Gone was the pass-rushing stonewall Colts defense of the first five games of 2005, replaced by last year's easily fooled bunch of guys. Also banished was 2005's tepid score-only-when-necessary offense. In its place stood the 2004 Colts who scored at will and then scored again just because it was fun.
At about ten, my wife, no doubt sensing the rare silence from the TV room must mean distress, asked how the game was going. I told her the Colts were down 17-0. She, more familiar with the 2004 Colts than the 2005 team, said "that'll just make them angry" and went back to her video game to rid 1944 Europe of the Nazis all by herself. She may not be entirely up-to-date with her NFL knowledge, but she was right. Just because Dwight Freeney and his pals have been dominating, doesn't mean Peyton Manning and his boys can't save the day if the defense gets bogged down.
• Manning didn't have en eye-opening night statistically, but kept his team up and threw and ran when he had to. It was great having him miked, especially on the Edgerrin James fumble. I found it interesting that in the scrum over who recovered the ball, Manning was loud and forceful and very polite. Perhaps more telling, he called the officials by their first names and sounded very much like a manager talking to his staff. The man has pull. Things probably would have been a touch more frantic if Jim Sorgi was in at quarterback. In his defense, however, Sorgi proved that he can hand off and take a knee as well as any man in the land.
• James had the breakout game I asked him for. More impressive than the 143 yards were his three scores. He ran with much more authority and courage than I've seen since his big ACL injury. Part of me thinks the extra oomph in his game may have been there to show up a certain Mr. Faulk, to prove that Bill Polian was right when he dumped Faulk to get his hands on James. Remember last week when I said James' fumble didn't bother me? This one did. Still, the officials awarded the ball to the Colts when they didn't deserve it just eight days after they took it away from them when they shouldn't have. Two wrongs have made a right and all is well with the universe. Om.
• It was great to see tight ends Dallas Clark and Bryan Fletcher in the backfield. Although neither is exactly an extra guard back there, they both block better than James Mungro or Ran Carthon. And, frankly, provide more of a catching and perhaps even running threat than either back as well. Remember Rod Bernstine, the Chargers tight end who switched to halfback and ran for all kinds of yards in the early 90s? I wouldn't mind seeing Clark get a few carries if he wasn't so brittle. Speaking of tight ends, did anyone else notice Ben Hartsock spent a second straight game in street clothes despite not being injured? It's too early to call him a bust, but I'm beginning to think if his career is going to take off, it will probably be with another team.
• The Rams blitzed like mad and, although it was probably a bad idea if they wanted to win the game, at least it gave them the right to say they actually sacked Peyton Manning. Despite that, the offensive line played an okay game with some highlights and some better forgotten moments. That applied to all of the players. Left tackle Tarik Glenn looked like a young monster again, stomping Rams way downfield to spring James. But a couple of plays later, he'd be a step and a half off when some dim light like Anthony Hargrove blew by him. Right guard Jake Scott ran around like he was 220 pounds, but hit like it too. He was the first Colts lineman to be charged with a sack allowed this season. Let's hope it motivates him.
• I was surprised to see how well Rams left tackle Orlando Pace handled right end Freeney on passing plays. Freeney needs to mix his moves up a bit when he's facing a top-notch tackle. Robert Mathis had a few bright moments against rookie right tackle Alex Barron, but it was far from the mismatch many, including me, predicted.
• For the first time this season, the Colts linebackers didn't have an overwhelming line playing in front of them, but they stepped it up. As has been the case in every game this season, Cato June was the class of them. Once again his ability to make the pick (he had two more against the Rams and is averaging almost one a game) overshadowed his overall game. If you saw the stuff he laid on Steven Jackson on 2nd and 1 in the first quarter, you know why the Colts put up with his growing pains for so long. There was a brief Gilbert Gardner sighting on special teams, but not enough to get many hopes up. I hate to second-guess, but the Colts could have had Landon Johnson with the pick that Gardner took up and Nathan Vasher or Jared Allen with the pick used on Kendyll Pope.
• It was nice to see cornerback Nick Harper play aggressively, but it was disheartening to see him bounce off Jackson's belly or get ground under his churning legs. Maybe he should be the slot back. You wouldn't see that happen to Marlin Jackson. Jason David continues to impress me, but I haven't seen hide nor hair of Kelvin Hayden yet. He's clearly redshirting.
• Mike Doss was atrocious, especially in the early going. Perhaps he's not trying as hard now that everybody likes him again and that it looks like Joseph Jefferson will never be able to mount a consistent threat to his job security. Doss has all the talent in the world, we've seen that, but just doesn't seem to bring it every game day. Now that Larry Tripplett has boosted his effort, Doss is the only Colts defender who I'm not sure has his head and heart in the game.
• Enough with the Dave Rayner bashing. Yes, he only has one touchback, but he is grossing 63.19 and netting 43.52 (compare that to Mike Vanderjagt's 58.49 and 38.75 last season). Besides, touchbacks are overrated. The other team gets the ball on the 20 and there's no chance for them to fumble. I'd rather see a kick go to the 2 and watch the return man panic than see it bounce through the end zone.
• I was delighted to see Dominic Rhodes back returning kicks after how uninspiring Carthon was in the role, but that good feeling disappeared as Rhodes coughed up the first ball he came near. Of course, Rhodes looked better later on and has a history as a great returner, so he should be given the benefit of the doubt.
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