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Week 5 rewind: Age is just a number
There was pink in his uniform as part of the NFL’s Breast Cancer Awareness campaign.
He wore orange gloves — potential NFL fine, be damned — to honor his ailing head coach Chuck Pagano.
Since entering the league in 2001, Wayne has enjoyed games where he caught more passes for more yards and touchdowns. He’s won a Super Bowl. But none of these outings came under more emotional circumstances than in the first contest Indianapolis had played since Pagano was hospitalized after being diagnosed with leukemia.
Wayne tallied 13 receptions for 212 yards and one touchdown as Indianapolis overcame a 21-3 deficit. Wayne wasn’t working with a veteran quarterback like Peyton Manning, either. This was with rookie Andrew Luck, who is growing up quickly thanks to the presence of a veteran like Wayne.
Wayne made a spectacular one-handed grab in the second quarter wearing the orange gloves, spotlighting the color designated for leukemia-awareness endeavors.
He snared five more passes on the game-winning drive. Two of them went for first downs on unfavorable scenarios of third-and-nine and third-and-12. And he saved the best for last with a four-yard touchdown catch that put the Colts ahead with 35 seconds remaining.
Wayne felt fortunate he had the chance to honor Pagano, someone he has known since his college days when both were at the University of Miami.
“I said to myself I was going to lay it all out on the line. They were going to have to carry me off, the old Winslow Senior,” said Wayne, referring to Hall of Fame tight end Kellen Winslow’s legendary performance in a San Diego-Miami playoff game 30 years ago.
Ironically, there seemed a strong chance in March that Wayne wouldn’t be playing for Pagano in 2012. Wayne was an unrestricted free agent and the Colts were in rebuilding mode. Indianapolis, though, made a surprisingly high three-year, $17.5 million contract offer to keep Wayne in the fold to accelerate Luck’s NFL development.
Wayne has proven worth every penny with 36 receptions for 506 yards in the Colts’ first four games.
“I think the orange gloves were everywhere,” Luck told Colts media afterward. “I felt like there were eight pairs of those out there on the field.
“I told him after the game he was the best football player I’ve ever played with. His leadership at halftime, on the field, before the last drive . . . I think I learned a lot from him from watching him operate. I’m very fortunate and blessed to be on a team with him.”
Wayne wasn’t the only 30-something player to shine on Sunday. Here are some others — in order from oldest to youngest:
37: Baltimore inside linebacker Ray Lewis. Yeah, I know. Lewis isn’t the same dominating defender he once was. That doesn’t mean he’s shot. Lewis had his second 10-tackle game of the season in a 9-6 road victory over Kansas City as Baltimore’s defense rebounded from an awful first half to dominate the Chiefs in the second.
36: Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan isn’t the only one benefitting from the offseason change to Dirk Koetter as Atlanta’s offensive coordinator. Gonzalez enjoyed one of the most productive games in his Hall of Fame career with 13 catches for 123 yards and a touchdown in a 24-17 victory at Washington. Gonzalez had planned to retire at the end of the season, but games like this are reasons to reconsider.
34: Pittsburgh outside linebacker James Harrison. He didn’t register a sack during a 16-14 victory over Philadelphia. But with three quarterback hurries, Harrison helped reinvigorate a Steelers defense that sorely missed his pass-rush presence when he missed the first three games following knee surgery.
31: New England wide receiver Wes Welker. Although his age may have kept Welker from scoring a long-term contract extension from the Patriots during the offseason, it hasn’t slowed his re-emergence in New England’s offense. The Patriots jumped to a 24-point lead en route to a 31-21 victory over Denver with Welker registering 10 of his 13 catches in the first 2-1/2 quarters. Welker is now tied for third place in NFL history with Houston’s Andre Johnson for the most career games of 10-plus catches with 15.
31: Chicago weak-side linebacker Lance Briggs and cornerback Charles “Peanut” Tillman. They became the first defensive players on the same team to both return interceptions for touchdowns in consecutive weeks during a 41-3 laugher at Jacksonville.
