To some of you, the Indianapolis Colts may be a source of frustration and consternation — a team lauded for its talent, but one constantly churning through quarterbacks and in perpetual search of an identity.
To me, they’re just dreamy.
I love the Colts because they are the living embodiment of everything I want to say about the NFL and its relentless push for parity, or at least the illusion thereof. And three games into the 2022 season, there’s so much parity that it borders on self-parody.
The Colts and their 1-1-1 record are the perfect punchline.
To be sure, no one is complaining: With a system designed to constrain the elite and prop up bottom-feeders — the draft, the salary cap, the shared revenue, the scheduling formula — every fan base goes into each season with the sincere belief that the team it adores has a chance to compete for a title. For the most part, they’re not wrong. In terms of averages, more than half of each year’s playoff field turns over on an annual basis, a state of affairs that has spanned decades.
For fans, it’s a way cooler system than those employed by Major League Baseball (featuring massive divergences in revenue and payroll which largely correlate to success) or the NBA (if your favorite team doesn’t have stars, you don’t have a whole lot of hope — and once a team is in a hole, it’s really hard to get out of it).
For NFL general managers and coaches, it’s a pressure-enhancer, because fans — and owners — expect quick turnarounds.
There was plenty of pressure on Colts coach Frank Reich heading into the season — you might say he’s carrying The Weight of unmet expectations, especially given the brutal way that the 2021 campaign ended. Indy, needing only a victory over the lowly Jaguars to secure a playoff berth, went to Jacksonville and face-planted, continuing a prolonged trend of inexplicable ineptitude in North Florida.
After that disappointing and dispirited defeat to a Jags team that came into the game with a 2-14 record, owner Jim Irsay was understandably furious. The franchise then made yet another quarterback switch, swinging a trade with the Atlanta Falcons for Matt Ryan — and giving Reich his fifth starting signal-caller in five seasons. Two of those since-jettisoned QB1s, Philip Rivers (2020) and Carson Wentz (2021), had direct ties to the head coach from his previous stints as an assistant.
So yeah, Reich really needs to make it work with Ryan. Thus far, the results have been … well, mixed.
In Week 1, the Colts went to Houston and faced a lightly regarded Texans team. Last year, in sweeping the series, Indy had outscored Houston by a 62-3 margin. This time, they settled for a 20-20 tie, which currently rates as the high point of the Texans’ season.
In Week 2, the Colts returned to Jacksonville — and got rolled by the Jaguars 24-0. When Reich approached the team plane, he had to be a teeny bit worried he’d be turned away at the door.
Naturally, Indy rebounded this past Sunday by coming from behind to defeat Patrick Mahomes and the previously unbeaten Chiefs in dramatic fashion. The Colts are now half a game out of first place in the AFC South, trailing only (you guessed it) the Jaguars.
Come to think of it, this year’s Jags are another classic example of the NFL’s parity. Freed from Urban Meyer’s aborted reign of error and fortified by Super Bowl-winning coach Doug Pederson’s presence, Jacksonville (2-1) just steamrolled the Los Angeles Chargers on the road and now boasts the league’s second-highest point differential (+46). And yet, the Jaguars began their season with a 28-22 defeat to Wentz and the Washington Commanders, who’ve since looked like one of the league’s worst teams.
If you don’t get it, you’re not alone.
On Sunday, Pederson will return to Philadelphia, his old stomping grounds, for a surprisingly sexy Jags-Eagles clash. After three weeks, there are only two unblemished NFL teams: the Eagles and Dolphins, neither of which was considered a likely candidate to start 3-0.
Meanwhile, only the Raiders (0-3) and Texans (0-2-1) have yet to win a game.
Twenty-seven other teams are stuck in that 2-1/1-2 vortex of parity.
After the Packers held on for a 14-12 road victory over Tom Brady and the Buccaneers last Sunday, winning quarterback Aaron Rodgers made some cryptic postgame comments to FOX’s Tom Rinaldi, suggesting that he’d spotted something of strategic value on the Raymond James Stadium Jumbotron and passed on the information to Green Bay coach Matt LaFleur before the Bucs’ failed 2-point conversion with 14 seconds remaining.
