Normally, the ten cents here span a broad swath of NFL topics. This week’s zeroes in with several cents devoted to the wild week in the world of the Indianapolis Colts.
$.01--The Indianapolis Colts kicked off the week by kicking head coach Frank Reich to the curb. Owner Jim Irsay and GM Chris Ballard made the decision after a lifeless 26-3 loss to the Patriots in Week 9.
This is a case of Reich being the classic fall guy. He’s a good, accomplished coach who is a victim of circumstance and the gulf between expectations for this Indianapolis team and the reality of finishing his time in Indy at 3-5-1.
Reich’s cardinal sin was believing in Carson Wentz as his solution to the chaotic quarterback carousel that has spun in Indy since Andrew Luck’s unexpected early retirement after the 2018 season. Wentz was a colossal letdown for the Colts in 2021 (and Eagles and Commanders before and after, but that’s for another cent…) and Reich was unable to wash out that stain. Reich isn’t the first man to bet on Wentz and lose big, but he’s now the most prominent.
Ballard somehow escaped culpability for both creating the need for Wentz and delivering Reich’s request. Ballard’s quarterback plans since Luck have been the football version of the latest Megadeth album: The Sick, the Dying and the Dead. The ghost of Philip Rivers was almost the (temporary) answer. Wentz was worth the experiment, but not having a viable Plan B is simply neglectful on Ballard’s part. Matt Ryan? After a stellar first couple of weeks of training camp, he’s been glue factory material for the Colts.
Ballard’s two draft picks at QB, Jacob Eason in 2020’s 4th round and 2021 sixth-rounder Sam Ehlinger, are misfired shots in the dark. Eason isn’t even on an NFL practice squad anymore. Ehlinger sure appears destined for that status quickly after his first two starts. Reich lost his job because Ballard isn’t doing his own very well. Injuries have not helped either man, especially in 2022. The GM is the next fall guy.
$.02--The Colts situation after firing Reich took a very weird turn. Irsay and Ballard named Jeff Saturday the interim head coach in Indianapolis.
Saturday was a great player for the Colts, a five-time Pro Bowl starting center in the Peyton Manning years. He’s proven himself to be an erudite analyst on ESPN in his post-football years. But he’s got as much NFL coaching experience as my cat. No coordinator experience, no assistant coaching tenure, not even an internship.
That egregious lack of experience bothers a lot of people for a variety of reasons. Among those is the chance for Saturday himself to succeed. Even making the giant presumptive leap that Saturday is a premium coaching candidate, he’s taking over a bad team with no real capability of improving under his guidance. They’re 3-5-1. Finishing 3-5 (or worse) under Saturday isn’t progress. It doesn’t help sell Saturday to Irsay or Ballard--assuming he gets to choose the next coach--that he’s the right man for the job long-term, the stated goal by Irsay in the bizarrely rambling press conference announcing the interim coach.
There are two former head coaches on the roster, John Fox and Gus Bradley, who are more than qualified to guide the team for the final eight games and not personally lobby for the long-term job. They could help in the development of the rising young staff, guys like WR coach Reggie Wayne or DL coach Nate Ollie. Now they’ve got to focus on teaching the greenhorn head coach how to coach. Suboptimal development any way you slice it.
Listen to Joe Thomas, a man who knows him some organizational dysfunction:
"It was the most egregious thing I can ever remember happening in the NFL...— Good Morning Football (@gmfb) November 11, 2022
and I went 1-31 my last two years in the NFL..."@joethomas73 on the hiring of Colt's interim Head Coach Jeff Saturday pic.twitter.com/qRMWRTqfKE
$.03--Another deeply troubling aspect of the Colts' fiasco is the Rooney Rule angle. Saturday is white, as are Ballard and Irsay. The NFL’s Rooney Rule dictates that people of color must be granted interviews for open head coaching jobs. The rule doesn't technically apply to interim situations. But when Irsay went to oddly great lengths to declare that he wants Saturday to win the permanent job, the owner was openly mocking the Rooney Rule that NFL owners love to brandish as a sign of their progressive values and sensitivity towards equity and race relations.
Irsay’s words should be taken for exactly what they said. They declared the Rooney Rule, if used at all in this process, will be a token interview granted to a Black man who stands no chance of getting the job. The NFL, reflecting society in general, has generally awoken to the notion that sham interviews done strictly to ameliorate critics does not actually represent progress. Or so we thought, or wanted to believe. Irsay and the Colts openly mocking the process explains why the Rooney Rule itself is troublesome and also why it’s so ridiculously hard for men of color to advance to the highest levels of the coaching ranks.
Mandates are a tricky subject. Forcing owners to interview someone they know they’re not going to hire just for the sake of public appearances? No. If the men making the decisions aren’t of the mindset to hire a Black man, mandating an interview is counterproductive. As an example, look at COVID-19 vaccination mandates.
Americans of all races and political persuasions were mandated to get a COVID-19 vaccination or face loss of personal rights. Many rebelled against that mandate, for a variety of perfectly valid reasons. My own attitude changed once the heavy-handed nature behind the mandates came into clearer view. I wanted the vaccinations as someone who suffered through childhood asthma and open heart surgery. I was at a heightened risk and the benefits of vaccination strongly appealed to me. With an open hand, I received my first shot.
But when the government mandated that I had to get a vaccine, my attitude changed. That open hand turned into a defiant middle finger. Ask me to do something, explain why, and I’m very welcome to the possibility. Tell me I have to do something or else, them’s fighting words.
That’s where the Rooney Rule appears to be headed, if not already arrived, for owners like Jim Irsay. And that’s terrible. I don’t believe that Irsay is racist or fundamentally opposed to hiring people of color. His track record is a lot stronger on hiring people of color than many other owners and predates the Rooney Rule. The rule needs revamping at the very least. But we can’t keep pointing to the most prominent exception, Mike Tomlin in Pittsburgh, as the barometer for success. Just as betting on finding the next extreme outlier of developmental quarterbacks, Josh Allen, is a fool’s game, so too is thinking that check-the-box interviews are helping Black men get coaching jobs.
$.04--Amidst all this chaos, the Colts did manage to play a football game. They traveled to Las Vegas to face the Raiders, the reigning kings of NFL chaos. Perhaps befitting such a wacky situation, the Colts rose up and beat the Raiders 25-20.
The kicker? The key play of the game was a 39-yard scramble by geriatric Colts QB Matt Ryan on 3rd-and-3 late in the game to keep the game-winning drive alive. The Raiders effort in chasing down Ryan, whose 40-yard dash could be timed with a sundial, was reflective of why Las Vegas remains ensconced at the bottom of the standings. That single run was for more yards than Ryan had ever rushed for in a single game. He’s been in the NFL since 2008.
The vultures are roosting in Allegiant Stadium for Josh McDaniels, who could very well be joining Reich in the “getting paid not to coach” status. The underachieving Raiders have been one of the biggest disappointments of the season, even more than the alleged AFC South favorite Colts. Indianapolis still holds some postseason viability at 4-5-1, but the 2-7 Raiders would need both an unforeseen surge and late-season collapses to get back to the playoffs for a second straight season. The Raiders made the controversial choice to bring in McDaniels in an effort to get over the hump, but it has proven to be a terrible decision so far.
The lack of success is weighing heavily on the Raiders. Check out QB Derek Carr’s postgame press conference, as raw of an emotional display as you’ll see.
Ryan coming back as the Colts QB in Saturday’s first game was more than a little shady. The move to start grossly incapable Sam Ehlinger over Ryan the last two weeks was predicated on Ryan having an injury that was portrayed as potentially season-ending. He sure got better quickly as the most advantageous time Irsay and Ballard could possibly author up. Jonathan Taylor suddenly getting healthy after a year-long malaise was a very happy coincidence too. Don’t think those devilish little details aren’t noticed…
$.05--The game of the season, thus far anyway, came in a thriller in Buffalo between the Bills and Vikings. The highly-touted matchup more than lived up to the billing.
Minnesota eventually prevailed in overtime, but the story of this one was how the game got to overtime. And how the game ended in overtime. And Justin Jefferson’s spectacular catches (yes, plural).
Buffalo largely dominated the game early, surging out to a 27-10 lead just before the end of the third quarter. It sure looked like the AFC favorites were poised to put a beating on the NFC’s No. 2 team. It turns out the Vikings offensive triplets had the Bills just where they wanted them.