And now, here’s a look at Sunday’s games involving players and coaches of all ages:
Seattle 16, Carolina 12: During the upcoming bye week, Panthers coaches must find the kryptonite that is negatively affecting their so-called Superman. Cam Newton’s surprisingly shoddy second NFL season continued with a brutal home performance. He was 5 of 20 passing for 55 yards through the first three quarters. He short-hopped an incompletion to open tight end Ben Hartsock in the end zone on a fourth-and-goal in the fourth quarter. And a chance to lead a last-minute comeback ended when Newton was stripped by Seahawks rookie linebacker Bruce Irvin with 41 seconds remaining. Seahawks rookie quarterback Russell Wilson also was struggling entering the game but he rebounded with a career-high 221 yards and one touchdown on 19-of-25 passing. That performance should at least temporarily silence critics who said Wilson should be replaced by veteran backup Matt Flynn. Seattle’s defense has now gone two games without surrendering a touchdown.
Chicago 41, Jacksonville 3: The second-half collapses continue for the Jaguars, who surrendered 38 unanswered points after entering halftime tied at 3-3. The Jaguars have no offensive identity and second-year quarterback Blaine Gabbert isn’t getting the job done. The defense was poor as well, with Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall (12 catches for 144 yards, one touchdown) exploiting gaping holes in the middle of Jacksonville’s secondary. And who was the genius that opted for Jaguars players to wear black jerseys at home on an 88-degree day?
Minnesota 30, Tennessee 7: With 4-1 Minnesota’s surprising success, Percy Harvin may finally start getting more national respect as one of the NFL’s most dangerous offensive players. The versatile Harvin scored on both a run and a reception against the overmatched Titans defense. The rout also featured more outstanding play by a Vikings defense that limited Tennessee to a mere five first downs through the first 51 minutes. Titans running back Chris Johnson (15 carries for 24 yards, one lost fumble) bombed for the fourth time in five games. Tennessee must hope the return of wide receiver Kenny Britt (ankle) provides a future spark for a listless offense.
San Francisco 45, Buffalo 3: Be warned, New England and Miami. The 49ers have now outscored the first two AFC East opponents they’ve faced (Buffalo and the New York Jets) by a 79-3 margin in consecutive weeks. Everything clicked offensively for San Francisco against a Bills squad that looks like it has mentally checked out on the season already. Since holding a 14-7 lead at halftime in Week 4 against New England, the Bills have gotten outscored 83-24 and outgained 979-401. The biggest dogs remain Buffalo’s two highest-paid players — defensive end Mario Williams (two tackles, no sacks) and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (126 passing yards, one interception).
New England 31, Denver 21: I love the emphasis on the running attack from Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Stevan Ridley became the first Patriots rusher since 2007 to post consecutive 100-yard games. Brandon Bolden and Danny Woodhead also contributed to New England’s 251-yard effort on the ground. The ground game is taking pressure off both quarterback Tom Brady and a Patriots defense that still has a suspect secondary. Patriots outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich has now forced three fumbles in the past two games with two strips on Sunday. Denver running back Willis McGahee was Sunday’s goat by dropping a fourth-down pass and fumbling with 3:42 remaining to end his team’s comeback hopes. There’s a bigger problem in Denver, though. The Broncos have now lost three games after falling too far behind early for Peyton Manning to work his comeback magic.
New York Giants 41, Cleveland 27: A source told me that he expects Jimmy Haslam will be a “hands-on” owner when his purchase of the Browns becomes official later this month. That doesn’t bode well for the front office or coaching staff after an 0-5 start under the current regime. Not all is bad for the Browns, however. Running back Trent Richardson is a star in the making and fellow rookie Brandon Weeden has greatly improved at quarterback since a gruesome Week 1 debut. Rookie wide receiver Josh Gordon (two touchdowns versus the Giants) also is playing well enough to supplant the inconsistent Greg Little as a starter. But a defense missing suspended cornerback Joe Haden remains a train wreck. New York became the first NFL team in 52 seasons to field a 200-yard rusher (Ahmad Bradshaw) and receiver with three touchdown catches (Victor Cruz) in the same game. The Giants also have two rookies who enjoyed their own coming-out party on Sunday — wide receiver Ruben Randle (six catches for 82 yards) and running back David Wilson (40-yard touchdown run).
