Not many believed the Colts could do it. Not after an ugly home loss to the Raiders the week before.
But here we are.
The Colts laid claim as the AFC’s No. 3 team by picking up what owner Jim Irsay called “the biggest regular season win in franchise history,” 19-13 over Patrick Mahomes and the mighty Chiefs in Kansas City.
They did it with defense. They did it with a punishing ground attack. They did it with mauling offensive line play and a young quarterback with the mettle to move past his mistakes to deliver the next big throw.
In a game in which wunderkind Mahomes was playing, it was offensive guard Quenton Nelson who was the best player on the field.
The most fascinating was former Chiefs pass rusher Justin Houston, who returned to Kansas City as a member of the Colts and made the game’s biggest play.
Houston stopped Chiefs rusher Damian Williams behind the line of scrimmage on a 4th-and-1 attempt late in the fourth quarter with the Chiefs deep in their own territory down six points.
“We came into their home when nobody expected us to beat their ass” Houston told his teammates after the game.
According to NFL Network’s James Palmer, Houston was very emotional returning to Kansas City. So emotional, that he had to get to Arrowhead Stadium extra early so he could take the field and get the emotions out of the way.
That emotion seemingly returned via feelings of overwhelming triumph, as Houston was jubilant and animated after what proved to be the game-winning stop.
Indianapolis became the first team to ever hold Mahomes’ Chiefs to under 26 points. They allowed just half that.
And they did it without two defensive stars, Malik Hooker and Darius Leonard — the latter was last year’s Defensive Rookie of the Year, and an All-Pro.
On offense, the Colts won in the trenches. They out-gained the Chiefs 180-to-36 in total rushing yardage. Nelson, who is already the NFL’s best offensive lineman, plowed over defenders the entire night. As a group, Indianapolis produced running lanes for much of the evening. And even when there wasn’t a lane, Marlon Mack exhibited Le’Veon Bell-like patience to find the right path.
A game-time decision due to injury, Mack tallied 132 yards on 29 carries, exposing a deep-rooted defensive flaw that many saw the Patriots take advantage of in last year’s AFC Championship Game in this same stadium.
After an ugly postseason loss at Arrowhead in January, Frank Reich said he was confident this week, because of how well the team practiced.
That confidence was on display in Jacoby Brissett, who shook off a terrible first-half interception in the red zone to calmly weather the storm en route to victory.
When Andrew Luck’s retirement during a Colts preseason game shocked the world, it shocked Brissett, too. It appeared he found out from Luck in real time on the sidelines. Now, Brissett is leading the Super Bowl-caliber roster that Luck left behind to victories over a team like Kansas City, an AFC finalist who pounded Luck in January in what looks to be his final NFL game.
General manager Chris Ballard has weathered the storm during the backing out of Josh McDaniels as head coach, the moving out by Andrew Luck at quarterback, with a 1-5 mark to start 2018 in between. Ballard has built a great roster with a lot of depth, and little flaws, in such little time.
With Luck, I had Indianapolis in the Super Bowl. Without him, they are still in the mix under Brissett.
“We a complete team,” T.Y. Hilton said after the game. “We got it all.”
The long game suggests that the AFC will still come down to New England and Kansas City. The Patriots are the Patriots, and Patrick Mahomes makes up for a lot of the glaring deficiencies that plague the Chiefs.
But don’t tell the Colts that.
“This is a really hard place to play,” Colts head coach Frank Reich admitted to his team after the game.
“But look at what we did.”
IS MCCAFFREY THE NFL’S BEST RB?
After the clock ran out in an entertaining 42-28, Panthers-over-Jaguars victory, the tweets came in.
Christian McCaffrey had stolen the show.
First off, any player who can play in the same game as Gardner Minshew and transcend him as the game’s top story, is special. Of course, we didn’t need Sunday’s performance to realize how special Christian McCaffrey is. But we got it anyway.
Three touchdowns. 237 yards from scrimmage. One huge put-the-team-on-his-back performance by perhaps the game’s best running back against a Jaguars defense that was considered the NFL’s best less than two years ago.
That’s right — the NFL’s best running back.
Look, there are no tomorrow’s at this position, which is why the ‘best in the game’ belt is passed every so swiftly. One moment, Shaun Alexander is the NFL MVP after a record-setting season, gracing the Madden 07 cover. The next year he’s averaging 3.6 yards per carry and in his second-to-last full season as a starter. One moment Todd Gurley is an unstoppable MVP candidate, the next, he’s getting less than 10 touches a game buried in the running back power rankings. You just never know.
So with perhaps the NFL’s most talented running back ever, Saquon Barkley, currently nursing an injury, the belt should be McCaffrey’s. Even if this lasts just another week or two, McCaffrey has proved his worth.
With Cam Newton out, the do-it-all running back for Carolina has kept the team’s playoff aspirations afloat.
In comparison, McCaffrey is outperforming his closest counterpart — in terms of skill set — Alvin Kamara, and he’s a better all-around back than bell cow Ezekiel Elliott.
When healthy, the belt perhaps belongs to Barkley, but for now, it lies with the son of a Broncos possession-receiver who caught passes from John Elway in the 1990’s.
With Steve Smith in the house for his Panthers Hall of Honor induction speech, it was McCaffrey who proved he’s the most talented non-QB on offense that this franchise has ever seen.
The elusiveness, pass-catching skills, speedy burst and tenacity make the looming 2019 Offensive Player of the Year a perfect weapon at the perfect time in today’s spread-it-out display of offenses.
Even when you know he’s getting 30 touches, good luck stopping him.
