Broncos and Giants season-opening streaks over but Chiefs keep winning
The Colts are moving on without Manning
Peyton Manning got the warm welcome home that he deserved. Nineteen months after , the quarterback returned to Indianapolis on Sunday with his new team – the Denver Broncos – and was greeted with open arms. After a pre-game tribute video was shown at Lucas Oil Stadium, Manning emerged onto the field to deafening cheers. Many of the 67,000 fans in attendance were wearing his old replica jersey.
It could never really have gone any other way. There had been some controversy in the build-up to this game after the Colts’ owner, Jim Irsay, appeared to minimise Manning’s achievements in Indianapolis – lamenting that the team only won a single Super Bowl with him at quarterback, despite posting “Star Wars numbers” on offense. In truth, though, his words were really aimed at the former general manager, Bill Polian. Manning confirmed on Sunday that he and Irsay had spoken since, to clear the air.
Even if the owner had felt any animosity towards his former quarterback, it would not have been shared by the fans themselves. Manning is beloved in Indianapolis, both for the success he brought to their team and the manner in which he achieved it. . On Sunday, almost .
But if those Colts fans still love Manning, they also wanted to see him lose. Moments after cheering his entrance, most were doing all that they could to disrupt him by raising the volume inside the stadium as he attempted to make audibles at the line. The mood was summed up perfectly by one sign in the crowd: “Sack him – gently,” it read.
Indianapolis’s defenders certainly fulfilled the first part of that request, harassing Manning more effectively than any other team so far this season. The Colts sacked him four times – only one fewer than the Broncos’ previous six opponents had managed between them. They also forced the quarterback into a fumble that went for a safety, as well as one interception.
Manning still put up gaudy numbers, completing 29 of 49 passes for 386 yards and three touchdowns, but his mistakes ultimately proved the difference in a 39-30 defeat. His Colts successor, Andrew Luck, also threw for three scores, as well as rushing for another, but crucially avoided turnovers. For much of the game, Indianapolis’s second-year quarterback outperformed the man whose job he had taken.
It would be wrong, though, to boil this game down to a contest between two signal callers. If the Colts prevailed it was because they got things right in all three phases of the game – offense, defense, and special teams. This team no longer requires individual brilliance to get them where they want to go. Which is of course what Irsay was trying to say in the first place.
The rules, they are a-changin’
The Patriots and Jets introduced us to a new rule on Sunday evening. New England had thought they were about to get the ball back with great field position after Nick Folk missed a 56-yard field goal in overtime at MetLife Stadium, but their celebrations were cut short by a flag on the play. Referee Jerome Boger explained that the Patriots’ rookie defensive tackle Chris Jones was guilty of pushing a team-mate into an opponent.
Such a tactic is prohibited under , which states that during field goal attempts: “Team B players cannot push teammates on the line of scrimmage into the offensive formation”. Doing so is punishable with a 15-yard penalty – and that is exactly what Boger enforced. Shortly afterwards, Folk converted a game-winning field goal from 42 yards.
Confusion reigned. This penalty had only been introduced during the past offseason, and had not been called once by officials over the previous six weeks. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said that he thought it was only supposed to apply to players “at the second level”, rather than those on the line of scrimmage. His information might have come from , which stated precisely that.
That article was quietly updated on Sunday night, to reflect the correct wording of the rule – which makes no reference to whether players are starting on the line of scrimmage or off it. The change was soon noted by the many angry fans looking for a conspiracy to cling to. Some suggested that the had changed its own rules in order to exonerate its officiating crew after a bad call.
In reality, of course, that was simply not the case. : “A post on NFL.com is not the NFL rulebook”. The latter document, of course, remained unchanged.
Belichick himself would acknowledge on Monday that he had been wrong about the rule. The only real question was why the officials had started enforcing it now – having failed to do so when the Pats did the exact same thing against the Saints a week earlier.
It seems the answer might lie with the Jets themselves. that New York’s coaches had spoken to officials before Sunday’s game, alerting them to a few “things to watch for” from the Pats’ special teams units. It was suggested elsewhere that the Jets’ head coach, Rex Ryan, might have been tipped off by his brother Rob – the Saints’ defensive co-ordinator.
In the end, it does not matter. The rule was correctly applied by officials, who will presumably be more vigilant on this matter going forwards. New England must be careful not to make the same mistake twice.
Injuries change everything
Despite the victory, Luck went home on Sunday night feeling decidedly downbeat. Deep into the fourth quarter, his team-mate Reggie Wayne had gone down with what would turn out to be a torn anterior cruciate ligament. The wide receiver sustained the injury while reaching back in a vain attempt to catch an underthrown pass from his quarterback. Said Luck:
"After the game, a big part of me felt like it was a loss. Because of what happened to Reggie, and my involvement in it.”
