
4. Say goodnight to New England. At 4-6, the Patriots’ playoff hopes are on life support. They’ve already lost more games in 11 weeks than they did in any season since 2009. They're also off to their worst start since 2001 … or the year before Tom Brady took over. Now look at the schedule: Up next, Arizona. Then the Chargers, Rams, Miami and Buffalo. Adios.
5. Never ever, ever underestimate Sean Payton. For the second straight season he lost quarterback Drew Brees in mid-season to a serious injury. And for the second straight season it hasn’t affected him. The Saints were 5-0 in 2019 with Teddy Bridgewater, and now they’re 1-0 with Taysom Hill.
THIRD AND 20
1. Good news, Steelers’ fans: Unbeaten Pittsburgh is the first team since the 2015 Carolina Panthers and New England Patriots to win its first 10 games of the season. So what? So Carolina was 15-1 that year and went to the Super Bowl. The Patriots were beaten in the AFC championship game.
2. Patrick Mahomes pulls out a last-minute victory, and the Chiefs avoid a rare loss. What's new? This: The Raiders are a substantial speed bump for the defending Super Bowl champs. They put this season's only loss on the Chiefs, have the only interceptions (2) of Mahomes and outscored Kansas City 71-67. OK, so they're 1-1. They threw a scare into the Chiefs, coming within a half-minute of a series sweep for the first time since 2012, and let's see what Tampa Bay and Tom Brady take from it. They play the Chiefs next week.
3. Carson Wentz should sit down. Four years ago, he was an MVP candidate. Now he’s a turnover waiting to happen. With two more interceptions Sunday he moved to 14 for the year, and enough is enough. Once I wondered why the Eagles drafted Jalen Hurts. Now I wonder they don’t use him.tory.
4. Maybe Progressive should have the Browns’ Nick Chubb, not Baker Mayfield, do those commercials from Cleveland’s FirstEnergy Stadium. Nobody protects it better. Chubb has 100 or more yards rushing in all four of his home games and scored all five of his TDs there.
5. Zach Martin moves from guard to tackle, Zeke Elliott has his first 100-yard game and Dallas pulls the upset. Connect the dots.
6. Nobody enjoyed the weekend more than the Buffalo Bills … and not because they had a bye. Nope, thanks to Denver’s upset of surging Miami the Bills remain alone atop the AFC East at 7-3. Miami is one game back at 6-4. P.S. -- Class move by the Broncos: They plan to send the game ball ... not to the Bills ... but to Hall-of-Famer Floyd Little, battling cancer and reportedly entering hospice.
7. The Jets are toast. I know. Duh, right? But at 0-10 they’re the first team officially eliminated from the playoffs, and now they're officially on board the Tanking for Trevor non-stop heading south. Five of the Jets’ last six opponents have winning records (Miami, Las Vegas, Seattle, the Rams and Cleveland). And the sixth? New England, which beat them the past nine times and 12 of the last 13. Tell me where you find a victory. Someone? Anyone?
8. When you think of the New Orleans Saints, you don’t think defense. Maybe we should. The past three games – including a 38-3 blowout of Tampa Brady – the Saints allowed just one touchdown and produced 13 sacks, including eight vs. Matt Ryan on Sunday. They also ran their streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher to 53 consecutive games, the longest since the 1970 merger.
9. Here’s what’s most impressive about Cleveland’s 16 pressures and five sacks of Wentz. It was done without Defensive Player-of-the-Year candidate Myles Garrett.
10. Yes, Tennessee’s Derrick Henry beat Baltimore again--- this time in overtime -- but he doesn’t get the game ball. Wide receiver A.J. Brown does. Rewind the videotape to his 14-yard go-ahead TD catch late in the fourth quarter, and you’ll see why.
11. With Joe Burrow gone, my Offensive-Player-of-the-Year vote just got easy. Justin Herbert, come on down.
12. At least the Jets are consistent. Dating back to 2016, they’re 0-15 without their starting quarterback, including 0-10 without Sam Darnold and 0-4 with Joe Flacco this season.
