Three things we learned from Week 5 of the NFL:
1. Comeback Colts All those (ahem) luck-y enough to be at Lucas Oil Stadium couldn’t believe what they were witnessing. After Indianapolis trailed 21-3 at halftime, rookie Colts QB Andrew Luck found Reggie Wayne in the end zone with 35 seconds to play as the Colts stunned the Green Bay Packers 30-27. But it has been a week about much more than football for the Colts, with coach Chuck Pagano in hospital, undergoing treatment for leukemia. Owner Jim Irsay was able to give the game ball to Pagano, who was somehow still focused on the task at hand for his team. Pagano emailed the players and coaches Friday with a simple message: “Focus on being 500 by 4:30pm on Sunday. Nothing else. That has to be our mind set. 60 minutes, all you got, one play at a time! WIN!” The Colts, and Luck, heeded his words. Luck threw for a career-best 362 yards while Wayne had 13 receptions for 212 yards, which was a career high. The Packers had the chance to take the game into overtime but kicker Mason Crosby’s 51-yard effort went wide with 3 seconds to go. For a team fighting for an ailing coach, it felt like destiny.
2. The Saints Go Marching On(e). After the NFL handed down crippling sanctions to the New Orleans Saints for the Bountygate scandal, experts figured they were in for a tough season. But nobody expected them to start 0-4. Had New Orleans dropped to 0-5 at home to the San Diego Chargers on Sunday Night Football, the team would have effectively been out of playoff contention by the first weekend of October. And with the Saints down 24-14 in the second half, they were in a world of trouble.
Quarterback Drew Brees, however, chose a particularly apt night to rediscover his mojo, and help New Orleans pull out a 31-24 victory. Brees broke the legendary QB Johnny Unitas’ half-century record by throwing a touchdown pass in his 48th straight game (for the record, it was a 40-yard pass to Devery Henderson). What’s more, Unitas’ son, Joe, was in attendance to see the milestone and he can also say that he was there to witness Brees’ 370 passing yards, which put him over 30,000 yards in his 100th game as a Saint.
Commissioner Roger Goodell allowed suspended Saints coach Sean Payton, assistant head coach Joe Vitt and general manager Mickey Loomis to attend the game, so they could witness Brees breaking the record. Brees personally requested the favor from Goodell. Though the victory stops the bleeding, Brees and his Saints are tied for last place in the NFC South, four games back of the 5-0 Atlanta Falcons. But with Brees at quarterback, it’s hard to count New Orleans out.
3. Three-sy Does It. Two teams with serious playoff credentials enhanced their reps by not only keeping their opponents to three points, but posting more than 40 on the board themselves. Both the San Francisco 49ers and Chicago Bears improved to 4-1, with the 49ers trouncing the Buffalo Bills by a margin of 45-3, and the Bears rolling over Jacksonville 41-3. Ever improving QB Alex Smith led his team to a franchise-record 621 yards, which is a stat that even his sublime predecessors such as Joe Montana, Steve Young or Y.A. Tittle could never manage (“Very cool,” said Smith in typically understated fashion. “When you think of the 49ers, you think of great offense”). Smith threw for 303 yards and three touchdowns, Frank Gore ran for 106 yards and a score, Michael Crabtree had seven catches for 113 yards and Vernon Davis caught seven passes for 106 yards. San Francisco became the first team in NFL history to manage 300 yards passing and 300 yards rushing in a single game.
In comparision, the Bears put up relatively paltry numbers in their win over Jacksonville, but props must go to their mean defense. While playing their second road game in a space of 6 days, Charles Tillman and Lance Briggs of the Bears became the first teammates in history to return interceptions for touchdowns in consecutive weeks (they got the ball rolling during last Monday night’s 34-18 win at the Dallas Cowboys). In the second half, the Bears gained 309 of their 501 yards, and scored 38 unanswered points.