Baltimore 9, Kansas City 6: A warning to those Chiefs fans happy that Brady Quinn will seemingly get the chance to replace Matt Cassel at quarterback: be careful what you wish for. There’s a reason Quinn hasn’t started since 2009 despite ample opportunities to win the position in Cleveland and Denver earlier in his NFL career. Then again, the Chiefs (1-4) weren’t going anywhere under Cassel as the Geno Smith watch begins. The Ravens (4-1) lead the AFC North but have not impressed on the road against Kansas City on Sunday or at Philadelphia (a 24-23 loss in Week 2). That must change in Week 7 at Houston in a game that could help determine future playoff seeding and home-field advantage. Before then, Baltimore will host Dallas next Sunday.
Miami 17, Cincinnati 13: Are these really the same Dolphins that looked like sad sacks on "Hard Knocks" less than two months ago? The defense did an outstanding job stuffing Cincinnati’s potent offense, especially considering the injuries in Miami’s secondary. Dolphins rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill also continues to improve each week as Miami rebounded from two straight overtime losses. With the New York Jets and Buffalo struggling, Miami is looking like the second-best team in the AFC East. More bad news for the Bengals: Backup running back Bernard Scott is believed to have torn his anterior cruciate ligament. Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis has built a playoff-caliber team but he should be second-guessed for two questionable decisions. Lewis chose to kick an extra point after a touchdown made it 17-12 with 14:15 remaining, rather than going for two in an attempt to get within a field goal. Then Lewis opted for what proved an unsuccessful 41-yard Mike Nugent field goal attempt with 3:05 left even though the Bengals were down four.
Atlanta 24, Washington 17: The Redskins figured Robert Griffin III had suffered a concussion when he couldn’t remember the score or quarter after a vicious forearm hit by Atlanta linebacker Sean Witherspoon. Griffin and the Redskins now wish they could forget an eighth consecutive home loss dating back to last season. Washington must decide whether to replace kicker Billy Cundiff after he missed a field goal for the fourth time in the last two games. The pass-first Falcons ran 81 plays compared to 48 for the Redskins. Atlanta cornerback Dunta Robinson (six tackles, one interception, two passes defensed and a half-sack) is playing at a Pro Bowl level.
Pittsburgh 16, Philadelphia 14: In his 2012 debut, running back Rashard Mendenhall (81 yards) nearly became Pittsburgh’s leading rusher for the season. His return helped lead a balanced Steelers attack that controlled the clock for 33:31. Eagles quarterback Michael Vick did his part to help Pittsburgh with three fumbles, raising his season total to eight. The Steelers may have a problem at safety going forward, however, as Troy Polamalu aggravated a calf injury that forced him to miss the previous two games while backup Ryan Mundy could be facing NFL discipline after an illegal hit to an opponent’s helmet for the second consecutive game.
Indianapolis 30, Green Bay 27: The absence of wide receiver Greg Jennings may be hurting Green Bay’s offense, but it was the defense that couldn’t hold an 18-point lead. The secondary problems that surfaced in Week 4 against New Orleans weren’t corrected against Indianapolis, even with the Colts fielding an offensive line held together by duct tape. A 2-4 start for a preseason Super Bowl favorite isn’t out of the question with Green Bay having to play next Sunday night at Houston (4-0).
New Orleans 31, San Diego 24: With a first-quarter strike to Devery Henderson, Saints quarterback Drew Brees quickly ended any suspense about whether he would set the NFL record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass at 48. Brees, though, was just warming up. He survived San Diego’s stiff pass rush and an interception to throw for three more scores. Henderson (eight catches for 123 yards) and fellow wideout Marques Colston (nine catches, 131 yards, three scores) carried the receiving load with Lance Moore out and Jimmy Graham hobbled by a sprained ankle suffered in the second quarter. If their involvement in the bounty scandal was serious enough to warrant lengthy suspensions, why would the NFL allow Sean Payton, Joe Vitt and Mickey Loomis to attend Sunday night’s game to see Brees break the record? Maybe there’s a good explanation. But just like with the entire bounty investigation, we’re waiting to hear it.