A Look Around The AFC South

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A Look Around The AFC South: 12.19.18

Washington Redskins outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan (91) tries to stop Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Cody Kessler (6) from throwing a pass during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
Washington Redskins outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan (91) tries to stop Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Cody Kessler (6) from throwing a pass during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

Houston Texans

The Houston Texans moved closer to clinching the AFC South by bouncing back from last week's loss with a win over the Jets.

Now they'll try to get banged-up players DeAndre Hopkins and Lamar Miller healthy before visiting the Super Bowl champion Eagles next week. A win could leave open the possibility of getting a first-round playoff bye.

The Texans (10-4) have won nine of their last 10 games after opening the season 0-3 to give coach Bill O'Brien 10 regular-season wins for the first time in his five years with the team. It's the first time the Texans have had 10 wins in the regular season since setting a franchise-record with 12 in 2012.

"It's great. I think 10 wins is hard to do in this league," O'Brien said. "I give our players and our coaching staff a ton of credit. Our players have worked very hard to get to this point in the season. There is a long way to go here."

The Texans led by 13 at halftime before the Jets rallied to take a 22-19 lead with 5:00 left in the fourth quarter. Deshaun Watson then connected with DeAndre Hopkins on a 14-yard touchdown to put the Texans on top, and they added a field goal after that to secure the 29-22 victory.

Hopkins injured his ankle in the fourth quarter and had to be helped off the field by teammates. But he returned after that and the injury doesn't appear serious.

Miller could be more of a concern after he hurt his ankle in the first quarter and returned for a series in the second before sitting out for the rest of the game. O'Brien said he doesn't think the injury is "major," but that he'd know more next week.

With Miller out on Saturday, Houston's only other active running back was Alfred Blue. Blue, who has been used this season to spell Miller, was ineffective against the Jets, finishing with nine carries for 6 yards.

If Miller is limited next week, the Texans could look to D'Onta Foreman to pick up the slack. Foreman was put on the active roster from the physically unable to perform on Dec. 4, but has been inactive in the two games since.

Foreman has been out since Nov. 19, 2017 when he tore his Achilles tendon after running for 327 yards and two touchdowns in his rookie season. O'Brien said they put him on the active roster because they thought he'd be able to help the team this season. He's been participating fully in practice, but it's unclear if he's ready to contribute in a game.

Another concern for the Texans this week is finding a way to better protect Watson. The second-year quarterback was taken down six times Saturday and has been sacked 52 times this season, most in the NFL.

"There is no doubt that there were too many sacks, absolutely no doubt about it," O'Brien said. "But ... I don't put all of that on the offensive line. Some of that is offensive line, some of it is route running, some of it is holding the ball too long, things like that. Some of it is play calling, and so hopefully we can get better."

Despite the sacks Watson had another solid game, throwing for 294 yards and two touchdowns. It was the most yards he's thrown for since finishing with 375 yards passing in a win over Dallas on Oct. 7.

His performance on Saturday made him the first player in NFL history to have at least 5,000 yards passing (5,291), 40 TD passes (43) and 700 yards (705) rushing in his first 21 games.

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Best. In. The. Game. #HOUvsNYJ (via @nfl)

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Jacksonville Jaguars

Quarterback Cody Kessler has taken the Jacksonville Jaguars to a new low in 2018.

The Jaguars (4-10) have totaled 658 yards in three games since Kessler replaced inconsistent starter Blake Bortles, including a season-low 192 yards in a 16-13 loss to Washington on Sunday. It's the franchise's worst three-game stretch of offense since Blaine Gabbert's second year in 2012.

But coach Doug Marrone doesn't plan on switching back to Bortles for the final two games of the season, beginning at Miami (7-7) on Sunday.

"All the players, we're telling them just to be ready to go," Marrone said Monday. "It's hard to evaluate when there's a high level of inconsistency around you."

