All season long, we've noted that Peyton Manning throws the most effective ugly pass in NFL history. The passes float, but they get there.
Sunday's loss against Indianapolis took it to another level. After Manning was hit by Colts linebacker Robert Mathis in the second quarter Sunday, it appeared that Manning struggled to push the ball down the field. There was a stretch of play after the hit where Manning completed five of 12 passes for only 36 yards.
Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk both noted on NFL Network's "NFL GameDay Final" that Manning's arm strength look diminished after the hit. Manning was questioned after the game about his "wobbly" throws.
"I throw a lot of wobbly passes. ... A lot of wobbly touchdowns too," he responded.
We shouldn't get carried away with the style points. We noted on Sunday night's "Around the League Podcast" that Manning still led the Broncos to 17 points in the fourth quarter and made some better passes. They could have scored even more if Ronnie Hillman didn't fumble inside the Colts' 5-yard line.
Here's what else we learned Sunday:
- The Colts hit Manning 10 times in the game, and sacked him four times. Their pass rush and banged-up secondary did a fantastic job. We haven't seen a defense expose Denver's potentially shaky offensive line like that since Manning joined the team.
- Another ride on the GenoCoaster. Smith got good protection up front and made big plays with his arm and his feet. He also threw an ugly pick six in the first half that sent a previously boisterous MetLife Stadium crowd into a stupor. The Jets took the ball out of the rookie's hands in overtime, calling 11 consecutive running plays on their final drive.
- Eddie Lacy is the real deal. The rookie running back didn't have a crazy statistical game, but he runs with both power and patience. We have mounting evidence Lacy is Green Bay's best backfield option since Ahman Green.
- You can stop worrying about the 49ers now. San Francisco dominated on both sides of the ball, jumping out to a 24-0 lead and cruising to the finish. The Niners have now won four consecutive with a trip to London up next to face the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars. The 49ers likely will hit their bye at 6-2 -- exactly where we all expected them to be.
- We still don't agree with the Titans' decision to play Jake Locker this week, but the quarterback appeared to come out of the game healthy. He made some nice throws in the second half and didn't seem terribly limited by the hip injury that cost him two games. Now he gets a bye week to continue his recovery.
- Colin Kaepernick looks like a player rounding into form. The shackles were taken off the quarterback in the read option and he responded with 68 yards on the ground, including a pretty 20-yard scoring run, his first rushing touchdown of the year. Something tells us the best of Kaepernick has yet to come this season.
- Calvin Johnson and A.J. Green put on a show at Ford Field. It's hard to argue against them being the best two receivers in the NFL. Between Green's 82-yard touchdown catch and Megatron's ridiculous touchdown over three Bengals defenders it's a wonder how defensive coordinators get any sleep before matching up with either player.
- Matthew Stafford put on another stellar performance. His two faults were some high throws down the seam and an inability to avoid the rush late. However, he snapped the Bengals' 20-game streak of not allowing 300-plus yards passing. Stafford has been quick getting the ball out of his hands, avoiding the bone-headed mistakes, moving better in the pocket and seems more comfortable spreading the ball around than any other time in his career.
- Andy Dalton left a ton of yards on the field. Yes, he made the plays to win the game and threw for 372 yards with three touchdown passes. However, he missed Green on a multitude of deep routes. If Dalton was more accurate on his deep balls, Green would have had 300 yards receiving and this game probably isn't close.
- Two Bears players tied historic marks: Devin Hester returned a Redskins punt 81 yards to the house, giving him 19 career return touchdowns. That ties Deion Sanders for the most in NFL history. Along with that, Matt Forte became the first Chicago back to score three rushing touchdowns in a game since Rashaan Salaam in 1995.
- Matt Ryan turned his understudies into playmakers in a win that saw Falcons wideout Harry Douglas haul in seven receptions for 149 yards and one touchdown. With double coverage swallowing up tight end Tony Gonzalez, Ryan also made the most of running back Jacquizz Rodgers, who caught another eight balls for two scores.
- Mike Glennon moves to 0-3 as Tampa's starter, but we saw progress. Buried in a 24-10 hole, Glennon strung together a patient nine-play scoring drive that ended with his second touchdown of the day to Vincent Jackson. It's a lost season for the Bucs, but Glennon's decision-making improves weekly. He throws a nice deep ball, too, especially to Jackson, who was targeted 22 times on Sunday.
- Lost in Tampa's terrible start is the play of linebacker Lavonte David. All over the field, his 10 tackles were twice as many as any other Tampa defender.
