Don't look now, but Andrew Luck's Colts are 6-3

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Don't look now, but Andrew Luck's Colts are 6-3

From Comcast SportsNetJACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- Inspiration one week, domination the next.The Indianapolis Colts became the latest to hammer the Jacksonville Jaguars at home, winning 27-10 on Thursday night behind rookie quarterback Andrew Luck's two rushing touchdowns.Darius Butler returned an interception for a score as the Colts (6-3) won their fourth consecutive game and snapped a three-game losing streak in the series. The Jaguars (1-8) have lost six straight, their worst start in franchise history.The Colts had cause for concern following an emotional victory four days earlier, one in which cancer-stricken coach Chuck Pagano delivered a passionate, postgame speech in the locker room. Interim coach Bruce Arians was worried the team might crash from the emotional high.Not even close.Indianapolis scored on three consecutive possessions in the first half, opening up a 17-0 lead that started emptying the stands at EverBank Field."This win was huge," Luck said. "We wanted to keep our winning streak going. Jacksonville got us earlier this year. We didn't want to go 0-2 against a team. This is a good step in the right direction, but no one looks back at the fact that you were 6-3 in the middle of the season. It's what we do at the end of the season."Coming off an NFL rookie record 433 yards passing against Miami, Luck wasn't quite as sharp in his prime-time debut. He didn't need to be, either.Luck completed 18 of 26 passes for 227 yards, with an interception and a fumble. But he was unstoppable near the end zone, juking defenders with two pump fakes and scrambling for a 5-yard score on one drive and then plunging across the goal line on fourth down on the next possession.That was plenty against the Jaguars, who have the league's worst offense and played a third game without star running back Maurice Jones-Drew.Jacksonville has lost every game since a come-from-behind victory at Indianapolis. Blaine Gabbert hit Cecil Shorts III for an 80-yard touchdown in the final minute, stunning the Colts.There was no drama in the rematch.The Colts essentially sealed the victory when Butler stepped in front of Gabbert's pass in the flat and went untouched for an 11-yard score early in the third quarter."It was an anticipated thing," Butler said. "It was something I had seen those guys do on film, so I was ready for it and jumped in front of him. I knew they wanted to get the ball out quick. I was ready for it and went for it. A great feeling."Indianapolis became just the third road team to win on Thursday night this season, and just the fifth in the last two seasons. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said before the game that the league is analyzing whether home teams on short weeks have a distinct advantage.It certainly would help any road team to play in Jacksonville.The Jaguars have been outscored 153-44 at home this season, on the wrong end of lopsided losses to Houston, Cincinnati, Chicago and Detroit.Against Indy, nothing seemed to go Jacksonville's way.Marcedes Lewis, Rashad Jennings and Shorts dropped passes early. Josh Scobee missed a 44-yard field goal attempt, snapping a streak of 20 consecutive makes.The Jaguars had an interception overturned by a roughing the passer penalty on Terrance Knighton, keeping alive a drive that ended in a touchdown. They also were on the losing end of two reviews."We're trying to overcome ourselves," coach Mike Mularkey said. "We have to overcome ourselves. When we do that, we'll start winning games."The mistakes kept coming, too.Laurent Robinson fumbled at the end of a 9-yard gain, getting the ball stripped by Moise Fokou. Officials initially ruled Robinson was down, but the call was overturned on review. That turnover led to Indy's second touchdown and prompted Mularkey's meltdown on the sideline.Mularkey lost his cool when officials refused to acknowledge his pleas for a review on Luck's fourth-down TD plunge. Luck appeared to fumble the ball as he crossed the goal line.All scoring plays are reviewed, so Mularkey couldn't challenge, but he seemingly wanted officials to take a longer look at the scoring play. He whipped his play sheet and headset onto the field, drawing a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct."I lost my composure because of it," Mularkey said. "I knew it was going to be reviewed. I certainly thought the review would see what everybody else saw."Players followed his lead, getting flagged for five more 15-yard penalties. Knighton, center Mike Brewster, safety Dawan Landry, defensive end Andre Branch and receiver Justin Blackmon all drew flags. The Jaguars finished the night with 10 penalties for 115 yards."That's not going to be who we are," Mularkey said. "There's no way we're going to be that way. We will not be that type of team. We will be a disciplined team, we'll be a smart team and we will be a physical team. But we will not be that team that's going to have personal fouls. It will stop."Trailing 17-0, Mularkey wanted to go for it on fourth-and-4, but Gabbert bobbed his head and was flagged for a false start. Mularkey settled for a field goal.Gabbert completed 18 of 31 passes for 209 yards, with an interception. He left the game in the fourth quarter after re-injuring his left, non-throwing shoulder. He could have returned, but Mularkey decided to keep him on the bench with the score out of hand.Shorts caught six passes for 105 yards and a touchdown, a 4-yarder from backup Chad Henne. Robinson finished with nine receptions for 77 yards."We're so close but so far at the same time," Gabbert said. "We get drives going and we have to make a play and we haven't done that. We definitely didn't do that tonight."Notes: Colts DT Drake Nevis injured a hand. ... Colts hadn't won four straight since closing the 2010 regular season. ... Jacksonville's previous worst start had been 1-7 in 2003, the first season for former coach Jack Del Rio. ... Jaguars have lost five straight Thursday night games and dropped nine of 10 prime time affairs.