It was not necessary for Luck to beat himself up over such a freak occurrence, but it remains to be seen how he and the Colts will cope now without their leading receiver. Wayne had caught 38 passes for 503 yards so far this season, and his leadership in the locker room will also be missed. He had played in 189 consecutive games for Indianapolis dating back to November, 2001.
Wayne’s injury, though, might not have been the most damaging one suffered by an NFL team this weekend. The Bears lost their starting quarterback, Jay Cutler, for at least the next four weeks with a torn groin muscle, as well as linebacker Lance Briggs for up to six with a shoulder fracture.
Chicago still put up a fierce fight against Washington, finally succumbing to a 45-41 defeat in the dying seconds, but their season could effectively be over before either player returns.
The Rams’ year, meanwhile, might be over already after they lost their quarterback, Sam Bradford, for the year to a torn cruciate ligament. St Louis (3-4) were probably not bound for the playoffs in any case, but this was an especially cruel blow for the former No1 pick himself. Bradford had quietly been enjoying the best season of his career, completing more than 60% of his passes and throwing for 14 touchdowns against just four interceptions.
A number of other high-profile players were lost for the season this weekend, including the Houston Texans linebacker Brian Cushing, Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Leon Hall and possibly also the Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin – whose coach Greg Schiano is yet to comment on reports that the player suffered a torn labrum.
It is hard to remember a weekend when so many marquee players were struck down by such significant injuries. These are incidents which can easily define a team’s season. As Luck can attest, they also put the winning and losing itself into perspective.
Fantasy Football thoughts
Many a Fantasy season will also have been redefined by this weekend’s glut of injuries. Now might be the time for some owners to start getting creative with trades, as they look to replace Martin, Wayne and the rest. But failing that, there are still one or two worthwhile pieces floating around on the waiver wire. Here are three players you might want to consider:
1) The injury to Martin leaves Tampa Bay with an opening at tailback, and Mike James should get the first crack at filling it. The rookie sixth-round pick has carried the ball just 17 times so far in his professional career (and 14 of those were on Sunday) for a total of 57 yards, so there are no guarantees at this stage that he is capable of getting the job done. But the Buccaneers’ offense at least seemed to be clicking a little better this weekend with Mike Glennon at quarterback. If the Bucs can continue to move the ball effectively through the air then they things should open up for the ground game too. Furthermore, there will be more red-zone opportunities to go around.
2) Indianapolis will likely work out a few free agents as they consider their options at wide receiver this week, but it is also safe to assume that one or two players already on the roster can look forward to an expanded role. Former first-round pick Darrius Heyward-Bey never lived up to his draft status during four seasons with Oakland, but he never had a passer like Andrew Luck throwing him the ball, either. TY Hilton will be the No1 guy in Wayne’s absence, but Heyward-Bey should become the clear No2, and see a good number of targets as a consequence.
3) Rookie tight end Jordan Reed had quietly been accumulating an increasing number of targets for Washington, and he exploded on Sunday with nine receptions for 134 yards and a touchdown against Chicago. A favourable match-up against Denver’s soft secondary make him very worthy of your consideration in week eight.
• A sad note, to start off with, as two influential NFL figures passed away over the weekend. On Friday it was Bum Phillips, the former Houston Oilers head coach (and father of the Texans’ current defensive-co-ordinator, Wade), and then on Sunday his former employer, Bud Adams. Both men had left their mark on the game in different but lasting ways, which it would be rather hard to do justice to in the small space available to me here. Instead I shall point you in the direction of , and , both of which are well worth your time.
• On Thursday my colleague that the Kansas City Chiefs’ luck was about to run out after a 6-0 start. He is probably right. But for this one week, at least, the Chiefs can sit back and reflect with considerable satisfaction on the fact that they are now the last unbeaten team left in the entire league. And, for argument’s sake, here are a few more stats to ponder: in the NFL’s Super Bowl era, only 31 teams have started a season 7-0, and none of them failed to reach the playoffs. Fifteen of them reached the Super Bowl itself – and nine of them went on to win it.
• Josh Freeman made his debut for the Minnesota Vikings on Monday Night Football and it was, predictably enough, a disaster. He attempted an incredible 53 passes against the Giants, completing just 20 of them for 190 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. The Vikes quickly abandoned the run, affording Adrian Peterson a paltry 13 carries, despite the fact that the scores remained close for most of the game, and instead put the ball in the hands of a quarterback who had only joined them two weeks previously. Freeman could be excused for not having a good grasp yet on the playbook, but his wild inaccuracy is rather harder to overlook. The Giants were not a whole lot better, but did enough to get their first victory of the year, winning 23-7.
• Devin Hester tied Deion Sanders’ record for most return touchdowns (19) in NFL history on Sunday, taking a punt back to the house from 81 yards. It was not enough to help Chicago to victory over Washington, but it did earn Hester a text from Sanders – .
• Better touchdown catch: , or ?
• Sack of the week: Jared Allen brings down Eli Manning with just one hand.
• Sign of the week – held up by a Broncos fan at Lucas Oil Stadium: .