Predictably, his words reverberated in Tampa, prompting Bucs head coach Todd Bowles to meet with operations staff to try to get to the bottom of the mystery.
There has been a lot of outside speculation as to what Rodgers might have noticed, but here’s another theory to consider: What if Rodgers made up the whole thing, with the intent of driving his high-strung rival completely nuts?
Rodgers is a very smart and calculating dude. He’s aware that Brady has been tablet-smashing mad as of late, and he knows that Brady spent most of his career in a New England Patriots culture shrouded in secrecy and mired with accusations (some proven) of clandestinely breaking the rules.
Was it a coincidence that Rodgers referenced Spygate while discussing the Jumbotron incident Tuesday on "The Pat McAfee Show"? Yeah, probably. But why do I have this vision of Brady running into Rodgers backstage in Canton 25 years from now and hounding him for an answer that still eludes him.
"Come on, man—just tell me!”
And then Rodgers just standing there, shaking his head and smirking.
I’ve known Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel for a long time, and if he insists that Tua Tagovailoa suffered a back injury — and not a concussion — during Sunday’s victory over the Buffalo Bills, I’m not going to dispute it.
Even though, you know, I have eyes, and it sure looked like the Miami quarterback was dazed and disoriented after his head fell backward on the turf late in the first half, especially when he got up and had trouble staying on his feet.
It’s a good thing that Tua was merely suffering from the most dizzying back injury in NFL history, because he not only returned to play the second half Sunday but he’s also on track to start against the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday night.
If you’re one of those people who’s convinced the Dolphins played fast and loose with concussion protocol (we should learn more after an NFLPA-requested investigation), look at it this way: You’re basically saying the organization’s opinion of the third-year quarterback has gone from “We don’t really want this guy” (in 2021) to “We love him so much, we’ll put him greatly at risk to get him right back on the field.”
That would constitute a pretty impressive comeback on Tua’s part, if nothing else.
Yes, Justin Herbert played through the bitter end of the Chargers’ 38-10 defeat to the Jags, despite having fractured rib cartilage 10 days earlier. And many of you got hopping mad about that, especially after L.A. coach Brandon Staley cited Herbert’s desire to “be out there with his teammates” as a reason for keeping his third-year quarterback in the game.
You can’t see me as I type this column, but if you could, you’d notice my eyes rolling.
Are you really that concerned about Herbert’s well-being? If the score had been, say, 24-21 in the fourth quarter, would it have been cool for him to finish the game? Now that his blindside protector, Pro Bowl left tackle Rashawn Slater, is out for the season with a ruptured biceps tendon, is it unsafe for Herbert to start Sunday’s game against the Texans?
Or is the end of a blowout defeat the only time we should pearl-clutch?
Three words about Lamar Jackson
Pay the man.
Two words about the MetLife Stadium turf
(In the wake of Sterling Shepherd’s torn ACL on a non-contact sprint Monday night)
Eddie would go (back to paradise)
The NFL finally killed the Pro Bowl, replacing the all-star clash with a flag football game, skills competition and other watered-down festivities, to the delight of those who’ve plotted its demise for a long time.
I liked my plan better: Return the game to Hawaii, its rightful homeland, and move it back to the weekend after the Super Bowl.
The ratings would have stayed robust enough to justify its existence, and the league would have been doing a solid to the men who actually participate.
Trust me — I’ve been there enough to know.
At least he cares
After the Bills looked like a Super team for two games, their injury ravaged lineup wilted in the South Florida heat and lost 21-19 to the Dolphins. When they failed to spike ball to set up a last-second field goal attempt before time expired, offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey had a Miami meltdown in the upstairs coaching booth.
The following day, Buffalo head coach Sean McDermott said he’d discussed the incident with Dorsey, noting that “it’s important we as leaders keep our poise.”
Sure it is. Somewhere, I hope that the late, great John Madden — aka The Mess You Loved To Watch On Sundays — is grinning broadly.