After the Indianapolis Colts' 27-10 win over the hapless Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday night, I am amazed. I am amazed by Andrew Luck's football maturity. I am amazed at how much of the offense the rookie signal-caller has been able to absorb in such a short amount of time. But most of all, I am truly amazed that the Colts already have won six games this season.
Six wins in nine games? That's an astounding accomplishment for this franchise. Everyone in the Colts organization deserves credit: owner Jim Irsay, who was brave enough to start over; general manager Ryan Grigson, who has upgraded the talent level; and of course, head coach Chuck Pagano, who immediately created the right culture for winning.
But at the moment, one man stands out above the rest: Bruce Arians, the offensive coordinator who took over as interim head coach when Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia in late September.
John Wooden once said: "Happiness begins where selfishness ends." The Colts are happy today because this is an organization composed of selfless people, particularly Arians. He is the unsung hero of this surprising squad. Arians has done his job at a high level, while not allowing his ego to get in the way of success. He constantly makes sure everyone knows he is filling in for Pagano, not replacing him. His selfless behavior is contagious, and when a group of men believe no one is bigger than the team, selfishness ends and the goals of the team become the goals of all.
Arians avoided the bitterness that consumes many after a firing -- especially a strange firing, like the one that happened to him in Pittsburgh. On a Friday in January, after the Pittsburgh Steelers' season had come to a close, head coach Mike Tomlin told Arians he had done a great job. The following Monday, he was fired.
It would have been easy (and acceptable in many NFL circles) for Arians to complain after such an abrupt termination in Pittsburgh. From my prior experiences, I know that losing your job in the NFL can create a sense of bitterness, as well as anger, making it hard to move on to the next job. Arians had no such issues. He might not have agreed with the Steelers' actions, but he neither complained nor sulked. He proceeded on to the next task and has performed at a high level since Day 1. Arians has been the ultimate team player for the Colts.
Arians was also quick to recognize that Luck could handle a large amount of responsibility at the line of scrimmage. Thus, he's allowed his rookie quarterback to command a multitude of plays each week. Of course, we all knew about Luck's incredible football IQ; his immediate offensive comprehension is a surprise to no one. But having a bunch of young players -- like rookie receivers T.Y. Hilton or LaVon Brazill -- on the same page is really impressive. Have these youngsters made mistakes? Of course. But fine coaching from the Colts' staff has fostered improvement each week, allowing a green core to play through growing pains. That takes patience and a healthy dose of selflessness; working for long-term prosperity, not short-term convenience. No one is just looking to make his job easier. This is the kind of culture that creates success in this league. The good teams have it, and the bad ones wish they did.
This team is 6-3 and right in the thick of the playoff race. Of the Colts' remaining seven games, three are at home. If they can hold serve, they have a strong chance of making the playoffs with nine wins. The first two of those games -- against the Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans -- are extremely winnable. And although the season finale against the Houston Texans seems daunting at face value, Gary Kubiak's team very well might have home-field advantage locked up by that time, making it a meaningless game for Houston.
Making the playoffs would be an unbelievable feat for the Colts, considering everything they've had to overcome, from the huge cap hit they took with the release of Peyton Manning (which limited offseason activity) to Pagano's battle with cancer to integrating so many young players. The Colts have proven that being a selfless team is the first step toward becoming a great team. And for me, that is what is most appealing about the 2012 Indianapolis Colts.
Ten thoughts around the NFL
1) There is no way that Jerry Jones is going to fire himself as the general manager of the Dallas Cowboys because he really is not the general manager, but rather the ultimate decision maker. Jones does not come to work with the same responsibilities as general managers around the league, but he does have the final say on all decisions that affect the long- and short-range future of the team. Jones is not grinding tape, looking for the next superstar; he is doing other things and must rely on his staff to provide him with the correct information. So instead of calling for his head as GM, 'Boys fans should question the information reaching Jones' ears.
