Down 13 points headed into the fourth quarter, there surely were some dire thoughts going through Chuck Pagano's head.
And what Jim Irsay was thinking? Here were his alleged Super Bowl contenders on the verge of being 0-3 after a loss to a team that hasn't made the playoffs in seven years and with a rookie quarterback under center. With all of the talk about Pagano being on the hot seat if the the Indianapolis Colts don't live up to expectations in the postseason, one could only begin to wonder if Pagano would be the team's head coach in January.
Heck, who knows if he would've even made it to Tuesday?
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Twenty-one fourth-quarter points later, Pagano was standing in the postgame locker room, pausing as the emotions welled in his throat, wiping his eyes as the tears began to flow, boasting "grit always wins" and declaring "this is bigger than a football game; this is about life and learning lessons about life, that you can do anything you want to do if you have faith, you have family and you have belief in one another."
For one more week, the season had been saved. His job had been saved. And a team in need of a spark had gotten one.
"I'm sure there's a lot of outside talk and things of that nature, but just the fashion of how we were able to pull this victory together as a team, he was just very proud," safety Dwight Lowery, who had two interceptions and helped contain the Tennessee Titans' two-point conversion attempt to seal a 35-33 victory, told FOX Sports by phone before the team departed Nashville. "There was a lot of waves of emotion going on in the game. The players felt emotion. The coaches felt emotion. It's more passionate than emotional, crying, whatever.
"It was just awesome to see our coach, our leader open up to us. It was awesome."
Let's stop right here to temper any thoughts the Colts have climbed over the proverbial hump and are now Santa Clara-bound. A last-minute win in Tennessee, in which they were up by two touchdowns and then surrendered 27 straight points, was certainly lacking in style points. If the Colts play like that on Oct. 18 vs. a motivated bunch of New England Patriots, there will be different emotions taking over in the Indy locker room.
And those rumblings about Pagano's future have been incessant because they are, in some form or fashion, accurate. He won't be signing a contract extension this week, and he and general manager Ryan Grigson are still in need of a successful season that extends deep into the postseason.
But like Pagano told his players, maybe the only ones who believed in them during the third quarter were the people in their postgame locker room.
"The win is huge in not going 0-3, but the fashion (in which) we won, the belief we had to have in each other in order for us to get that win, was the biggest thing," Lowery said. "We could've easily just sulked because in that third quarter it really wasn't looking good at all."
The fourth quarter got off to a great start for Indy when Andrew Luck led a 97-yard touchdown drive by going 8-for-10 for 109 yards (a few penalties made that possible), including a 35-yard pass to Phillip Dorsett to cut the Titans' lead to 27-21 with 6:49 to play.
Luck admitted it "it sure felt like" the season was on the line right about then. If so, they still needed a play to save it.
Lowery provided it when he saw Marcus Mariota lock on to Kendall Wright up the left seam. Lowery had the deep defensive right half of the field in a Cover-2 man look, so he was able to quickly jump in front of Wright.
"Sometimes you get the younger quarterbacks, they tend to stare and wait for the receiver to come open," Lowery said. "He was eyeballing it."
The Colts' sideline erupted as Lowery, who had a pick six off of a deflection in the first half, returned the ball to the Titans' 11-yard line.
"It was like a bunch of kids that just opened a Christmas gift," he said of his teammates' reaction.
Told he might have made the play that changed the Colts' season, Lowery paused then replied, "Yeah, I agree." He wasn't bragging. Rather, he cited the fact only five teams in history made the playoffs after starting 0-3.
"It was huge for us," he said of his interception.
One play after the turnover, Luck hit Donte Moncrief for an 11-yard score that put the Colts ahead. Frank Gore added another touchdown to give Indy an 8-point lead with 2:51 left. Mariota then led a nine-play, 80-yard touchdown drive, but the Titans still needed a 2-point conversion to tie. They gave it to fullback Jalston Fowler, who got stuffed at the line and then ... started running backward, for some reason.
Lowery and fellow safety Mike Adams chased Fowler. Cautiously. Adams eventually brought him down at the 17-yard line.
"When he started going backwards, I thought he was going to throw it, like across the field or something," said Lowery, whose job was to contain the right side of the field. "I think he was just trying to make something happen."
Instead, it was the Colts who made something happen -- something that finally allowed the positive emotions to flow.
"This win was big," Luck said. "If this can jump start a little hot streak, that's what we need."
