Commentary

Week 5: Colts are truly 'Chuckstrong'

Indy rallies for ailing coach, stuns Packers; RG3 injury turns tide for Falcons

Originally Published: October 7, 2012
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Week 5 was filled with emotion.

The Indianapolis Colts upset the Green Bay Packers, winning a game for Chuck Pagano, their head coach who is fighting leukemia. Colts owner Jim Irsay said he couldn't be prouder of his coaches and players.

For the Packers, it was a stunning loss that dropped them to 2-3.

"We aren't playing with clarity," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "We aren't getting it done."

The Atlanta Falcons got off to the first 5-0 start in their history. Tom Brady outdueled Peyton Manning in Foxborough. The Steelers won a physical, tough game against the Philadelphia Eagles.

1. Greatest Sunday for cancer awareness: This is breast cancer awareness month in the NFL, and the league kicked it off with pink ribbon decals on game balls, pink equipment, pink caps, pink wristbands and pink goal post padding. But the miracle comeback by the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium made this Sunday extra special.

The Colts rallied from an 18-point halftime deficit to beat the Packers 30-27. What made this day special is how the Colts won for Pagano.

"Chuckstrong" is a Colts campaign started to raise money for leukemia research and to support Pagano. The Colts were Chuckstrong in the second half, outscoring the Packers 27-6.

"We wanted to go here and win for Chuck," wide receiver Reggie Wayne said. "This is huge, this is big. All we said is we wanted to do it for Chuck."

Perhaps no one wanted to do it more than Wayne. He knew during the offseason the Colts were breaking up their team, but he believed enough in Pagano to re-sign on a three-year contract. He might have had his greatest game as a Colt, catching 13 passes for 212 yards and a touchdown.

"This was a big one for Reggie because of his relationship with Chuck," Colts interim coach Bruce Arians said. "As a playcaller, I wanted to give him every opportunity to do that."

Arians told the Colts at halftime that if they executed the game plan without panicking, they could claw back into the game. That's exactly what happened. Rookie quarterback Andrew Luck had five scoring drives in seven second-half possessions and threw for 362 yards. The team became Chuckstrong.

2. One hit can change a game: For most of three quarters, the Falcons struggled against an overachieving Washington Redskins team. The Redskins' defense, aided by smart play calling by defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, limited big plays in Matt Ryan's offense. Ryan made two key uncharacteristic mistakes: throwing an interception in his backfield that Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan returned for a touchdown and losing a fumbled snap in Washington territory.

With the score tied at 7 with 6:22 remaining in the third quarter, Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III scrambled to the sideline on third-and-goal from the 3. Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon charged to the sideline, lowered his shoulder and crashed legally into Griffin, knocking him out of the game with a mild concussion. The Redskins settled for a field goal to take a 10-7 lead, but the loss of Griffin led to the Falcons' 24-17 victory.

Mike Shanahan decided before the season to make rookie Kirk Cousins his backup instead of veteran Rex Grossman.

Going from rookie to rookie left the Redskins vulnerable. Even though Cousins hit Santana Moss for a 77-yard touchdown on a play in which the Falcons blew the coverage, Cousins couldn't match Griffin as a threat. He had two three-and-outs and threw two interceptions in his other possessions, giving the Falcons enough of an edge to mount a 17-point surge in the fourth quarter.

You wonder if the outcome would have been different if Shanahan had Grossman as his backup.

Fortunately for the Falcons, their coaching staff teaches proper tackling technique. Weatherspoon crunched Griffin hard, but he used his shoulder and didn't draw a penalty.

"I was fortunate the flag didn't come out," Weatherspoon said. "I try not to use my head too much and just tried to use my shoulder."

Two hours after the game, Griffin tweeted he will be able to play next week after he gets tested.

3. A moral win in an Eagles loss: No coach likes to label a loss a moral victory, but the Eagles might take some solace in their 16-14 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Andy Reid talked about "great effort." Michael Vick praised the way the team fought. Vick and the offense did play like a champion in a 17-play, 79-yard drive that ate up 8:18 in the fourth quarter.

[+] EnlargeMichael Vick
AP Photo/Brian GarfinkelSigning QB Michael Vick to a $100 million contract appears to be a costly move for the Eagles.

"The good thing is we fought," Vick said. "We're taking all the positives away from this game."

As so often happens in the NFL when playoff-caliber opponents battle, the team that got the ball last won. Vick executed an 80-yard third-quarter touchdown drive that cut the Steelers' lead to 10-7. Ben Roethlisberger responded with a nine-play, 51-yard field goal drive. Vick followed with a touchdown drive, but Roethlisberger ended the game with a 14-play drive that resulted in a field goal with no time left on the clock.

Vick knows he needs to cut down on the turnovers. He had three fumbles and lost two.

"I wish I could take the fumble back on the goal line," Vick said. "There were plenty of plays I wish I could have back through the course of this season."

But had Vick gotten another chance to drive the football, he might have responded with a scoring drive to take the lead.

The edge for Pittsburgh was the return of Rashard Mendenhall, making his 2012 debut after having his knee reconstructed in January. Mendenhall had 14 carries for 81 yards, and the Steelers' 31 rushing attempts had a wearing-down effect on the not-so-big Eagles defense.

4. Kansas City fans out of bounds: I remember covering a Steelers game early in Terry Bradshaw's career when fans in Three Rivers Stadium cheered after the quarterback left the game with a shoulder injury. Bradshaw struggled early in his career but ended up becoming a Hall of Famer with four Super Bowl rings.

Matt Cassel may not keep his Kansas City Chiefs starting job much longer, and chances of him being released in the offseason are good. But what happened to him Sunday in Arrowhead Stadium was inexcusable.