Dalvin Cook struck first with an 81-yard touchdown run, whizzing past the Bills defense. Patrick Peterson picked off Josh Allen to end the subsequent Buffalo drive. Cousins methodically drove Minnesota for another touchdown, closing the gap to four points after kicker Greg Joseph missed the extra point.
Buffalo’s offense choked out a quick 3-and-out that featured two incomplete passes, bailing out the Vikings on the clock front. Cousins and Jefferson connected for a couple of great passes, one of which will absolutely be the catch of the year on a 4th-and-19 desperation heave. But the Vikings drive stalled out at the 1-yard line, with Buffalo stopping Cousins on 4th-and-goal. One Vikings touchdown on the drive was (correctly) overruled by replay. Game over, right?
Not so fast, my friend. Allen fumbled the snap on first down and the Vikings recovered for one of the most improbable touchdowns in NFL history. All of a sudden the Vikings led 30-27. However, Allen still had over 40 seconds. Minnesota’s ill-advised prevent defense did what those defenses do--preventing a win. Allen quickly got the Bills into field goal range and Tyler Bass knotted it. Overtime, here we come.
Minnesota ground out a field goal drive thanks to more Jefferson awesomeness. The shell-shocked Bills had one last chance but Allen got picked off by Peterson once again.
It was a truly incredible game, one worthy of the broad national audience it got by running so long. The win is a massive stroke of credibility for the 8-1 Vikings and a stunner for the suddenly iffy Bills. Buffalo has lost two in a row and hasn’t scored a second-half touchdown in a month, with Allen now leading the league in giveaways. Their loss, coupled with wins by Miami and the Jets, dropped the Bills into third place in the AFC East. That’s perhaps more unexpected than the Vikings surging to 8-1.
$.06--Just when you thought it was safe to bury the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tom Brady rises from the grave. The trip to Germany to face the surprising Seahawks coaxed out a strong effort from Brady, an inspired showing from the Tampa Bay defense and a raucous rendition of “Country Roads” sung with a distinct German accent by thousands of enthusiastic fans.
Brady looked sharp in completing 22-of-29 passes, throwing for two TDs and one INT. He was greatly aided by rookie Rachaad White taking the reins at running back and blasting the Seahawks for 105 yards on 22 carries. The Bucs defense pitched a first-half shutout and smothered Seattle’s ground game all afternoon. Geno Smith did hit two touchdowns in the second half to make the ending interesting, showing why he still belongs in the MVP race. Tampa Bay responded and held on to improve to 5-5.
That’s two wins in a row after some ugly losses dropped the Buccaneers to 3-5. Now 5-5, coach Todd Bowles has his Bucs back in control of the NFC South and entering a bye week with two very winnable games (3-6 Cleveland and 3-7 New Orleans) next up. White’s emergence gives Brady and the offense the balance they sorely lacked while trying to ride Leonard Fournette and his 2.6 yards per carry over the prior four games. It wasn’t a clean win for Tampa Bay. The win in the NFL’s first game in Germany will suffice.
$.07--The Los Angeles Rams are the defending Super Bowl champions. It’s hard to remember their glorious triumph back in February, however. Sunday’s listless, boring loss to the Arizona Cardinals dropped the Rams to 3-6 and dead last in the overhyped NFC West.
It’s normal for a team to have a Super Bowl hangover. This goes beyond tying on a few too many, however. Matthew Stafford has not played well most of the season. The QB missed this game with a concussion diagnosed later in the week. Cooper Kupp, still prominent in the All-Pro discussion at wide receiver, left this game with an injury (not thought to be long-term). The startling lack of depth in Los Angeles really shows when the star players either aren’t available or aren’t shining brightly. There isn’t even a threat of a run game, a byproduct of both a poor offensive line and a disappointing RB group.
What really hurts the Rams is the plain fact they’re not likely to get better anytime soon. Sure, they’ll win some more games this season. In this year’s NFC, a playoff return isn’t even out of the question despite the 3-6 record. But the cap-strapped Rams’ first-round pick belongs to the Detroit Lions thanks to the trade that landed LA Stafford a year ago. What’s truly humiliating for the Rams is that pick is currently No. 7 overall. Detroit’s own pick is No. 12 after the Lions won their second game in a row for the first time in over two years. That’s more than a hangover for Sean McVay’s Rams.
--Rookies develop at their own pace. It’s imperative to remember that. Packers fans ready to throw second-round rookie WR Christian Watson into Lake Michigan after a series of dropped passes now embrace the North Dakota State product after his impressive 3-touchdown game in a surprising comeback win over the Cowboys. Good for Watson, and good for Aaron Rodgers to finally have a wideout step up for him.
--The most compelling thing from the game in Pittsburgh between the Steelers and Saints? Pigeons. Lots of pigeons.
--By the end of Sunday night’s game, even the Chargers own coaches probably needed a guide to see who was still healthy enough to play. Tough to win when four of your top five WRs and over half the defensive line are out, and that’s sadly far from an inclusive list.
--It’s easy to ignore the Jaguars, who dropped to 3-7 with a 10-point loss to the Chiefs. But there are important steps being made in Duval:
Trevor Lawrence had his second game in a row without an interception, completing 72.5% of his passes for 2 touchdowns and 259 yards, giving him a 106.1 passer rating. Encouraging performance despite the loss.— John Shipley (@_John_Shipley) November 13, 2022
--Yet another reason to really like Lamar Jackson. This is touching:
--Congrats to Lions punter Jack Fox, who set the record for highest gross and net punting averages over the first 150 attempts in a career. Fans might be surprised to know Fox has never finished above 12th in punts attempted in his three seasons in Detroit, too.
--Congratulations to the Vanderbilt Commodores for beating the Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday. It was the first SEC conference win for Vanderbilt in over three years. Vanderbilt hadn’t won a conference game since beating Missouri in 2019.
--TCU survived a difficult road test at Texas. The Horned Frogs remained unbeaten thanks to a dominating defensive performance in Austin. TCU gave up just one offensive TD and 14 total first downs to the Longhorns.
--Pittsburgh blasted Virginia 37-7 thanks to an incredible start, or a terrifying one if you’re a Hoos fan:
I can’t remember a worse start to a CFB game— Thor Nystrom (@thorku) November 12, 2022
Virginia receives the opening kick, throws a pick-6 on the first play. Cavs get the ball back and throw a pick-6 on the first play of the second drive as well.
Then UVA punts on 3rd drive and Pitt offense matches down for another TD. pic.twitter.com/c16QKShT5s
--My Ohio Bobcats rolled to a midweek MACtion win, stomping archrival Miami 37-21 on the road. Coach Tim Albin’s Bobcats have won five in a row after a slow start and control the MAC East with two games to play. OU, oh yeah!
--Because I live in the Grand Rapids area, I have to mention the success of the local programs. There are three D-II schools within 50 minutes of my house. All three--Grand Valley State, Ferris State and Davenport--earned berths in the D-II playoffs. The GLIAC conference is the SEC of the level and proved it with the playoff spots.
$.10--Friday was Veteran’s Day. It’s a great reminder of, and tribute to all the sacrifices and dedication made by those who served in our Armed Forces.
Veterans never get enough respect. Not from those of us who didn’t serve. Not from the media. Not from either side of the aisle of our government. Not enough from businesses that might not exist without their service.
I try to make it a point to respect the service, but it’s not always front-of-mind or easy. A veteran friend of mine from childhood recently posted on social media about his mixed feelings about the salutes to service and being thanked for his time in the Marine Corps, and I’m glad he did. He framed it as how thankful he was to have the opportunity to serve. That really struck me.
Some of my friends who are vets joined the service as much out of necessity as by choice. College wasn’t working, or the grades weren’t there in high school, or the local hometown Ford plant closed and jobs suddenly became scarce, or they needed the benefits that go along with serving. That’s certainly not true of all; my cousin Chris knew he wanted to serve in the Coast Guard from the time we were about 12. Many others did too. But it was for more than a few folks I know who served.
Seeing it framed as being grateful for the opportunity was refreshingly provocative. It speaks to the character of those who gave up jobs, families, limbs and even lives to honor America and keep it great. We all need to do better in remembering that and recognizing the importance of what veterans have done for all of us. Thank you.