It took a couple of days, but the nine year-old diehard Atlanta Braves fan inside me calmed down just in time to write this column. Oh, but don't worry ... we'll get back to that.
On to the weekend ...
Wait, the Colts have a better record than the Packers? What was more striking -- that the Packers aren't that good, or that Andrew Luck absolutely looks like he is? Aside from the win over the Bears, Green Bay's offense and defense haven't shown up in the same game. The Pack's offensive line, which hasn't been great this season, was awful while surrendering five sacks to the Colts in Sunday's 30-27 loss. Both with and without Cedric Benson, the Packers had no running game beyond Aaron Rodgers' scrambling and a 41-yard scamper from Alex Green (nope, never heard of him, either). After five weeks of expecting Green Bay to turn it on, maybe we shouldn't just assume it's going to happen.
As for Luck, a player who was in the Colts' camp told me, unequivocally, that Luck was as good as advertised, that he was absolutely built for the everything that came with playing quarterback in the NFL. So much of it was on display Sunday. He leaned on Reggie Wayne to the tune of 212 receiving yards, but he also ran a game-winning drive without once looking like a rookie. Whether he was squeezing passes into tight windows or shaking off an All-Pro linebacker in the pocket before making a big-time throw, Luck looked like Rodgers in the best way possible. He looks like he'll shake the burden of following a legend faster than expected, and maybe even begin building a legend of his own.
Did the real Pittsburgh Steelers just stand up? After five weeks, I'm not writing the same things about the Eagles again. But the Steelers? The return of Rashard Mendenhall meant the return of a real-live running game. His 81 yards (on 14 carries) in Sunday's 16-14 win were more than any Steeler had in a game all season. His long run of 17 yards is the best the Steelers have had all season. And given how the Steelers still struggle to protect Ben Roethlisberger, Mendenhall's return from a torn ACL wasn't a moment too soon. Had Shaun Suisham missed the game-winning 34-yard field goal, the Steelers would have probably been out of the race for the AFC North championship in Week 5. Now, James Harrison is back -- even if Troy Polamalu is headed right back on the shelf -- and Pittsburgh has a chance to get it together.
This week's question about Peyton Manning. For a moment, forget the week-to-week Manning progress reports. No matter what Manning is, he was brought in to make the Broncos a Super Bowl contender. After all, they won a playoff game with his predecessor, Tim Tebow. Well, after seeing Denver lose 31-21 to New England, does Manning's presence make the Broncos look like they could win it all? Just like last week, Manning was precise throwing underneath, and his numbers looked fantastic. But, for the third time this year, a second-half comeback created a deceptive final margin. Like when Tebow was under center, Denver was outclassed by New England. The Broncos are clearly not on the Patriots' level, and Manning's presence has yet to close that gap. Too much credit went to Tebow for Denver's wins last year, but what do those who deemed Tebow a "winner" have to say now that Manning's Broncos, once again, look inferior to one of the better teams in the NFL?
So we have to pay attention to the Vikings now? Since the Cardinals are so last week, having lost to St. Louis, the Vikings are the next contestant on "Are They For Real?" after stomping the Titans 30-7 to move to 4-1. Like the Cards, Minnesota is doing it with a great defense. The Vikings are in the top 10 in both yards per rushing and passing attempt. That's carried an offense that has, by and large, simply been good enough. But if Adrian Peterson gets better in his return from a torn ACL and Christian Ponder takes care of the ball -- Sunday's two interceptions were his first of the season -- Minnesota could be a problem in the suddenly wide-open NFC North.
There was something more unfair in baseball than that blown call. Even the most strident Braves fan has to admit Friday night's awful infield fly rule call didn't cost Atlanta the Wild Card game against the Cardinals. However, it made clear what a sideshow the entire round is. The Braves won six more games than the Cardinals and had one of the most absurd calls in postseason history nullify the biggest break they got while fighting for their season. Those are the things that can happen in a one-game playoff, and that's why they should only be used when there's a tie after a more-than-adequate sample of 162 games.
But at least baseball cops to those one-game playoffs being contrived sideshows designed to build fan interest. What's unforgivable is that division winners with superior records to their opponents play their first two games on the road this year. How is Oakland's reward for winning six more games than Detroit facing Justin Verlander on the road? To what did Cincinnati owe the pleasure of starting the postseason with two in San Francisco? Although we've got something new to whine about, let's not forget baseball's playoffs have something even more ridiculous and illogical, and the stakes behind it are even larger.
But, here's the flip side. The better team shouldn't have to take the risk of going home with its back against the wall. But one win on the road, and home field advantage can quickly make a lead a commanding one. Down 2-0 with three to go in Cincinnati, the Giants are done. Not even the Orioles, this year's masters of the improbable, can feel good about the task they will face when they head to Yankee Stadium. After losing Game 1 at Busch Stadium to the Nationals, the Cardinals have to win at least two games on the road to get to the National League Championship Series. That makes the inability to score more than two runs off Gio Gonzalez, when he walked seven in five innings, sting even more. But, in the end, the best way around the foolish setup of this playoff round is to just win a game or two on the road.
Geno Smith can do it against good teams, too. Despite Texas' tackling problems, its defense is loaded with NFL talent. And while he didn't put up the video game numbers he did against Baylor, Smith looked no less dominant Saturday night in West Virginia's 48-45 win in Austin. He was 25-for-35 for 268 yards and four touchdowns, extending his streak to 204 consecutive passes without an interception. There may be a better player in college football, but how will anyone play better than Smith has through five games? Assuming the Mountaineers terrible defense doesn't let him down too often, the combination of his skills and Dana Holgorsen's offense has "Heisman" written all over it.
Can we be honest about the SEC? The SEC went into Saturday's action with five top 10 teams. Well, four played each other, and two got exposed. LSU's offense looked putrid against Florida, whose offense was simply better than putrid. Georgia was undressed by a South Carolina team that looks like the conference's best outside of Tuscaloosa. But with Auburn proving itself worse than Arkansas, Missouri losing to Vanderbilt, and Texas A&M doing its best to lose to Ole Miss, might we consider the possibility the nation's "best" conference isn't that good this year? Alabama could make the SEC Championship and only play two ranked teams in conference play (and who knows what LSU will be ranked by the time they play the Crimson Tide). Florida shot up to No. 4 in the AP Poll, but have they once looked like a top five team? No conference boasts more talent NFL talent, but the default assumption of unquestionable SEC superiority hasn't been supported on the field so far this season.
Here's why Drew Brees touchdown streak's worth your attention. No, the record for most consecutive games with a touchdown pass doesn't have the cultural resonance of Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak. But you have to marvel at what Drew Brees did when he surpassed Johnny Unitas' record by throwing for a score for the 48th consecutive game. Besides Brees, only Tom Brady and Brett Favre have gotten within 10 of Unitas. Warren Moon, a Hall of Famer who played in the Run-N-Shoot, never surpassed 21. Peyton Manning never had more than 27 straight games with a touchdown pass. Dan Marino, who was as good as any quarterback ever was from 1984-86, couldn't throw a touchdown in each game during those seasons. So while you won't remember where you were when Brees hit Devery Henderson in the first quarter, you've got to be amazed that Brees has done that, literally, game after game.
And, one of the greatest intros in the history of intros.
I have no idea what Atari Bigby made on the SAT. But given his suspension-free record, I'm just guessing he's what they call a "good test-taker."