Cassel suffered a head injury that ended his day, and the fans cheered. Chiefs fans have long been known for their compassion, their knowledge of football and their tailgates. They should apologize for what they did Sunday. The Cassel-led offense is producing one of the worst turnover ratios since the merger, but no NFL player deserves this.

[+] EnlargeMatt Cassel
AP Photo/Colin E. BraleyChiefs quarterback Matt Cassel is tended to after suffering a head injury against the Ravens. The Kansas City fans cheered when he left the game.

Right tackle Eric Winston summed it up the best: "We are athletes; we are not gladiators. This isn't the Roman Colosseum. People pay their hard-earned money to come in here. I believe they can boo. They can cheer. They can do whatever they want. But when you cheer somebody getting knocked out -- I don't care who it is, and it just so happened to be Matt Cassel -- it's 100 percent sickening."

Cassel had three more turnovers in Sunday's 9-6 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. The Chiefs' turnover ratio is minus-15, a big reason the team is 1-4.

Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel wouldn't commit to keeping Cassel as his starting quarterback. He will await the medical report and see when Cassel can return to the practice field. Then he will look at the tape to decide between Cassel and Brady Quinn.

Cassel's concussion comes a week after the Chiefs put tight end Kevin Boss on injured reserve because of a concussion that has put his career in jeopardy.

"There are long-lasting ramifications to the game we play," Winston said. "I've come to the understanding I won't live as long because I play this game. That's OK."

5. Sorting out the AFC: Sunday was a defining day for the AFC. The NFC won five of seven interconference games.

The NFC is 15-6 against the AFC this season. Only five AFC teams have winning records: the Houston Texans, Baltimore Ravens, New England Patriots, Cincinnati Bengals and San Diego Chargers. The 2-2 New York Jets have to beat the 4-0 Texans on Monday night to join them.

By beating the Denver Broncos 31-21, the Patriots showed they should get one of the top three seeds in the AFC. They are 3-2, but they showed they have more weapons than the Broncos, who are 2-3 and still have a chance to challenge for the AFC West title.

The Ravens didn't have their best day, but they pulled out a 9-6 win over the Chiefs. The Steelers are 2-2 after out-toughing the Eagles as Roethlisberger proved he's one of the best fourth-quarter leaders in the game. The Bengals' loss to Ryan Tannehill and the Miami Dolphins was disturbing, but Cincinnati has enough offense to stay in the race.

As for the Chiefs, Raiders, Jaguars, Titans, Bills and Browns, thank you for participating in the 2012 season and pick up your parting gifts outside the locker room.

SHORT TAKES


Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez said Sunday he knows he could still physically play another two years, but he's still thinking of retiring after the season. He caught 13 of 14 passes thrown to him for 123 yards Sunday. … Seahawks rookie Russell Wilson bought himself more time as a starting quarterback with a 16-12 victory over the Carolina Panthers. Wilson didn't help himself when he threw an interception that Captain Munnerlyn returned for a touchdown in the third quarter, but he was relatively efficient. He completed 19 of 25 passes for 221 yards and averaged 11.6 yards a completion. The Seahawks' coaches have been criticized for being too conservative with play-calling for Wilson. This week, they opened it up a little. … For what it's worth, rookie quarterbacks were 3-2 Sunday. … The NFC West is 11-3 against the rest of the league. … In the past two weeks, the 49ers have beaten the Jets and the Buffalo Bills by a combined 79-3. … The New York Giants were the thinnest team Sunday with an inactive list of seven injured players, led by wide receivers Hakeem Nicks and Ramses Barden. It had to encourage Tom Coughlin that rookie Rueben Randle, Victor Cruz and Domenik Hixon caught 16 of 25 passes thrown toward them. They lost halfback Andre Brown due to a concussion, but Ahmad Bradshaw rebounded from a first-quarter fumble to rush for 200 yards. … The Browns had only four receivers on their active roster, including Josh Cribbs, who had only 13 offensive snaps in his first four games and was hit so hard last week his family wanted him to quit football. The Browns started rookie Josh Gordon and second-year receiver Greg Little and had Jordan Norwood as the third receiver. Surprisingly, they did well. Rookie Brandon Weeden threw for 291 yards and wasn't sacked in a 41-27 loss to the Giants. … Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, who had five 50-plus-catch options on the field for him in each of his first two years, enters Monday night's Texans game with four wide receivers who have combined for 196 catches and 34 starts during their careers. Jeremy Kerley, Chaz Schilens, Jason Hill and Clyde Gates have only one 30-catch season among them. … The Redskins' Billy Cundiff missed a 31-yard field goal attempt in Sunday's loss. It was his fifth miss of the season. Expect him to be missing from the Redskins' roster next week. He's 7-for-12 for the season. … Colts interim coach Bruce Arians got a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct when he threw a challenge flag on a scoring play. Whoops. … Redskins running back Alfred Morris is the first rookie to rush for 75-plus yards in each of his team's first five games since Eric Dickerson in 1983. He has 491 yards on 101 carries in five games. Not bad for a sixth-round pick. … The Bengals have struggled in the run game and fear they may have lost running back Bernard Scott for the season with a possible ACL tear. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is averaging only 3.3 yards a carry. The Bengals had 80 yards on 19 carries against the Dolphins in a 17-13 loss. But keeping Cedric Benson might not have been the answer. He hasn't be a factor for the Packers and left Sunday's game with a foot injury. … Miami coach Joe Philbin cut about 10 minutes out of each of his team's practices last week, which he credits for making the Dolphins fresher during their 17-13 win over the Bengals. … How bad is the Bills' defense? Buffalo gave up 621 yards of total offense to the 49ers, including 310 yards rushing. The Bills had no sacks and only three quarterback hits.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer