What a double dose of good news for Colts fans. First, owner Jim Irsay went on NFL Network's Thursday Night Kickoff Show and told host Rich Eisen that if Peyton Manning is healthy, he foresees his star QB staying in Indy. Then, the Colts took the field and won their second game in a row, beating the Texans 19-16 on a final-minute touchdown by Reggie Wayne.
For the Colts faithful, which has not seen much good happen this season, Thursday's events were a welcomed Christmas gift.
The concept that teams would intentionally try to destroy their season in an effort to get a better pick simply is not realistic. No player in the Colts locker room cares about next season right now. They are trying to stay employed in the NFL. Losing never helps anyone's career. Teams might look like they are tanking, yet in reality they are just not good enough. Thursday night's win against the Texans helped many people in the Colts organization, particularly Jim Caldwell. The Indy head coach needed a few wins to help secure his spot for next season and the past two games might have saved him.
The Colts-Texans game was another reminder that the NFL has dramatically changed. No longer is a great defense and a solid running attack enough to win a game. All it does is keep the game close. If a team is unable to make big plays in the passing game, it will struggle to win or at least have to play in games that come down to one possession in the fourth quarter to determine the outcome. The "establish the run and play good defense" formula is significantly outdated.
Before the Texans lost quarterback Matt Schaub, they were the best team in the league at establishing the lead -- not the run or pass. They lead the league in points scored in the first and second quarters. They were the top team in first-half point differential, which means they had leads going into halftime. This allowed their defense to play loose, rush the passer and not worry about making a mistake. It allowed defensive coordinator Wade Phillips to be aggressive with each call and not have to worry about letting the game get out of control with a bad decision.
Against the Colts, the Texans' impressive running game piled up 171 yards. Houston dominated the line of scrimmage but because it could not make a play in the passing game, the Colts remained in the game. The Texans gave a bad team hope, which is never good. And when playing a bad team on the road, the best formula for winning is to start fast and take control of the game early. Had the Texans ever extended the lead to two scores, the Colts would have had to throw the ball and expose their poor offensive line. Even with an early score, the Texans were unable to build the lead and the Colts remained confident they could win.
This game has to serve as a great lesson for Texans coach Gary Kubiak. No matter how weak the opponent, Kubiak must allow rookie quarterback T.J. Yates to impact the outcome because the run game and defense cannot carry them to victory, especially in the playoffs. Kubiak must open the offensive playbook and throw caution to the wind. What does he have to lose? He is not going to win a playoff game protecting his quarterback. Over the next two weeks, he must find ways to throw the ball more effectively.
Now, I understand Kubiak's huge dilemma. He probably feels the more he exposes his rookie quarterback to the passing game, turnovers might start to happen and the game will slip away. Kubiak knows he cannot win playing catch-up, so being ultra-conservative with Yates will keep the game close and give the Texans a chance to win at the end. However, if this formula does not work against the Colts, how will it work against the Steelers or Patriots? It won't. And this is where the delicate balance of being moderately aggressive is so hard.
Being moderately aggressive is like saying, "We are lost, but making great time." It doesn't make sense, but everyone understands the concept. Kubiak must find ways to alter his offensive thinking as he gets ready for the playoffs. I am sure it was all he could think about Thursday night on the flight home from Indy.
The First 15
1. The Colts, Vikings and Rams have two wins apiece. To determine the No. 1 pick in the draft, strength of the schedule will be the tiebreaker, and that cannot be determined until all the games have been played. Would the Vikings draft another quarterback in the first round if they have the first pick? That is a question the Vikings' front office better answer correctly. If they pass on one because they have Christian Ponder, they must hope Ponder is as good or better than the best quarterback in the draft. That is not an easy question to answer. To conclude they are not interested in drafting a quarterback because they took one last year would be a big mistake.
2. Whichever team gets the Steelers in round one or two might not win the following week. My theory is any team that plays the Steelers will struggle to win the following week. This season, the Ravens beat the Steelers twice and lost the following week both times. The Patriots lost to the Steelers then lost again at home to the Giants the following week. The Texans beat the Steelers then lost at home the next week to the Raiders. See the trend?
3. Niners coach Jim Harbaugh claims Alex Smith is a Pro Bowl quarterback and should be going to Hawaii. I am not sure I agree, but I am sure Smith's agent will be using Harbaugh's words as a negotiating point in his new contract. If Harbaugh thinks Smith is a Pro Bowler, does he want to pay him like one?
4. We all know the Falcons must run the ball effectively to win, especially come playoff time. But Atlanta is the worst team in the NFL in gaining four yards rushing on first down and they have the second-most rushes for negative yards. Those are two ominous signs for the Falcons.
5. I am a huge believer in the stat that adds up the completed passes and rushing attempts in a game. The goal is to have more than 51 combined in a game. The leaders this year: New Orleans is averaging 56.5 and New England and Houston are at 52. The bottom: Indy at 42, Arizona at 43, St. Louis and Tampa Bay at 44.
6. Against the Jets, the Giants might be without tight end Jake Ballard, who is a huge target but does not run well. Travis Beckum would replace Ballard. Beckum is smaller but has more quickness in the passing game, which will bother the Jets safeties, who struggle to cover.
7. After watching the Chargers-Ravens tape, I think the Ravens must be worried about their corner situation, especially against teams that can spread the field. Cary Williams and Jimmy Smith really struggled. Pressuring the passer might be their best coverage tool.
8. I doubt the Bills win another game and if they finish 5-11, you have to expect some changes to occur in Buffalo, especially on the defensive side of the coaching staff. The 2004 season is the last time the Bills had a winning record. I feel badly for Bills fans, especially after the fast start built up hopes.
9. I am really happy USC quarterback Matt Barkley decided to stay in school. Quarterbacks need repetitions to get their body ready for the physical nature of the NFL and the best way to do that is to stay in college. One more year of development will really help Barkley.
10. Both Buffalo and Cleveland decided against drafting quarterbacks in 2011, but this time they will have to take one. Even with the Bills giving Ryan Fitzpatrick a new deal, they still must find their future quarterback. The Browns need to find someone to challenge Colt McCoy as the starter. Both teams are a year behind in their rebuilding process.
11. Interesting that Chiefs interim coach Romeo Crennel allowed quarterback coach Jim Zorn to call plays instead of offensive coordinator Bill Muir. Then Muir said he wants Crennel to stay on as head coach, which seems strange considering that Muir's role has been marginalized. One thing's for sure -- the Chiefs offense has come to life with a new play-caller.
12. Hines Ward says he is not retiring at the end of the season. He has two years remaining on his Steelers contract, but with the cap not going up next season, can the Steelers afford Ward? I doubt they can, since Ward is now more blocker than receiver. Saturday might be his last regular-season game at Heinz Field.
13. New England should have linebacker Brandon Spikes and safety Patrick Chung back this week to help its defense. The Patriots have been a patchwork group in the secondary and really need Chung, as he is their best defensive back.
14. Jason Babin leads the NFL in sacks with 18 and if the Eagles ever change the playing surface at the Linc from grass to field turf, he might have many more. The grass at the Linc is a sand-based field, which is not always the best surface for a good pass rushing team.
15. Have a wonderful holiday. My game review column from the Saturday games will be on NFL.com Monday morning.
Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi