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What If Peyton Manning Is Just ... Average?

Will Peyton Manning get better? Can the replacement officials get any worse? And is this the week before it starts coming apart for the Jets? Here's the Monday Morning Jones.

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Brandt Snedeker won the FedEx Cup this weekend, and there was no room for him in the column. Needless to say, 'twas a helluva weekend.

What are we to make of Broncos-Texans? Right now, after a 31-25 win over Denver that didn't feel that close, the Texans look like the best team in the NFL. Never mind the fact I said that about the 49ers last week. This time, I (kinda) mean it. They have a great defense like the Niners, but more explosive weapons on offense and a quarterback who can throw the ball far.

But are they so good that they made Peyton Manning look average? Or is post-injury Peyton just ... average? The Broncos' passing game fared better than the Dolphins or Jaguars did against Houston, but when did we start comparing Manning to Ryan Tannehill and Blaine Gabbert? Even when one accounts for Sunday's drops and the reasonable time it will take for Manning and his receivers to get comfortable with each other, Manning completed just 50 percent of his passes and averaged 6.3 yards per attempt. His passes don't have much zip, and, until the Texans were up by 20, he looked pedestrian at best.

So maybe the Texans are actually the NFL's best team?

Things could get better, but Denver hosts Oakland and goes to New England and San Diego before their bye week. They could easily be 2-4 at that point, something no one in Denver expected when they signed a future Hall of Famer. But those hopes were based on the past, and the jury's still out on how much Manning can contribute right now.

The Cardinals are what? That's right -- after beating the Eagles, Arizona is 3-0. Three and oh. I'm wary of overreacting because, stout as their defense is, they're the Cardinals. But there is at least one team from NFL history with a similar pedigree to Arizona. In 1997, the Falcons started the season 1-7, but finished at 7-9. The next year, they went 14-2 and, in spite of being the Falcons, beat the vaunted ‘98 Vikings in the NFC Championship and before losing in the Super Bowl. All that's to say, as long as the Man of the Year doesn't get caught trying to pick up a hooker on Bourbon Street, they've got a really good chance at winning the Super Bowl!

(Ed. note: the author grew up a Falcons fan, and he still can't let it go. The Falcons are also 3-0, but he still can't believe it.)

In other news, has Kevin Kolb returned the favor and Wally Pipped John Skelton? All while beating the Eagles and Vick, his replacement? That's a helluva weekend. And the Cardinals are 3-0? That makes this seem kinda silly (except the part about the corn rows).

A beautiful story and ugly ending in Baltimore. It wasn't handled the same way as when Brett Favre threw for 399 yards and five touchdowns on Monday Night Football after his father died, but it's hard to overstate what Torrey Smith did in the Ravens' 31-30 win over the Patriots. Less than 24 hours after his younger brother died in a motorcycle accident, Smith caught six passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns, including a score with four minutes left to bring the Ravens within a field goal. To focus on catching a football after so debilitating is amazing.

Nearly as amazing was watching Bill Belichick grab an official after Justin Tucker's game-winning field goal. One week after the NFL told coaches not to berate officials, putting one's hands on a zebra won't go over well on Park Avenue. Don't be shocked to see Belichick suspended. If the league can't stop players or coaches from putting their hands on officials -- and this comes after Mike Wallace traded shoves with an official in Week 1 -- there will be even less control of the games than there's been. Speaking of the refs...

This week's update on the flashlight refs. Here's Jim Harbaugh after conning the substitute teachers out of a challenge when he didn't have a timeout. And before he made two more challenges, meaning the 49ers got five timeouts in the second half.


Now that we got the jokes out of the way: if the NFL has to move toward the officials position, then it should. This should not go on for another week. But, as has been repeated, the NFL won't do anything about the officials until people stop watching games. Everyone knows that won't happen.

However, the general tone of resignation that the NFL is too arrogant to budge and find a way to make peace with the officials union is ridiculous. This was another week of embarrassing officiating, including another block in the back on the kicking team and a blown fumble call that cost Tampa Bay six points in its 16-10 loss to the Cowboys. All those who said the officials hadn't cost anyone a game need to stop and do the math on that one.

This is a shame, but the NFL has none. Everyone should be complaining, and they should do so loudly. The NFL continues to show no respect for anyone. Not for players' safety, not for the people who pay way-too-f--king-much for tickets, and not for the people it encourages to bet on these games. There must be a middle ground, and the NFL needs to hurry up and find it.

The Jets won, staving off chaos for at least one week. It could have all fallen apart this week, but the Jets pulled one out against the Dolphins, 23-20. Darrelle Revis suffered a non-contact knee injury, and watching him scream brought the worst-case scenario to the forefront immediately. In overtime, Antonio Cromartie was dusted by Brian Hartline with a double-move, the precise reason you don't want him to be your No. 1 corner. Mark Sanchez, for the second week in a row, completed less than half his passes. The "Ground and Pound" offense averaged 2.7 yards per carry, and someone named Bilal Powell was their leading rusher.

Sure, the Jets won, but they have problems, and no organization seems more likely to go from a bad break into full-on disaster. And unless Tim Tebow's got a mean backpedal, making him a starter probably won't come close to fixing their biggest problem.

Darrius Heyward-Bey, Ryan Munday, a rock and a hard place. Does no good to knock the no-call on Mundy's injurious hit on Heyward-Bey, seeing how that flag wouldn't have done anything to help Heyward-Bey. I have no desire to excuse Mundy for his role in the weekend's most chilling moment, but I do wonder what he was expected to do in the situation. The obvious answer is that he should have led with his shoulder instead of leading with his head, but in a split second, I'm not sure anything mattered to Mundy at that moment but stopping a touchdown. That may have meant 15 yards, and it may have meant a fine. But in the world of football, how many guys wouldn't trade 15 of his team's yards and $20,000 of his own money to protect a win?

Another week, another slew of high-profile injuries

Much is made about the NFL's need for a culture change, one that would make players conscientious at all times of things like launching and leading with their helmets. But unless people start getting released for those hits, not the surrendered touchdowns, we'll have more hits like Mundy's and more frightening scenes like Heyward-Bey lying lifelessly on the turf.

Notre Dame is ... back? Notre Dame didn't hire Brian Kelly to win too many defensive struggles, but that's what he and the Fighting Irish did Saturday night against Michigan. Their 13-6 victory in South Bend, the second straight game in which the Irish didn't yield a touchdown, was the another positive progress report. Assuming their Oct. 6 game against Miami isn't crazy -- which, after the Canes' first four games, seems possible -- this was their toughest test before facing No. 9 Stanford. Credit goes to their fantastic front seven, the biggest reason the Irish are fourth in the nation in scoring defense, behind three schools who, unlike Notre Dame, have played at least one FCS school.

However, since smoking Navy in Dublin, the Irish offense hasn't scored more than 20 points. The three Big Ten foes they've vanquished have yet to play well against an opponent from a BCS conference. Few will face a tougher October schedule (Miami, Stanford, BYU, at Oklahoma). This could be the beginning of a special season in South Bend, or a redux of 2002 or 2005's fast start and forgettable ending. Whether trick or treat, we'll have most of the answers by Halloween.

But Florida State is back, right? Not sure about that, but they're surely close. If the Seminoles' success hinges on EJ Manuel's play, there's a lot less to worry about than their was before FSU beat Clemson, 49-37. Manuel didn't just have the best game of his career. Throwing for 380 yards, plus running for another 102, he had one of the best games in Florida State's storied history. Add to that Chris Thompson's 103 yards on the ground, and Tallahassee might be home to the most potent offense in college football. Seeing how the defense entered the game as the nation's best, then held the Tigers to 3.6 yards per carry, the ‘Noles could be scary good.

But they don't look to be in Alabama's class right now. There were 11 penalties and poor clock management at the end of the first half, self-inflicted mistakes that would make beating the Crimson Tide impossible. Hell, those things could get them beaten by NC State in Raleigh, where they've lost three of their last five visits. But if one thing is clear, the only team in the ACC that looks capable of slowing Florida State is the garnet and gold itself.

No, Chuck, you want Tiger not to be so black. As is his wont, Charles Barkley said something about Tiger Woods that no one else would say in public. This time, it's not because it took some special courage or irreverence, but because he couldn't have been more incorrect. Barkley wants Woods to rage back at those who have criticized and attacked him, equating toughness with "blackness." Chuck wants Tiger to react in a way that, black or otherwise, only Charles "I Once Threw A Man Out A Window" Barkley could get away with.

From the sound of it, what Barkley wants is for Tiger to be less black. Anger and frustration are human, not racial, whether on the links or on the greens. Whether the public deems those emotions acceptable, however, is often a racial matter, something Tiger seems more aware of than Barkley. If we've learned anything the last four years, quietly and measuredly dealing with oft-unwarranted criticism is as black as it gets.

People of all colors have interpreted Tiger's "blackness" their own ways, praising what they're most comfortable with and criticizing what they don't like. But being black isn't a personal decision. It's a social construct and, for better or worse, Woods knows its limitations in his world.

A salute to Isiah Thomas. The Peace Basketball Tournament, hosted by Isiah Thomas and featuring appearances by Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and others, brought players from around the Chicago together for one purpose -- to stop the rampant killing in the town.

Zeke's been a punching bag for nearly 20 years, but he's a man many could stand to emulate. He made it out of the West side, graduated from college, owned businesses (of varying success) and, oh yeah, became one of the greatest basketball players of all-time. Against odds that cripple so many -- but with lots of help -- with both his failures and successes viewed in proper perspective, he has been a success. On Saturday, he used his name, his legend and his connections to try to help today's youth clear the same hurdles he had to jump.

And since so many can't be bothered to care about saving lives in Chicago, Thomas is trying to help those most affected save each other. It's noble work, far more admirable than his failings as an executive are laughable.

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