2) The injured hip of Green Bay Packers right tackle Bryan Bulaga has to be a great concern for all Pack fans. Bulaga is one of the best linemen on a team that already has concerns at left tackle. This injury makes both edges of Green Bay's line suspect and easily exploitable for good rushers. With the New York Giants on tap in Week 12, this presents a huge problem. Not to mention potential playoff matchups against teams like the Giants and San Francisco 49ers. Watch your back, Aaron Rodgers.
Harrison: Week 10 predictions
Two of the NFL's best teams face off Sunday night. Who will prevail: Texans or Bears? Elliot Harrison provides his picks. **More ...**
3) The Houston Texans and Chicago Bears are both teams that play their best when they are in front. The Texans are the NFL's top team in first-half point differential with a plus-81 point total, while the Bears rank sixth at plus-37. Whichever team gets an early lead on Sunday night might have the ultimate advantage.
4) The summertime contract extension for Philadelphia Eagles GM Howie Roseman made sense for owner Jeffrey Lurie. He did not want to put himself in a position where he potentially would be looking for a new head coach and GM at the same time. Lurie will need someone to help him sort through the multitude of issues facing the Eagles this offseason. With many tough decisions to be made, having Roseman in place will help. One of those tough decisions will be determining the real talent of Nick Foles sooner than later. Yes, he played well this summer, but is he Philly's future? Real-game experience is the only thing that can truly answer that. The Eagles really wanted to draft quarterback Russell Wilson in the third round, but the Seattle Seahawks beat them to the punch, picking Wilson 13 spots ahead of Philly's pick. The Eagles then went with Foles. Andy Reid loved Foles, but with the Eagles' struggles, Reid might not be around to develop the young quarterback.
5) It was no surprise to see the Kansas City Chiefs cut high-priced cornerback Stanford Routt this week. What was a surprise was when Kansas City signed him to a lucrative contract during the offseason. At the time, Routt had just been cut by the Oakland Raiders, a team K.C. plays twice a year. Routt was grossly overpaid in Oakland, and when the Raiders visited Kansas City two weeks ago, they went after him on every pass play. Now unemployed, Routt might get another job, but he will still be a player most teams attack.
6) Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder is struggling, and Percy Harvin's probable absence this week certainly won't help. Ponder does not get the ball down the field, having only eight pass plays of 25 yards or more all season. Against the Cardinals, he managed just 3.41 yards per attempt. And last week in Seattle, he posted a 2.86. That's horrible. Ponder must find a way to make plays in the passing game down the field or the Vikings will be reduced to playing the role of spoiler in NFC playoff scenarios, not contender.
7) New York Giants QB Eli Manning has thrown a grand total of two touchdown passes in the last four weeks and just hasn't played up to his normal elite level. Manning does not appear to be driving the ball down the field or making the tough throws -- two things he normally does very well. Manning has gone through tough times before, but he must start playing better if the G-Men are going to make another long run in the playoffs. Right now, he does not look right. But Eli always seems to respond when times get tough. This week against the Cincinnati Bengals might be the right time.
8) In four home games, the New Orleans Saints have allowed opponents to average 9.75 per pass attempt, a quarterback rating of over 124 and 4.9 yards per rush attempt. So much for my theory of being able to play good defense in a loud dome stadium ... Seventeen of the Saints' 20 sacks have come on the road, which is even more remarkable. And the fact that they are 2-2 at home while giving up these numbers is beyond remarkable.
9) After last night's nationally televised embarrassment, I have a feeling the Jaguars might be a lock to have the first pick overall in the 2013 NFL Draft. And they might have to use that pick to start over again at quarterback. Truthfully, though, the Jags have talent issues across the board and will need to fix many areas before they can compete with the Texans or the Colts.
10) In the last two meetings between the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots, the Pats have scored 101 points (52 in Week 4 of this season and 49 in Week 17 of 2011). The last time the Bills beat New England, they won 34-31 in Week 3 of last season -- a game in which Patriots QB Tom Brady threw four picks. Suffice it to say, unless the Patriots beat themselves, they should handle Buffalo at home on Sunday.