EAGLES GET IT RIGHT
The problem with the NFL-has-figured-out-Chip-Kelly storyline is there isn't much to figure out. Kelly's offense is actually pretty simplistic. There aren't a lot of plays and route combinations to decipher. There are crossing routes and wheel routes that have to be covered, otherwise they give the offense opportunities for big plays.
This simplicity was on display in Sunday's victory over the New York Jets, who play pretty good defense, in case you hadn't heard. The Eagles ran a wheel route to running back Ryan Mathews that would've been a long touchdown if Sam Bradford hadn't thrown behind Mathews or if Mathews was able to make a tough spinning catch. It fell incomplete and many on the Eagles' sideline jumped or threw up their hands in frustration. No biggie. Shortly thereafter, Kelly went right back to the play. This time, a much better ball from Bradford resulted in a touchdown.
So while the Dallas Cowboys' defense might have had an inkling what the Eagles were going to do at times last week, no one should get caught up with thinking the man behind the curtain has been revealed. Like Kelly said last week, it's about execution. He wasn't throwing his players under the bus. He was stating a fact. Sunday, his players executed better. But as Bradford's throw behind Mathews showed, there's still room for improvement.
RARE AIR FOR A RAIDERS QB
With first-round pick Johnny Manziel on the opposing sideline, Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr accomplished something no other quarterback for the franchise had done since Rich Gannon. Carr's 314 yards in the Oakland's 27-20 win over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday marked the first time a Raiders quarterback passed for 300 or more yards in back-to-back victories since Gannon did so in the team's AFC Championship season in 2002.
"If you're not following the Raiders this year, you're gonna regret it," former Raiders linebacker Bill Romanowski tweeted Sunday. "Raiders is about to do a breakthrough since 2002-2003. #RaiderNation"
What Romanowski lacked in punctuation, he made up for in hype. The laughingstock of the NFL for the past decade, the Raiders clearly have a young, talented nucleus with Carr, rookie wide receiver Amari Cooper (eight catches for 134 yards) and running back Latavius Murray (139 rushing yards and a touchdown) on offense, Khalil Mack (two sacks) and Aldon Smith on defense and Jack Del Rio under the headset.
VICK HAS THE KEYS
When Michael Vick worked out for the Pittsburgh Steelers this summer, following the injury to Bruce Gradkowski, the team's officials on hand noted the "Vick Flick" was still as potent as ever. That's the throwing motion Vick has used for his entire career -- just an almost effortless flick of the wrist and the ball shoots down the field. As soon as the Steelers saw that, they were all in on signing Vick, especially since coach Mike Tomlin had known him for years and was comfortable with him.
The team believed they knew they'd need a reliable backup for Ben Roethlisberger and now they'll need one, with Roethlisberger expected to miss about four to six weeks with a sprained MCL and a bone bruise, a source confirmed on Sunday night.
The Steelers had some conversations with Vick before the start of training camp but decided to stick with Gradkowski. But frankly, there has to be a stronger belief they're in better hands with Vick. Last year with the New York Jets was a rough one for a somewhat disinterested Vick, though he'll surely be more motivated by the chance to throw to Antonio Brown and the Steelers' targets and with Le'Veon Bell in the backfield behind him.
KEEPING THEM FOCUSED
Give Bruce Arians credit for trying to keep his players' egos in check. They have three wins, sure, but they're against teams that are a combined 1-8.
After telling his players, "You ain't s---," following last week's win over the Chicago Bears, Arians told reporters "They smell just a little bit better" after crushing the San Francisco 49ers 47-7 on Sunday. He did concede, though, "that was a pretty good football game for us."
Now, it's going to start to get real for the Cards. They host the St. Louis Rams on Sunday and then hit the road to face the Detroit Lions and Pittsburgh Steelers. In the second half of the season, they have two games against their NFC West rival Seattle Seahawks, face the Cincinnati Bengals at home and travel to Philadelphia.
Keep them humble, Bruce.
BACK WHERE HE BELONGS
With the way the Denver Broncos' defense is playing so far this season, you can only wonder how Wade Phillips was out of the league last year. He's a proven defensive coordinator in a league where offenses have become progressively more dominant. He now has the Broncos attacking on all three levels of the defense.
Sunday's game-changing interception by David Bruton to undercut a slant route from Matthew Stafford to Calvin Johnson had to be the result of terrific preparation and coaching. Bruton knew exactly what was going to happen there and was in a perfect spot to make the play.
Awful job by all of the franchises that could've used a new defensive coordinator in 2014 yet didn't hire Phillips. Bet they wish they did now.