NFL

Niners eye lift-off against Colts while Mahomes strives for Brady levels

By Sports Desk October 22, 2021

Kyle Shanahan needs to get the San Francisco 49ers winning again if their playoff potential is to be fulfilled, and this Sunday looks like a major opportunity.

To snap a three-game losing streak, the Niners (2-3) must get the better of an Indianapolis Colts side who, much like San Francisco themselves, have made an inconsistent start to the season.

By contrast, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are riding a three-game run of wins and have started 5-1 for just the fifth time in the history of the franchise, heading into a tussle with the Chicago Bears (3-3). Tom Brady has been a driving force so far as the Super Bowl winners carry on where they left off last season.

Patrick Mahomes has been hit and miss for the slow-starting Kansas City Chiefs, who will hope the NFL's highest-paid player can cut out throwing interceptions as they face the Tennessee Titans.


Indianapolis Colts @ San Francisco 49ers

If coach Shanahan's 49ers are to turn around their season, then facing a Colts side who have begun 2-4 seems like a pretty good place to start. Yet the Colts have dominated this series of late, winning on their last four meetings, albeit most recently in 2017 when they snatched a 26-23 overtime success. It would not be stepping out of line to predict this could be tight, given the 49ers have played nine consecutive games that have been decided by eight or fewer points, going back to last season.

That is the longest active streak of such close games in the NFL and the longest streak in team history, and the Niners do not have the best recent return when games go close, posting a 3-6 record in this sequence.

San Francisco fell 17-10 to the Cardinals in their most recent game, two weeks ago, while the Colts hot-footed their way to a 31-3 trouncing of Houston last Sunday. That came despite Indianapolis earning just 15 first downs for the entire game. It was the first time the Colts had won by 28 or more points while only having 15 or fewer first downs since 1972 against New England.

In his 21st career game, Colts running back Jonathan Taylor rushed for 145 yards and two touchdowns, meaning he surpassed 1,500 rushing yards, 500 receiving yards and chalked up his 15th rushing touchdown in the NFL. Only four running backs in NFL history have hit all three of those milestones in fewer games than Taylor, with two of those doing so with the Colts – Edgerrin James and Marshall Faulk.

San Francisco will hope to be recharged after a bye week. Deebo Samuel scored the fourth rushing touchdown of his career against the Cardinals, with Jerry Rice (10) the only wide receiver with more rushing touchdowns in 49ers history.

Chicago Bears @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers

After a dispiriting loss to the Green Bay Packers last time out, the Chicago Bears encounter a Tampa Bay team in sparkling recent form. Tampa Bay have started the season 5-1, doing so for the fifth time in franchise history, and on each of the previous occasions (2005, 2002, 1997 and 1979) they backed it up by reaching the playoffs. History could be made on Sunday, given the Buccaneers have never started a season with six wins through their first seven games.

Yet this is a game in which the Bears have traditionally, and recently, had the upper hand. Chicago have stacked up 40 wins in 60 all-time meetings against Tampa Bay, which is the most wins by any team against the Bucs. The Bears have also won the last two in the series, scoring victories in 2018 and 2020.

Tampa Bay can seemingly do no wrong when Brady is pulling the strings so masterfully. Brady leads the NFL with 2,064 passing yards, the second-highest total he has ever had through six games of a season – beaten only by his 2,163 passing yards at this stage in 2011. Prior to this year, no Tampa Bay quarterback had ever thrown for more than 1,800 yards through six games.

What have the Bears got to offer? Chicago are averaging 246.2 net yards per game, which is more than 20 yards per game less than any other team. The 1,477 yards is the fewest Chicago has had through six games since the 1993 season. Rookie quarterback Justin Fields needs to make something happen, but others must step up too. In his first career start, Khalil Herbert ran for 97 yards and a touchdown against Green Bay last time out.

Kansas City Chiefs @ Tennessee Titans

"He's trying to make things happen," said Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, explaining away the two interceptions thrown by Patrick Mahomes in Week 6 against Washington. For Mahomes, that was a second straight game with at least two interceptions. He is tied with Jacksonville's Trevor Lawrence in second position on the list of the most interceptions thrown this season, with his tally of eight so far only topped by Zach Wilson of the Jets.

This is only the second run that Mahomes has endured of throwing two or more interceptions in consecutive games, the previous dating back to Week 5 and 6 of the 2018 season, and Reid will hope his radar is better set for the clash with the Titans. Mahomes is still doing an awful lot right in 2021, but the fact remains he threw just six interceptions last season.

The Chiefs' unsteady 3-3 opening is their worst of the Mahomes era, and it was 2015 when they got off to a slower start. On that occasion they followed a 1-5 opening with 10 consecutive wins, a single-season record for Kansas City that was matched last season.

Tennessee's bright start has featured some notable performances. The Titans ran for 146 yards and scored four rushing touchdowns in the 34-31 win over Buffalo on Monday night, taking them to 985 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns for the season. It is the first time in franchise history that the Bills have 10 or more rushing touchdowns and at least 975 rushing yards through six games.

Running back Derrick Henry has 10 rushing touchdowns so far, beating his career best of seven through six weeks in 2020. It puts him tied for the fourth most rushing touchdowns of all time through six weeks (Jim Brown 14, Shaun Alexander 12, Emmitt Smith 11).

Elsewhere...

The Detroit Lions face a tall order on the road against the Los Angeles Rams (5-1). Detroit are 0-6 for the first time since their 0-16 season in 2008 and have not scored more than 17 points in any of their last five games. Former Rams quarterback Jared Goff, now with Detroit, has thrown zero touchdown passes and an interception in each of his last two games.

The 5-1 Baltimore Ravens have recent history on their side ahead of a clash with the Cincinnati Bengals, having won five successive games in their head-to-head series, including the last three by a brutal average of 31.7 points.

Heading into a home game against the Houston Texans (1-5), the Arizona Cardinals are on a 6-0 roll. This has only happened twice before in franchise history, but never before in Arizona. The St Louis Cardinals in 1974 and Chicago Cardinals in 1922 are the teams who both started their seasons 6-0 as well.

Philadelphia QB Jalen Hurts could match an NFL record as the Eagles (2-4) tackle the Las Vegas Raiders. Hurts has rushed for two touchdowns in each of his last two games. Billy Kilmer, for San Francisco in 1961, is the only quarterback to achieve the feat in three straight games.

The Green Bay Packers last lost at home to Washington in 1988, winning five in a row since with home-field advantage, and they put a 5-1 season record to the test when the teams meet again. Washington (2-4) are yielding an NFL-worst 31.0 points per game in 2021, matching the team's worst mark through six games of a season in the Super Bowl era (1998).

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