Chuck Pagano remains part of the Colts' success
The light is still on in Chuck Pagano's office. When the Indianapolis Colts head coach was told he had leukemia, this September, Bruce Arians – the team's offensive co-ordinator and Pagano's interim replacement – requested that the light not be switched off until his colleague had returned to work. The team's owner, Jim Irsay, agreed.
This week Pagano was back at the team's facility for the first time since that diagnosis, visiting his colleagues and sitting in on team meetings for a few hours. It was made clear, however, that there is not yet any time-frame for a possible return to work. Pagano's treatment is ongoing, and from this week he is set to undergo a second round of chemotherapy.
Sooner or later, though, Pagano intends to return. He made that clear when he followed up his practice-facility visit by attending the Colts' 23-20 win over Miami on Sunday, delivering a pep-talk to the team before the game and another afterwards. A video of the post-game speech was posted online by the Colts.
Pagano praised the players for ignoring the expectations that analysts and others outside the organisation had for the team coming into the season, and focusing only on their own goals. He then compared their situation to his own. Powerful would be an understatement.
I mentioned before the game that you guys were living in [your] vision, and you weren't living in circumstances. Because you know where they had us in the beginning – every last one of them. But you refused to live in circumstances, and you decided consciously, as a team and as a family, to live in a vision. And that's why you bring things home like you brought home today. That's why you're already champions, and well on your way.
I've got circumstances – you guys understand it, and I understand it. It's already beat. It's already beat. And my vision that I'm living is to see two more daughters get married, dance at their weddings, and then hoist that Lombardi [Trophy] several times. I'm dancing at two more weddings, and we're hoisting that trophy together, men.
Pagano's road to recovery is still a long one. He is responding well to treatment, and as of Monday his doctors deemed the cancer to be in remission. But the words written by Sports Illustrated's Peter King in his Monday Morning Quarterback column hold true:
The story doesn't have a happy ending. Yet. Not for the Colts, and not for Pagano. "This next round of treatment's going to be brutal,'' Arians said. "He could be down and out for a while. But he felt good today, and so he wanted to come in and see the guys. It helped, big time. It's good for him, good for us."
Arians had previously challenged his team to make the playoffs – extending their season so that Pagano would have more time to make it back from his treatment before it ended. With the Colts 5-3 after beating Miami and 4-1 since the coach's diagnosis, that no longer sounds as improbable as it once did.
Andrew Luck was worth that No1 pick...
Everyone will focus on the numbers. Andrew Luck's passing statistics were indeed remarkable on Sunday night – the quarterback threw for a rookie-record 433 yards, as well as two touchdowns and no interceptions, in the win over Miami. They also reflected to some extent how he gave his best in the clutch – going 13 of 17 for 204 yards and a score on third down.
But to fully comprehend the brilliance of Luck's performance against Miami on Sunday you would have needed to see it: to witness how he moved in the pocket, how he went through progressions even when under pressure, the "I don't see you but I know where you are" awareness that allowed him to step away from pass rushers at the perfect moment.
One play has dominated the highlight reels – Luck hit by the Miami defender Cameron Wake on third-and-three but somehow contriving to throw a perfect six-yard dart to Reggie Wayne in traffic while falling. Yet there were so many other less heralded moments, such as another third-and-three in the first quarter when a defender came flying at Luck's ankles – this time he stepped back to leave his opponent sprawling, before stepping up to hit Wayne on the sideline.
"He's going to be real special," said Wayne afterwards, and as a man who spent the first 10 years of his career catching passes from Peyton Manning, he should know. In a curious statistical quirk, Luck has now thrown for the exact same number of yards as Manning this season, and also has the exact same number of wins. His performance to date, though, is exciting for so much more than just numerical reasons.
...and Doug Martin was worth more than the 31st
If Luck looks like a natural then his fellow rookie Doug Martin is quick to acknowledge he is still learning his profession. The Tampa Bay running back, selected with the 31st overall pick in this year's draft, picked up just 31 yards on eight carries in the first half against the Raiders, before the team's head coach advised him that his tendency to dip his head while going through the line was causing him to lose his footing.
"I was getting to the line stumbling on a few runs and then coach told me: 'Just keep your head up,'" said Martin. "After that, I did what he said and it helped me keep my balance and then, it was off to the races."
If these were indeed races then there was only one horse in them (or perhaps one Muscle Hamster, as the player was nicknamed, much to his chagrin, at Boise State). In the second half Martin would tear off touchdown runs of 45, 67 and 70 yards – as well as ploughing in for another score from one yard out. He would finish with 251 rushing yards – a team record and the 10th most in league history.
His numbers might have looked even more impressive, too, were it not for the fact that he lost 14 on the Bucs' final drive, with the team trying to run out the clock. Or indeed if the team had not sent in LeGarrette Blount to spell Martin early in the fourth quarter, only to see him promptly cough up a fumble.
And if no back could ever sustain this level of performance every game, then it is also true that Martin went for 214 total yards against the Minnesota Vikings last week. One or two of those teams who passed him up on draft day might be beginning to feel a little foolish.
Chicago's defense is scary
Life is about to get more difficult for the Bears, who face the Houston Texans and San Francisco 49ers over the next two weeks, but after seeing them demolish the Tennessee Titans 51-20 on Sunday it is easy to believe that they can live with both of those teams. They have outscored their opponents so far this season by an average of 14.5 points. Their points differential, +116, is the best in the league.
The offense has been clicking – Jay Cutler throwing for three touchdowns, all of them to Brandon Marshall, on Sunday and Matt Forte averaging five yards per carry so far this season on the ground. But it is undoubtedly the defense that makes this team look ominous.
Five turnovers against the Titans improved the Bears' turnover ratio to +16 on the season – the best such mark of any team in the league. Cornerback Charles "Peanut" Tillman forced four fumbles, moving him up to second on the all-time lists with 34 in his career. "It's only a suggestion but CB Charles Tillman might want to consider a post-football career as a thief," wrote Gene Chamberlain on CBSSports.com.
Nor has this happened by accident. The Bears dedicate time in practice to forcing fumbles on defense as well as avoiding them on offense. So do many other teams, of course, but right now Chicago are just doing it better.
Mitt Romney is going to win the presidential election. Maybe
You can throw out the polling data, analysts' opinions and interactive electoral-college maps. Mitt Romney will on Tuesday become the 45th President of the United States of America. We know this because, on Sunday, the Washington Redskins lost.
According to a historical trend popularly known as the Redskins Rule, a Washington victory in their final home game before the presidential election should be accompanied by a triumph for the incumbent party. A Washington defeat means victory for their opponents.
Only once since 1940 has the rule failed to hold true – in 2004, when the Redskins were beaten 28-14 by the Green Bay Packers but George W Bush stayed in the White House. Then again, it is up against baseball's World Series Rule this year, which states that the Democrats have often prevailed when a National League team triumphs – as was the case this year.
On second thoughts, perhaps we should go back to that polling data.
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image: © Keith Allison