– The Packers bullied the Cowboys on Sunday, winning 34-24 in a game in which the score was not indicative of the actual result. Dallas’ mad dash in semi-garbage time made the game’s final moments more interesting. But the Packers led 31-3 in Dallas in the third quarter, as Aaron Jones had already scampered for a franchise record-tying four touchdowns. Green Bay ran all over Dallas’ talented defense, and on offense the Cowboys were similarly out of answers. Dak Prescott threw three interceptions and the Packers dropped a few more. Although it’s still early, recent matchups for teams like the Cowboys, Packers and Eagles sort of sets the stage in the NFC. Now, Philadelphia has the upper hand in the NFC East after Dallas’ fast start has come to a halt. Both the Cowboys and Eagles should make the postseason, as should the Packers, whose QB situation vaults them ahead of the talented Bears and Vikings — as well as the underrated Lions — in the NFC North. If Philadelphia can get their secondary straightened out versus better passing teams — they beat up on Luke Faulk and the lowly Jets on Sunday — then they are right with the Saints as the teams to beat in the NFC. The Packers, Seahawks, Rams, Cowboys, and possibly, the 49ers, rounds out a very-talented second-tier in the NFC early on. Of course, more of this will make sense to readers after indulging in my weekly power rankings section below.
– It was an under-the-radar game, and the Falcons defense is indeed, terrible, but Deshaun Watson put up an all-time performance in the Texans’ 53-32 stomping of Atlanta.
Most of Watson’s damage came via an aerial assault with WR2 Will Fuller, who brought in 217 yards and three touchdowns on 14 catches. It’s remarkable Watson’s stat line (see above) was as is, considering DeAndre Hopkins — arguably the NFL’s best receiver — contributed a scoreless performance with just 88 receiving yards. The Texans still have a subpar offensive line, and their defense is probably their worst in years, but their new era dawns with the best quarterback in the organization’s history. In a search for the AFC’s third best team — with is probably the Colts — the Texans are in the mix, even if they have more holes than any other candidate. That’s what we’ve learned — under Watson, Houston may always be in the mix.
THE BETTER HALF
1. New England Patriots (5-0) (Last week: 1). Ho hum, another ridiculously-good performance by the Patriots defense. “We’re the boogeymen,” Dont’a Hightower said of New England’s linebacking core after the game. They’ll face the two New York City teams in prime time these next two weeks, so we should see more of the same from them.
It was also cool to see both Adrian Peterson and Donald Penn ask Tom Brady for his jersey after the game.
2. New Orleans Saints (4-1) (Last week: 3). The Saints continue to impress on both sides of the ball. Teddy Bridgewater’s leadership and poise during this run should be a bigger story.
3. Kansas City Chiefs (4-1) (Last week: 2). They’ve been outplayed two weeks in a row. They couldn’t escape this time. We know who they are. For them to win the Super Bowl, Mahomes has to play almost perfect. He makes up for a lot of issues with that defense. Getting Tyreek Hill back will help them outscore most.
4. Philadelphia Eagles (3-2) (Last week: 6). Sure, they were playing Luke Falk and the Jets, but Philadelphia racked up 10 sacks, an interception, a fumble recovery and two defensive touchdowns on Sunday. They have the talent, but will they find some consistency? It’s all on Carson Wentz’s play in big games and the defense’s ability to hold up. It’s a long season. We’ll see.
5. Green Bay Packers (4-1) (Last week: 7). Big bounce-back victory for Green Bay. Their defense is legit. And Aaron Jones is a budding star.
6. Seattle Seahawks (4-1) (Last week: 9). They’ve earned this spot. There’s more help for Russell Wilson this time around. It does seem like they may be missing one offensive playmaker. Regardless, Wilson can take them the distance. He’s that good.
7. Los Angeles Rams (3-2) (Last week: 4). They have a lot of issues, but they’ll figure them out and will go on a big run come November or December.
8. Indianapolis Colts (3-2) (Last week: 16). They earned the biggest win in the AFC so far. They have the make-up of a team that could beat anyone. They’re deep, talented and versatile. Now, they have a bye week to rest up. They’ll return to host four of their next five games. That’s huge.
9. Dallas Cowboys (3-2) (Last week: 5). Two ugly losses bring Dak Prescott and Dallas back to earth. They’re still a team that should make the postseason.
10. San Francisco 49ers (3-0) (Last week: 10). We’ll know more about the 49ers after tonight’s game. They’re in a weird place, having played two less games than most of the teams on this list.
11. Cleveland Browns (2-2) (Last week: 11). See above. Let’s see what the talented Browns do tonight.
12. Chicago Bears (3-2) (Last week: 8). They looked jet-lagged in London. Perhaps it was their odd decision to travel to England just 48 hours before the game? Still, their quarterback screwing things up is about what we’d expect. Bad mistake late by Chase Daniel.
13. Buffalo Bills (4-1) (Last week: 15). The Bills have one of the league’s best defenses, yet like the Bears, they have some big problems on offense. At least Josh Allen has come through in the clutch. All four of his wins this season have come via a game-winning drive.
14. Baltimore Ravens (3-2) (Last week: 12). They were lucky to win in Pittsburgh. Lamar Jackson’s breakout performances versus Miami and Arizona seem like eons ago. He needs to return to form. He will.
15. Detroit Lions (2-1-1) (Last week: 14). The Lions sit here during the bye. They’re a tough team with talent.
16. Minnesota Vikings (3-2) (Last week: NR). We know what we need to see from Kirk Cousins. He needs to beat winning teams. He has a shot when Philadelphia comes to town this week.
Next up: Oakland, Carolina, Houston, L.A. Chargers, Jacksonville