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

For all the flack that Matt Ryan got heading into this season, he’s been a damn good quarterback. Is his career on the same level as Tom Brady’s? Of course not, but this regular season saw him stand as Brady’s peer, making him an MVP favorite.

One of Ryan’s biggest challengers for that hardware is the same man who stands in the way of him winning his first Super Bowl. Though he missed the first four games of the season due to suspension, Brady finished second in the league in passing yards per game and threw just two picks in 12 games while tossing 28 touchdowns.  

So Super Bowl LI will pin the quarterback with the best numbers overall (Ryan finished two touchdowns behind Aaron Rodgers for the league lead but threw for 516 more yards and had a higher completion percentage) against the quarterback with the best touchdown/interception ratio ever for a single season. 

In other words, this is a Super Bowl that puts what one could argue are the season’s two best quarterbacks each other. That’s pretty rare. 

Going back the last 25 years, there are four candidates for such meetings: Manning vs. Brees in Super Bowl XLIV, Favre and Elway in Super Bowl XXXII (this one is a stretch), Favre and Bledsoe in Super Bowl XXXI and Kelly and Rypien in Super Bowl XXVI.. 

Why haven’t the two best quarterbacks squared off in the Super Bowl more often? Because Brady and Peyton Manning played their entire careers in the same conference, silly. It’s taken other players entering their echelon to even set up such a scenario, and that’s why Brees’ Saints beating Manning’s Colts serves as the only example during Manning or Brady’s career. 

The strong performances of those who dominated the regular season have often carried over into their Super Bowl meetings, but not always. Drew Bledsoe and Jim Kelly (both throwing two touchdowns and four picks in Super Bowl losses) are examples of the wheels falling off in the final game. 

Here’s a breakdown of past occurrences. Note that all four of them saw the winning team score at least 30 points, something the Pats have done just once in Brady's four Super Bowl wins: 

Super Bowl XLIV: Brees vs. Manning

Brees led NFL with 34 touchdowns in regular season; Manning finished tied for second with 33

Final score: Saints 31, Colts 17

Brees: 32/39, 288 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Manning: 31/45, 333 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT

Brees completed a postseason in which he had no turnovers and did so in a nearly exactly average game for him that season, as e averaged 292.5 yards, 2.26 touchdowns and less than one interception per game in the regular season. The two quarterbacks also combined for just one sack. 
 
Super Bowl XXXII: Favre vs. Elway

Favre led NFL with 35 TDs in regular season, Elway finished second in TD/interception ratio

Final score: Broncos 31, Packers 24

Favre: 25/42, 256 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT, fumble lost 
Elway: 12/22, 123 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT

Again, this is the forced one because Jeff George (3,917 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, nine interceptions) had the better regular season than Elway (3,635 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, 11 picks). Elway may have been the winning quarterback, but he didn’t have anything to do with the win. Terrell Davis carried the Broncos, playing through a migraine and rushing for 157 yards with three touchdowns en route to Super Bowl MVP honors. 

Super Bowl XXXI: Favre vs. Bledsoe

Favre led NFL with 39 TDs, Bledsoe third with 27

Final Score: Packers 35, Patriots 21

Favre: 14/27, 246 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Bledsoe: 25/48, 253 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT

Both quarterbacks took five sacks in this game. For Bledsoe, it was the most he took all season. The game was the third four-pick performance of his NFL career. 

Super Bowl XXVI: Kelly vs. Rypien

Kelly led NFL with 33 TDs, Rypien second with 28

Final score: Redskins 37, Bills 24

Rypien: 18/33, 292 yards, 2 TD, INT
Kelly: 28/58, 275 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT, fumble lost

Turns out five turnovers (and being sacked four times) is not a recipe for winning the Super Bowl. Kelly’s 58 passes thrown set a Super Bowl record.
 

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Working for the Patriots makes you attractive to other teams. Many have left, but Thomas Dimitroff and Scott Pioli are finally showing that major success can be attained in the process. 

Dimitroff and Pioli have built a team in Atlanta that will play for the franchise’s first Super Bowl title on Feb. 5. While many have been hired away from Bill Belichick's Patriots to lead other organizations, Dimitroff is the first of the defectors to get to the Super Bowl on his own. Adding an old friend in Pioli has played a part in that. 

Dimitroff served as New England’s director of college scouting from 2003 through 2007 before becoming Atlanta’s general manager in 2008. He hired Pioli in 2014 as an assistant GM after the longtime Patriots director and vice president of player personnel had a messy stint as the Chiefs’ GM. 

Executives and coaches (even Field Yates; yes, the fair-haired boy from the television) leaving the Patriots for better positions with other organizations has been common, but with the new positions have often come diminished success compared to New England. 

Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Bill O’Brien, Charlie Weis (in his brief return to the NFL in 2010) and Josh McDaniels make up the list of coordinators who have left winning with the Patriots to experience a dropoff without Brady and Belichick. John Robinson (Titans), Jason Licht (Buccaneers) and Bob Quinn (Lions) currently serve as GMs elsewhere, while former Pats secondary coach Joe Collier works with Dimitroff and Pioli as the Falcons’ director of pro personnel. 

It’s only fitting that Dimitroff and Pioli will have to go through Belichick in order to secure a title on their own. Winning without Belichick has proven hard enough for his former colleagues; winning against him will be even harder.