Upon Further Review: Carson Wentz's rise, Patrick Mahomes' interception woes and Brian Flores' head-scratching decisions

·7 min read

After a precarious start to his tenure as starting quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts, Carson Wentz now has started to round into form.

With performances that have helped Indianapolis win two of its last three games, Wentz more closely resembles the player that the coach Frank Reich recalled from their days together in Philadelphia when the quarterback ranked among the most promising young players in the NFL.

The Colts still have work to go while trying to dig their ways out of the 0-3 hole with which they opened the season. But Wentz's last three performances fuel optimism.

Wentz passed for 223 yards and two touchdowns while posting a passer rating of 127.7 in Sunday's 31-3 win over the Houston Texans. It marked the third straight game in which he had tossed two touchdown passes while also registering a passer rating of 115 or better. Sunday was his fourth straight game without an interception.

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Carson Wentz of the Indianapolis Colts looks to throw a pass against the Houston Texans in the first half at Lucas Oil Stadium on October 17, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Carson Wentz of the Indianapolis Colts looks to throw a pass against the Houston Texans in the first half at Lucas Oil Stadium on October 17, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Wentz's performance helped pace an offensive attack that gained 388 total yards (the Colts' second-highest output of the season).

Sunday also represented the continuation of a trend that has seen Indianapolis’ offense generate more explosive plays after big gains proved scarce in the earlier weeks. In the last two games, the Colts have produced plays of 42, 51, 52, 76 and 83 yards.

Wentz’s surge can be traced to three key factors: health, comfort and improved support.

A tumultuous start to the season included training camp reps lost to a foot injury that required surgery to repair. Then he sprained both ankles early in the season. Being hobbled translated into ineffective play for a player who relies on his athleticism to extend and make plays.

Injuries along the offensive line and in the receiving also further complicated matters for Wentz and the Colts. But as the season has progressed, Wentz’s health has improved, as has that of top wideout T.Y. Hilton, who made his 2021 debut Sunday with four catches for 80 yards. The Colts’ offensive line play has steadily improved as well.

At the same time, Wentz’s command of the offense has also strengthened, further fueling his confidence.

A healthy and confident Wentz means Reich has been able to expand the playbook to take advantage of his quarterback’s skill set and put more pressure on defenses. Now, the Colts and their quarterback are trending upward in a division that remains up for grabs.

“This is the guy I knew in Philadelphia,” Reich told reporters on Sunday. “He can be a big-play machine. What I’ve been more impressed with – I know he can make those plays, but I like the way he’s taking care of the football. I like the way he’s handling the game, getting us in and out of the right run checks, just being in control out there and trusting his guys to make the big plays and making good decisions and being accurate with the ball, especially down the field, which he’s been off the charts.”

Mahomes doing too much

The Kansas City Chiefs pulled off another comeback victory on Sunday, defeating the Washington Football team 31-13 after trailing 13-10 at halftime. But the victory saw the continuation of a disturbing trend in which Patrick Mahomes threw his seventh and eighth interceptions of the season.

The former league MVP’s eight picks are his most since throwing 12 in 2018 (his first year as a starter). Mahomes threw just five interceptions in 2019 and six last season. Sunday was his third multiple-interception outing of the season.

Not all of Mahomes’ interceptions have been his fault. There certainly have been instances like his first on Sunday, where his pass went off the hands of usually reliable receiver Tyreek Hill. Some have come as a result of miscommunications. But too often, Mahomes’ interceptions have come when the quarterback forces throws or tries to make a play when he would do better to throw the ball away or take the sack.

In a Week 2 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, Mahomes called an interception he threw while nearly being sacked “probably one of the worst I’ve ever had.”

He may want to revise that after rewatching Sunday’s second pick against Washington. Mahomes fumbled the snap, scooped up the ball and once again, while seemingly in the process of being sacked, tried to throw to a receiver. The ball sailed up into the air and into the hands of cornerback Kendall Fuller.

Mahomes has always drawn praise for his ability to make something out of nothing. But this season, perhaps while feeling the weight of having to compensate for a subpar defense giving up 29.3 points and 410.5 yards per game (ranked 28th in the NFL in both categories), he has gotten himself into trouble while trying too hard to make plays.

Coach Andy Reid admitted that Mahomes needs to find a better balance.

“He’s trying to make things happen,” Reid said. “And he’s probably forcing it right there. So I think that’s obvious, and, yeah, you can’t do that.”

Yet Mahomes’ teammates encouraged him to remain just as aggressive and not let the miscues change the way he attacks. However, the quarterback must do a better job of picking his spots, and he acknowledged that.

“I have that aggressive nature. I want to try to make everything happen, get a first down every single time," Mahomes said. "But at the end of the day, sometimes you have to punt. I think that’s something I’ll continue to work on. We’ll have to play the field position battle sometimes and let the defense get some stops and we’ll be able to score on the next drive.”

Flores delivers series of head-scratchers

The Miami Dolphins' disappointing start to the season continues, and the pressure on coach Brian Flores could be intensifying, especially after a series of late-game decisions proved costly in his team's 23-20 loss to Jacksonville in London on Sunday.

Two lost fourth-quarter review challenges by Flores left the Dolphins with just one timeout at a point of the game when they could have used them with the game locked at 20-20. And then, with 1:49 left in the game and the ball at the Miami 46, Flores called for his team to go for it on fourth-and-inches. Such a decision didn't really raise eyebrows. But the play call – a handoff out of the shotgun, which the Jaguars promptly stuffed – certainly did. Flores then watched as Jacksonville moved the ball 10 yards while running a minute and 37 seconds off of the clock. Not until five seconds remained did Flores use his final timeout. But the clock was already stopped at that time because Jacksonville had just called a timeout of its own. And Urban Meyer said Flores calling timeout prompted him to change his plan for his team’s final play -- a move into field-goal range rather than the initially planned Hail Mary attempt.

Jacksonville did indeed move into field-goal range and won the game on Matthew Wright's 53-yard kick.

Flores said he felt his challenges were worth the chances he took. However, the late-game mismanagement could further intensify the scrutiny on the coach. With the loss, Miami fell to 1-5 in a year where the team was expected to build on last year’s 10-6 campaign.

But the offense continues to struggle even after Tua Tagovailoa's return from fractured ribs, and Flores' defense also is underperforming. And now three seasons into the gig, one would expect better game-management skills from the coach.

After the game, Flores said, “I’m not doing a good enough job to get these guys ready to play. … We're not coaching well enough, not playing well enough. Not playing consistently enough. … I can’t say it enough: That starts with me.”

Follow USA TODAY Sports' Mike Jones on Twitter @ByMikeJones.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: How Carson Wentz rebounded, and why Patrick Mahomes is still uneven