- Paul Kuharsky, ESPN Staff Writer
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What I think they are thinking, or should be, in the headquarters of the four AFC South teams this afternoon…
Gary Kubiak gave a bunch of banged up guys the sort of light practice week they needed, then set them loose on Sunday in Tampa Bay. We won easily, boosting our record to 7-3. Based on our tie-breaker head-to-head result with the Steelers, we’re the best team in the AFC right now. The bye will feel oh so good, and we’ll get a rest we deserve. We’ve played catch up in a lot of seasons while unsuccessfully chasing a playoff spot. Now we’ll be a team being chased. We feel more than ready for such a beautiful reversal. A break and six games to the finish line, with Andre Johnson thrown back into the mix will make for fun times going forward. Who’s got our combination or success, belief and talent right now?
You mean we have to come back? This bye thing sounds great, are we sure we can’t just be dismissed for the remainder of the season? It’s silly to hear coach stand up and talk about improving and being close and all of that, but what’s he supposed to do? We don’t need public statements from Jim Caldwell or Bill Polian or Chris Polian to know the sad and obvious truth. We’re terrible. We’re going to get the No. 1 pick in the draft and set off a massive storyline about Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning. There is no way after those verdicts are rendered that we should expect Manning to return and things to return to “normal.” If he’s himself and he’s back, he needs more to work with and a better defense to get him back the ball. Our scouts better be working extra.
We beat a horrible team, as we should have, and our defense carried us, as it should have. But the trip to Indianapolis was a good measuring stick for our offense, too. And the fact is, against a terrible team, it did enough to win but not enough to get excited about. Why would we hesitate for a second to do anything now that doesn’t serve Blaine Gabbert’s chances to succeed and grow? This coaching staff is going to be cleaned out, and the good guys from it will land in places with jobs that are just fine. But their parting gifts here can be to grow their early stake in Gabbert’s career. And maybe something like a key touchdown catch from Jarett Dillard will spark someone like Dillard to life.
Yeah, we’re not quite sure who we are either. But people overrated the Panthers and we jumped to a lead, did great work against Cam Newton and showed we’re a good deal better than Carolina. Being better than them and being as good as the best teams in the AFC are two very different things, though. When Baltimore loses in Seattle it dilutes our biggest accomplishment of the year. Our toughest challenges have not been our best days. So in Atlanta we need to show how we measure up to a contender, on the road. The challenges the Falcons will provide will be way tougher than what the Panthers brought. Are we good enough to win that one, or do we prove again to be average?