Somehow, without Andrew Luck on Sunday, Colts find first place
As expected entering the season, Indianapolis is atop the AFC South after the first four weeks.
How the Colts have gotten there has proven anything but predictable.
Indianapolis has hardly played like the team chosen by oddsmakers as the AFC’s preseason Super Bowl favorite.
The offensive line is a sieve.
The running game remains shoddy.
The secondary is riddled with cornerback injuries.
The pass rush is mediocre.
And there is palpable tension between head coach Chuck Pagano and Ryan Grigson over personnel decisions to boot.
For right now, it doesn’t matter.
A combination of luck and guts — as well as ineptitude from the division’s other three teams — has helped propel Indianapolis (2-2) into first place following an 0-2 start.
All three of those elements were on display Sunday in the Colts’ 16-13 overtime victory over visiting Jacksonville — one of those victories that, despite getting the W, left Pagano calling himself a "dumbass" in the postgame video above.
The Colts were lucky that Jaguars rookie kicker Jason Myers took a page from his predecessor Josh Scobee and missed two field goals that would have won the game. Myers botched a 53-yarder at the end of regulation and a 48-yarder in overtime.
The guts were exemplified by the play of quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. Given his first start since the 2012 campaign in place of an ailing Andrew Luck (shoulder), the 40-year-old Hasselbeck completed 30 of 47 passes for 282 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. Hasselbeck’s 28-yard completion to tight end Coby Fleener put the Colts in field-goal range following Myers’ second miss. Adam Vinatieri ultimately secured the win with a 27-yard FG.
As for AFC South ineptitude, every team aside from the Colts has a losing record after Week 4. Coming off a 51-17 loss at New England, the Jaguars (1-3) blew a golden opportunity to beat the Luck-less Colts in their sixth straight loss to Indianapolis. Houston (1-3) looked pathetic Sunday when falling behind, 35-0, en route to a 48-21 loss in Atlanta. And the Titans (1-2) are on a bye week after squandering a 13-point fourth-quarter lead last Sunday in a 35-33 loss to the Colts.
Indianapolis can continue to build a cushion by winning Thursday night at Houston. That victory also would set an NFL record by giving the Colts 16 consecutive division victories.
Continuing to get fat on the Texans, Jaguars and Titans may be essential for the Colts to win their third straight AFC South crown. The out-of-division schedule includes matchups against New England, Carolina, Denver and Atlanta in the next six games.
New York Jets 27, Miami 14: My thoughts on the Dolphins and the increasing pressure on head coach Joe Philbin can be found here. As for the Jets (3-1), the defense has now strung together 18 consecutive third-down stops. Combine such stinginess with hard-charging running back Chris Ivory’s ability to grind out yards (166 against Miami) and New York has the early earmarks of a playoff team.
Atlanta 48, Houston 21: Devonta Freeman has become the latest running back to find success in the zone-blocking run system installed by offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. Freeman is the first player in the Falcons’ 50-year history to score six rushing touchdowns in the first four games of the season. Backup quarterback Brian Hoyer helped the Texans avoid their first shutout since the 2003 season when replacing Ryan Mallett.
Washington 23, Philadelphia 20: Washington marched 90 yards on 15 plays for the game-winning touchdown but don’t blame Philadelphia’s defense for this loss. The unit fared far better overall than an Eagles offense that continues to sputter. Although he finally connected on some deep passes, Philadelphia quarterback Sam Bradford was sacked five times playing behind an injury-riddled offensive line. The running game also is struggling to get traction. DeMarco Murray gained 30 yards on one carry and was stuffed for six yards on his seven other attempts.
Carolina 37, Tampa Bay 23: Jameis Winston’s rookie mistakes continued with Tampa Bay’s quarterback throwing four interceptions and fumbling away his second snap in wet conditions. The Panthers converted all five turnovers into points. The Buccaneers actually might have found a way to overcome such mistakes, but for the second straight game, kicker Kyle Brindza killed Tampa Bay’s offensive momentum with two more missed field goals from 29 and 43 yards.
New York Giants 24, Buffalo 10: Considering all their injuries, it’s wild to think the Giants would be 4-0 had fourth-quarter leads not gotten squandered in the first two games. As it is, the Giants are in the thick of a wide-open NFC East race. Days after head coach Rex Ryan said he wants the Bills “to be the least penalized team in the league,” Buffalo committed 17 penalties for 135 yards. A lack of discipline wasn’t the only thing plaguing the Bills against the Giants. The offensive line got exposed, the running game produced only 55 yards and Buffalo lost two turnovers.
Cincinnati 36, Kansas City 21: Cincinnati’s arsenal of offensive weapons was on display once again. The Bengals (4-0) rushed for four touchdowns – Jeremy Hill had three — and quarterback Andy Dalton enjoyed a turnover-free, 321-yard passing performance. Kansas City couldn’t finish drives – Cairo Santos set a single-game franchise record with seven field goals – and quarterback Alex Smith was pummeled once again. Smith was sacked five times, raising his league-leading total to 18.
Chicago 22, Oakland 20: After a rough week that included a 26-0 loss at Seattle and trade of two defensive players (Jared Allen and Jon Bostic), the Bears responded with their first victory while knocking Oakland (2-2) back down to earth. The Raiders continue to struggle covering opposing tight ends as the returning Jay Cutler connected with Martellus Bennett on 11 completions for 83 yards and a touchdown.
Green Bay 17, San Francisco 3: 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s fall from grace continues. Entering with a 3-0 career record against the Packers that included two playoff wins, Kaepernick’s mobility once gave Green Bay fits. Kaepernick scrambled for 57 yards on 10 carries Sunday but he was only 13-of-25 passing for 160 yards with an interception thrown into double coverage. The 49ers also couldn’t spring running back Carlos Hyde, who finished with 20 yards on eight carries. The offensive woes wasted a nice defensive effort that limited Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers to a modest 224 passing yards.
San Diego 30, Cleveland 27: Cleveland lost in the most Browns-like fashion imaginable. An offsides penalty on cornerback Tramon Williams nullified Josh Lambo’s missed 39-yard field goal at the end of regulation and gave San Diego’s rookie kicker a chance for redemption that wasn’t squandered with his 34-yard makeup attempt. The loss wasted an outstanding effort by Browns quarterback Josh McCown, who completed 32 of 41 passes for 356 yards and two touchdowns. The fact that McCown became only the fourth quarterback in Browns history with back-to-back 300-yard passing games does help explain why Cleveland hasn’t won a playoff game since the mid-1990s.
St. Louis 24, Arizona 22: The rollercoaster Rams are back on an upswing with a road upset of the NFC’s hottest team. Rookie running back Todd Gurley provided the rushing element the Rams were sorely lacking with a 19-carry, 146-yard performance. Suffice to say, the Rams’ road game against Green Bay next Sunday just got a whole lot more interesting.
Denver 23, Minnesota 20: The Vikings limited Peyton Manning to 213 passing yards and intercepted the Broncos quarterback twice in the second half but it wasn’t enough because Denver’s defense was even better. Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was sacked seven times and lost a fumble in the final minute that allowed Manning to start 4-0 for an NFL-record seventh season.