A Look Around The AFC South

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A Look Around The AFC South: 10.23.18

Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles (5) fumbles the ball as he is hit by Houston Texans linebacker Whitney Mercilus, top, during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles (5) fumbles the ball as he is hit by Houston Texans linebacker Whitney Mercilus, top, during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Houston Texans

The Houston Texans have put their 0-3 start behind them, winning four straight games capped by Sunday's victory over the Jaguars to move into first place in the AFC South.

But they won't have much time to celebrate their recent success with the Dolphins coming to town on Thursday night.

"We got a lot to prove," safety Tyrann Mathieu said. "Anytime you win four games in a row you set a standard for yourself. I think it's a standard that we'll have to live up to, especially since it's a short week.

"Miami is a hot team, so we have big challenge coming Thursday. We have to get over this game. It was a big game and a big win, but we have to get over it quickly."

Coach Bill O'Brien knows that most people wrote his team off after its terrible start, but he insists he never doubted that he had a good team which could turn things around.

"I knew that the team had the resolve to be able to really take the cliche of one day at a time, one play at a time, really take that to heart and make it work," he said. "Those are clichés unless you actually make them work, and this is the type of team we have. We have a mentally tough team."

Quarterback Deshaun Watson agreed with his coach, but was quick to point out that they still have a lot of work to do.

"We were down and out, and everybody was counting us out," Watson said. "The thing is we have guys on this team who understand that early on it doesn't matter. We just put our heads down and kept working and now we have to continue to do the same thing."

Houston's first three wins in this streak were close games, with two of them coming in overtime. But on Sunday against the Jaguars, the Texans jumped out to a 20-0 lead and came away with a 20-7 win on a day they forced three turnovers.

Another key to Houston's win over Jacksonville was success in the red zone. After struggling in the area all season, the Texans scored a touchdown on two of their three trips inside the 20-yard line on Sunday to roll to the easy win.

Despite Watson's solid play in the win on Sunday, the Texans faced more questions about his health after it was revealed that he made the 800-mile trip from Houston to Jacksonville by bus because they were worried about how air pressure from flying would affect his bruised lung and injured ribs.

O'Brien wouldn't provide any more details on Monday about why he took the bus, but said that he didn't expect his travel to be impacted by his injury in the future.

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Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jacksonville Jaguars are sticking with Blake Bortles as their starting quarterback.

Coach Doug Marrone made the announcement Monday, one day after benching Bortles early in the third quarter of a 20-7 loss to Houston.

"I spoke to both quarterbacks this afternoon and told them Blake will be our team's starting quarterback," Marrone said in a statement. "I believe this gives us the best opportunity to win."

Bortles fumbled on Jacksonville's third play in each half, leading to 10 points for the Texans and prompting Marrone to switch to Cody Kessler. Marrone said after the game he would open up the QB job for the second time in as many years. He also benched Bortles in the 2017 preseason, only to give him back the job nine days later.

Marrone took less than 24 hours to go back to Bortles this time, saying he will start Sunday's game against Philadelphia (3-4) in London.

The Jaguars (3-4) have lost three in a row and four of five, derailing a season that started with Super Bowl aspirations.

Jacksonville seemingly reached a low point Sunday when the locker room erupted in fiery emotion following a third consecutive lopsided loss in which the offense failed to score in the first half. Calais Campbell was seen holding back fellow defensive end Yannick Ngakoue when the locker room briefly opened to the media. It was the final scene of frustration that also included screaming, shouting and finger pointing.

Campbell, an 11-year veteran and one of six team captains, called a players-only meetings Monday to "talk about some issues."

"Will it help?" defensive tackle Malik Jackson said. "Hopefully so. Hopefully guys will speak up and not be silent, hopefully talk about some issues that they feel are bothering them."

The Jaguars have been mostly inept on both sides of the ball during the losing streak, trailing 23-0 at Kansas City, 24-0 at Dallas and 20-0 at home against the Texans.

The injury-riddled offense can't do what it's built to do — run the football — and has a lackluster receiving corps dropping balls at inopportune times. The high-profile defense can't stop the run and has allowed too many big plays.

"People are strained," Jackson said. "This is a business about producing, about winning, and we're not producing or winning right now. This locker room is not going to tear apart for a few losses. Hell, we went 3-13 our first year here."

The expectations were much higher after advancing to the AFC title game in January, which is why the locker room started to crack and crumble.

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Tennessee Titans

The Tennessee Titans will not be escaping quickly now that they're back from London and mired in a three-game skid.

First-year head coach Mike Vrabel wants to look closely at what the Titans (3-4) must fix to snap that skid that cost them the lead in the AFC South for a franchise that hasn't won its division since 2008. The Titans also get a little bit more time around their bye with their next game not until Nov. 5 in prime-time at Dallas.

"Losing is never going to feel good," Vrabel said Monday. "I think that they realize that things aren't broken. We just have to fix a few things and finish off a game. We have to try to figure out a way to win a game."

Vrabel gave the Titans the day off Monday after Tennessee arrived back in Nashville in the wee hours from their 20-19 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers in London. The Titans will work Tuesday and Wednesday before getting their break for the bye.

Even with a day to think about his decision to go for the 2-point conversion and the lead with 31 seconds left, Vrabel still isn't second-guessing himself or offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur. Marcus Mariota's pass to Taywan Taylor was incomplete, even though Dion Lewis appeared open to the right side on a day he caught all six passes thrown to him for 64 yards.

Vrabel refused to call that a misread by Mariota.

"We didn't execute the play," Vrabel said. "We didn't score, we didn't get open well enough. We didn't block well enough. Unfortunately, that's not good. That's not good enough."

As the Titans look at themselves, dropped passes remain an issue for an offense that ranks 30th in yards passing and 30th in points scored per game. The Titans rank second in the NFL dropping 6.3 percent of passes overall with the third-most drops on third down, according to NFL Matchup on ESPN.

Taylor dropped a pass earlier in the fourth quarter and caught only one pass for 8 yards. Corey Davis, the fifth overall pick in 2017, caught three for 10 yards. He also dropped a pass on the same drive as Taylor, failing to bring in the ball with one hand.

The Titans rank eighth in the NFL in passing defense, yet giving up long passes remains an issue. They gave up a 75-yard touchdown pass on the Chargers' first offensive play and a 55-yarder for the only TDs allowed by a Tennessee defense that ranks third in fewest points allowed per game.

Cornerback Malcolm Butler, the Titans' big free agent addition in March didn't start and was limited to 29 snaps. Vrabel said there were a lot of problems on the two TD passes allowed and he wants players not trying to do someone else's job.

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