- Philip Rivers continued his efficient play this season. The Chargers quarterback completed his first 14 passes and led four scoring drives of 10 or more plays. The Mike McCoy difference continues to show itself as Rivers' already high completion rate of 72.6 percent only will improve after Sunday's strong performance.
- Ryan Mathews recorded his second consecutive 100-yard rushing performance (110 yards on 21 carries and one touchdown). He's run with more confidence in the last two weeks. If Mathews can stay consistent -- and healthy -- he'll continue adding a different dimension to the Chargers' offense. Of course, we've said that before.
- The trio of Jaguars receivers -- Justin Blackmon, Cecil Shorts and Mike Brown -- have a bright future. They combined for 258 yards on 19 receptions. Chad Henne had decent numbers. However, the offensive line was terrible in both pass protection and in the running game, short-circuiting any positives.
- The QB controversy is over in Philadelphia. Nick Foles might not be ready to play next week, and he struggled badly in all facets of his game against the Cowboys. It was clear that he entered the game at less than 100 percent despite not being listed on the injury report. He struggled to move in the pocket because of a groin injury and avoided running. He was knocked out with a head injury late in the third quarter.
- Case Keenum was an upgrade at quarterback over Matt Schaub. Coach Gary Kubiak has to think about starting Keenum after the bye week, regardless of Schaub's health. Keenum got the ball out of his hands quickly and averaged more than 10 yards per attempt against the best defense in the league. He was able to make plays on the move.
- Alex Smith did his best to give this game away late. He botched a fourth-and-goal in the fourth quarter where he appeared to miss two open men in the end zone because he wasn't decisive. Smith also threw a fourth quarter interception that kept Houston in the game. Smith did a very nice job moving the ball earlier in the game, but his mistakes are piling up.
- For the first time this season, the Steelers' formula on offense involved a sustained rushing attack. Rookie Le'Veon Bell's 93 rushing yards are the most by a Steelers running back since Week 8 of the 2012 season. In fact, Bell rushed for more yards Sunday than any Pittsburgh back had accrued through five games this season. Now that Bell and tight end Heath Miller have injected life into the offense, there's a strong argument to be made that this is the second-best team in the AFC North.
- Ben Roethlisberger has a passer rating over 90.0 in four consecutive games. His 107.2 rating Sunday would have been higher had wide receiver Derek Moye not dropped a perfectly thrown 20-yard pass in the end zone. Roethlisberger has lost more than a few steps as a scrambler, but he's still making a few "wow" plays every week. He's easily the best quarterback in the division.
- Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce are ranked first and second in the NFL in percentage of runs that have generated two yards or fewer. The Ravens backs combined to average 2.76 yards on 21 carries versus the Steelers. The numbers suggest a woeful run-blocking offensive line, but Rice has looked downright slow this season. One has to wonder if a Week 2 hip flexor strain has sapped his burst.
- Ryan Tannehill deserves credit for engineering the first three-touchdown game of his career during the second and third quarters, but he had a disastrous first quarter and couldn't respond to Thad Lewis' two field-goal drives on four fourth-quarter series. The Dolphins ultimately were doomed by their inability to protect Tannehill, a running theme in their 3-3 start. The Bills managed just two sacks, both of them game-changing plays by Mario Williams in a mismatch versus right tackle Tyson Clabo.
- The Dolphins apparently decided during the bye week to install Daniel Thomas as the lead back, with Lamar Miller in a change-of-pace role. The two combined to average 4.9 yards on 21 carries, so don't expect the pecking order to change even though Thomas never has succeeded in the featured-back role.
- It's probably time to give C.J. Spiller a week off to rest his sprained ankle. He looked like the Spiller of 2012 on an 11-yard run in the first quarter, but he appeared to aggravate the injury. He managed just 6 yards on six carries the rest of the way. At one point in the fourth quarter, fullback Frank Summers was leading the team with 14 rushing yards. Credit the coaching staff for not abandoning the run to leave the game in Lewis' hands.
- The Panthers are throttling bad teams, but they look like a playoff contender with a swarming defense and Cam Newton turning his game up a notch. Newton has generated two of the three highest passer ratings of his career the past two weeks while completing 81.4 percent of his passes at 10.4 yards per throw.
- Someone needs to tell Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins about spitting into the wind, ripping the mask off the old Lone Ranger, tugging on Superman's cape and talking trash to Steve Smith. Motivated by Jenkins' disparaging remarks about Smith's family, the Panthers' veteran receiver turned in his best game of the season. Smith became the 29th player in NFL history to reach 800 receptions. Before this game, Ted Ginn had been Carolina's best receiver.