The Jaguars have apparently moved on from Bortles, the third overall pick in the 2014 draft, and want to see whether Kessler deserves to be on the roster next season. Top decision-maker Tom Coughlin and general manager Dave Caldwell traded a conditional seventh-round draft pick to Cleveland to acquire Kessler as a backup in March.

Jacksonville is expected to draft a quarterback in April and sign an experienced starter to bridge whatever gap might be needed to get the rookie onto the field. Kessler could remain as a third option. He's due to make a little more than $900,000 in 2019.

Nonetheless, Kessler isn't exactly securing his future in Jacksonville.

Kessler has led the offense to one touchdown — a second-half scoring pass in a lopsided game at Tennessee — and four field goals in 31 possessions. It's the first time in franchise history that the Jags have managed just one offensive touchdown during any three-game stretch.

"We're not being able to make plays," Marrone said. "Run-game wise, we're not being consistent enough and I'm responsible for that, so that falls on me."

Kessler completed 9 of 17 passes for 57 yards against the Redskins, failing to complete one that traveled more than 10 yards in the air. He was sacked six times, but also ran for a team-leading 68 yards. He moved the chains on four third-down scrambles and picked up another 14 yards on a third-and-long play to get Kai Forbath a closer field goal.

Although Marrone acknowledged that Bortles could provide a spark for the team's listless offense, he said it's not all Kessler's fault. Marrone pointed to protection problems and a lack of a running game for the continued struggles.

The Jaguars, who have lost nine of their last 10 games, started nine offensive players against Washington who were either backups or not on the roster when the season began in September. Running back Leonard Fournette and right guard A.J. Cann were the only two carry-overs from the opener, and Fournette touched the ball just once in the second half of a close game.

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Pro Bowl #2.0 for @jalenramsey

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Tennessee Titans

Another week, another team leapfrogged by the Tennessee Titans in their chase of the AFC's sixth and final playoff spot.

But the Titans fully understand any scenario that has them returning to the postseason hinges on them continuing to win.

"Playoffs came a month early for us, so that's the mindset and mentality," linebacker Wesley Woodyard said. "Win and stay in. We're just taking it week by week."

That approach has the Titans (8-6) on a three-game winning streak and coming off a 17-0 shutout of the New York Giants . It was the franchise's first shutout since Dec. 25, 2000 and only its fourth ever on the road. Now the Titans are back home on a short week hosting the Washington Redskins (7-7) on Saturday, waiting to see if either Baltimore or Pittsburgh loses to set up a winner goes to the playoffs game Dec. 30 between Tennessee and the Colts.

The Titans already are 3-0 against the NFC East and can finish off a sweep Saturday.

"For us, we just worry about focusing and winning this game," cornerback Adoree Jackson said. "At the end of the day we can't really think about whatever division that is or the playoffs. It is all about just winning the game in front of you. One game at a time, one series and one snap at a time. We have to lock in. Having a short week it is going to be a lot about being prepared. Get our bodies ready to go. We have to be there, be ready and be sharp."

Coach Mike Vrabel has had plenty of practice getting the Titans ready on a short week in his debut season.

This will be the fourth such game in seven weeks for the Titans who are 3-0 with wins over the Patriots, Jets and Jaguars. Vrabel said he's following the same approach, giving the Titans the day off Monday and bringing them back to work at noon Tuesday to allow as much time to recuperate as possible.

"Right now, it's about taking care of our bodies and our health and getting everybody back that we can possibly get back on a week that's one day shorter," Vrabel said.

The Titans will be without starting cornerback Logan Ryan, who announced Monday morning that he broke his left leg and will miss the rest of the season. Rookie linebacker Sharif Finch also hurt his left shoulder, and safety Kenny Vaccaro is in the concussion protocol. The Titans placed right tackle Jack Conklin and tight end Jonnu Smith on injured reserve last week for a total of eight players out for the season.

Linebacker Brian Orakpo missed his first game since signing with Tennessee in 2015, snapping a streak of 61 straight starts because of an injured elbow.

"We'll kind of see how everybody is feeling and where we're at," Vrabel said.

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Remember the Titans 🙌🏽

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