13. Further proof that Cam Newton is no Tom Brady: His scoring pass to Damiere Byrd was his first to a wide receiver … this season … and only the second for the team.
14. Kevin Stefanski, please join the Coach-of-the-Year round table.
15. I repeat what I said a week ago: Baltimore is in trouble. The Ravens have now dropped three of their last four and have numerous issues on both sides of the ball – including the failure of the defense to protect a 10-point lead Sunday and surrender its longest scoring drive of the season when it counted most. Next up: Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh, and remember what happened the last time these two met. It’s not unimaginable to see the Ravens 6-5 at this time next weekend.
16. I’m with Miami coach Brian Flores: Don’t keep Tua on the bench. Rookie quarterbacks are going to have setbacks, and fizzling vs. Denver qualifies. Just mark it down as a learning experience, and move forward. Ryan Fitzpatrick isn’t the present or the future. Tua is. So don't mess with his head. Stick with him.
17. Well, now, maybe we’ve found Aaron Rodgers’ kryptonite. He’s 1-2 vs. the Colts when leading by 14 or more points … and 95-2 vs. everyone else.
18. On an afternoon when Deshaun Watson threw for 344 yards, two TDs and led the Texans in rushing, his most significant number was … zero. Yep, zero. He didn’t throw an interception for the fifth consecutive game and sixth time in seven weeks. And he wasn’t sacked for the first time all season. Result: Houston beat someone other than Jacksonville.
19. Can’t wait to hear what Indianapolis coach Frank Reich says about that last Colts’ possession of regulation when they turned a sure victory into a near defeat. If you saw the game you know what I’m talking about: With a 31-28 lead and just over two minutes left, the Colts committed five offensive holding calls within 35 seconds (from 2:17 left to 1:42) to keep Green Bay in it – never a good idea, as they later found out, when Aaron Rodgers is involved.
20. The Eagles have 10 first-half points the past three weeks vs. Dallas, the N.Y. Giants and Cleveland. The last time that happened then-coach Andy Reid was fired after the 2012 season.
STAT THAT MAY ONLY INTEREST ME
Don’t tell me J.J. Watt ... er, J.J. Swat ... is fading. His four deflections Sunday are a career best, one more than he had in his first nine game this season, and the second most in the NFL since 1994.
ONE THAT MAY INTEREST YOU
Carson Wentz had three multiple interception games in 40 starts from 2017-19. He has six in 10 games this season.
AND ONE FOR BOTH OF US
The Jets were just eliminated from the playoffs for the 10th straight season. But since 1990, this (meaning Week 11) is the earliest they’ve ever bowed out of playoff contention – breaking the record of Week 12 set in 1996 and 2014.
SUNDAY’S GOLD JACKET QUOTES
“No question about it. He’s our starter.” – Philadelphia coach Doug Pederson on QB Carson Wentz.
“You don’t want to go 0-16. This may be my last year. I can’t go out like that.” – N.Y. Jets’ running back Frank Gore.
"I've got Pat Mahomes. Your give me a minute and a half, and I'm pretty good right there." -- Kansas City coach Andy Reid on the Chiefs' game-winning drive.
SUNDAY’S GOLD JACKET RECIPIENT
New Orleans QB Taysom Hill. He’s supposed to be a gadget player, not a quarterback who can beat you, right? Tell that to Roddy White (the former Falcons’ receiver predicted the Falcons would “snack” the Saints without Drew Brees). Better yet, tell that to his former teammates. Making his first NFL start, Hill ran for two TDs, completed 78 percent of his passes, averaged 10 yards per attempt and scored a big win over Atlanta. “I have so much love and respect for Drew and my other teammates,” Hill said afterward, “that I wanted to make sure I did my part to help us continue to win.” Mission accomplished.