Each week between now and Super Bowl LIV, Marc Sessler will scan the NFL landscape for people, places and things -- events both evil and just, noble and impure, delightful and inglorious, filled with wise men and anti-heroes -- that burn bright on his radar.
Here's this week's briefing:
Colts trumpet everything this typist adores about pro football
You can have your 50-45 shootouts, your fireworks-fests that drop 1,000 yards of offense in four quarters of a real-life drama depicting a late-night "Madden" tilt played between a pair of whiskey-addled college frat boys totally ignoring their Introduction to Physical Education homework. You can tell me I'm supposed to want more point-geysers and big-play fountains -- and sometimes I do -- but it's what Indy did to K.C. during Sunday night's 19-13 Colts win that cosmically aligns with a spartan brand of gridiron punishment I've felt tractor-beamed to since my earliest days watching the sport.
The Chiefswere injury-riddled on both sides of the ball. Key wideout Sammy Watkins and defensive behemoth Chris Jones failed to finish, while from-another-solar-system passer Patrick Mahomes trotted about on a banged-up ankle. This wasn't Kansas City at peak strength, but then, the Colts were missing core henchmen of their own in hammer-dropping linebacker Darius Leonard and rangy safety Malik Hooker.
Maladies noted on both sides, but that doesn't change the fact that Frank Reich's Colts marched into the league's rowdiest road environment and turned a tight 13-10 halftime lead into a 16-10 advantage with a trio of third- and fourth-quarter drives that produced a measly three points but swallowed up an outrageous 18-plus minutes of the second half.
This time-machine approach included a statistically improbable 14-play field-goal march that evaporated 8:34 off the clock. This doesn't happen without running back Marlon Mack continuing to play as one of the AFC's most underrated offensive weapons -- with 32 touches on the night for 148 yards -- and pulled-from-another-time-in-human-history Quenton Nelson using his position at left guard to lay a world of hurt on Kansas City's defensive front. Bookend Anthony Castonzo, center Ryan Kelly and the rest of Indy's line joined him as men of chaos determined to keep the Chiefs' offense helplessly watching this line-of-scrimmage mauling from afar.
Indy's victory was one of the ugliest you'll find from this young season, but the Chiefs won't forget it. Neither should any coaching staff angling to tussle with Reich and his superbly coached, menacing cadre of field bullies. After all, they specialize in these tilts: the ugly ones, ominously stark and trying, forecasting what's ahead as balmy Sunday temps give way to windy gloom and a narrowing trial in the AFC that will eliminate the weak.
Peak Christian McCaffrey is the NFL at its finest
They know he'll be called. Over and over, he's given the ball in situations that -- past and present -- make it clear to the enemy that McCaffrey's the guy. Christian McCaffrey will get the handoff here. No question. He'll then be the primary receiver on the next snap, too.
Nobody has mixed the potion to erase the effects of Carolina's athletically otherworld being. McCaffrey's 25 touches for 237 yards and three scores in Sunday's 34-27 win over the Jaguars included a career-high 13 missed tackles, per Pro Football Focus. This nips the 11 evaded tackles he racked up during a whopping 37-touch, 179-yard, one-score showcase in Week 4's win over the Texans. McCaffrey's 866 scrimmage yards easily top the league after Week 5, and his 2,831 scrimmage yards since 2018 are a hefty 352 more than the next-closest player (Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott). The dizzying numbers take on added meaning when defenses know Carolina -- down a starting quarterback -- will feed McCaffrey snap after snap.
The season is new. Too fresh and too clean to lobby for award nominations and accolades voted on by scribes months from today, but McCaffrey deserves every ounce of MVP buzz. Premature or right on time, it's appropriate to acknowledge what sits before us: one of the more unique athletes walking Planet Earth, a next-level being ripping through bemused He-Men and cowed cornerbacks into wide-open plains of green grass weekly.
We are watching the early portions of a set-apart campaign for a player who somehow didn't make the Pro Bowl last season. "Who do you remove to make space for McCaffrey?" went the contrarian's argument.
The answer today: EVERYONE.
If Minshew keeps Minshewing, what to do with St. Nick?
Speaking of questions before their time, what on Earth do the Jaguars do when the snapped collarbone of mega-millionaire Nick Foles re-glues itself within his body? The sidelined signal-caller is loosely targeting a Week 11 activation. From where we stand today, though, it's tough to imagine a more awkward return to the field.
This weekly mishmash of words is titled ON MY RADAR, not WE'LL WAIT TO ASK THAT QUESTION WHEN THE TIME ARRIVES. The motherboard is lit up with sonar pings detailing the heroics of Gardner Minshew, the most improbable of NFL risers turning the Jaguars into must-watch television, one Sunday after the next. TIAA Bank Field is packed out with soccer moms sporting freshly purchased Minshew garb, unknowing toddlers squeezed into teal headbands, secretaries arm in arm wearing bushy 'staches and believing their rookie wonder boy can spin spells anew.
Minshew's $542,904 cap cost (per Over The Cap) as a sixth-round pick feels like a mezzanine-level seafood lunch compared to the $50 million guaranteed floated toward Foles, who, as a veteran free agent signee, was supposed to be the Jags' quarterback savior. It's an unusual situation that shares DNA with the Philly-based journey that saw Foles play Super Bowl-winning civic hero in relief of Carson Wentz. Foles and Wentz coexisted on the Eagles for a while -- and because Foles is a gem of a human, they did so harmoniously -- but two popular passers on one roster can't last forever.
Brush it off today, but the Jaguars have an interesting dilemma on their hands if Minshew (66.7 percent completion rate, 1,279 yards and a 9:1 TD-to-INT ratio in his five appearances, plus a 2-2 record in four starts) keeps casting dark magic for another month.
Pour one out for the Redskins' faithful
Some bombshells land with an unsurprising thud.
Gruden failed to win a playoff game during his five full seasons entering the 2019 campaign, making him an ideal scapegoat for an organization that owns but one postseason victory all century, a mostly forgotten wild-card punchout of Tampa Bay in the 2005 playoffs featuring the other Gruden.
Redskins followers are regularly forgotten when we debate the short list of fan bases buffeted about like a drunken boat. No more. The 'Skins are one of this year's nightmare squads -- tossing and turning through a long, disturbed sleep -- dragging ticketholders through a cataclysmic autumn that begs the question: What is the plan here?
The Dolphins have their trade-all-talent-for-draft-picks act, while Gang Green can pretend none of this is real until quarterback Sam Darnold returns from a malady that typically occurs in teenagers. No such knowable escape hatch or plot exists for the Redskins, whose battle seems to be as much against internal setbacks and whispers as anything coming from the NFC East or beyond.
If a coaching change is supposed to include even a minor dose of hope for what comes next, Gruden's firing is tinged with no such charm. He wasn't the second coming of Tom Landry, but he wasn't the problem, either. For the Redskins, the issues flow deeper inside team walls.