A Look Around The AFC South

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A Look Around The AFC South: 12.25.18

Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles (5) talks to the offensive team, during the second half at an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins, Sunday, Dec. 23, 2018, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles (5) talks to the offensive team, during the second half at an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins, Sunday, Dec. 23, 2018, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Houston Texans

The Houston Texans were on a plane returning from their loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday when they learned that Pittsburgh's loss to New Orleans had clinched their spot in the playoffs.

And according to coach Bill O'Brien the team did nothing to celebrate the moment.

"We were all watching the film, and just trying to be as honest as I can with you, there's was no reaction," O'Brien said.

Despite this, O'Brien knows that advancing to the postseason after how his team opened the season is something to be proud of.

"From 0-3 to where we are now there's definitely a sense that there were some things accomplished," he said. "But there's a lot left out there. We didn't win (Sunday). We had a chance to really do something (Sunday) and we didn't get it done."

A win against the Eagles would have given Houston (10-5) the AFC South title. After the 32-30 loss to Philadelphia on a last-second field goal, the Texans need a victory over Jacksonville to win their division, and a win and a loss or tie by New England to get a first-round bye.

They'll try and do that with a team riddled with injuries. Running back Lamar Miller missed Sunday's game and remains a question mark for the Jacksonville game with an ankle injury. His absence led to another day of struggles in the running game. Alfred Blue and D'Onta Foreman, who made his 2018 debut after tearing an Achilles tendon in November 2017, combined to rush for just 13 yards.

"We just haven't gotten it done," O'Brien said. "I don't know what else to tell you. We just have to keep trying to get better."

Star receiver DeAndre Hopkins played despite a gimpy ankle and O'Brien hopes he'll feel better by Sunday. But Houston will be without receiver Demaryius Thomas after he sustained what O'Brien indicated is a season-ending Achilles tendon injury against the Eagles.

The injury to Thomas is a blow to an already thin group of receivers. Houston traded for the four-time Pro Bowler on Oct. 30 after receiver Will Fuller tore a knee ligament. O'Brien wouldn't provide details on Thomas' injury, but his comments indicated he wouldn't play again this season.

"Demaryius is a great player, excellent pro, but I feel good about the guys that we have and some of the moves that we may make to help that position," O'Brien said. "I think we can do some things to take up the slack there a little bit. It will be a loss because he was such a good pro and a mentor — all of those things — but we have to move forward."

One player who could help fill in for Thomas is Keke Coutee. The rookie has played well when healthy, but has missed nine games, including the last four, with hamstring problems. O'Brien didn't rule out that Coutee could return against the Jaguars.

"He's a really good player," he said. "We like him. We'll just have to see how it goes this week."

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Secured a spot. #WeAreTexans

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Jacksonville Jaguars

Weeks after losing his job, Blake Bortles stepped back into the Jacksonville Jaguars huddle with the score tied and the offense sputtering.

"He said, 'Let's go, boys, I'm back,'" teammate Dede Westbrook said.

Bortles came off the bench late in the third quarter and provided a spark Sunday, helping Jacksonville eliminate the Miami Dolphins from the AFC playoff race by winning 17-7 .

Bortles took the Jaguars 51 yards for a short field goal and 10-7 lead early in the fourth quarter. On the next series, Telvin Smith Sr. intercepted Ryan Tannehill and scored on a 33-yard return to seal the Jaguars' victory.

"To get the opportunity to go play with those guys and share a win with them is awesome," Bortles said.

The Dolphins (7-8) will sit out the playoffs for the 15th time in the past 17 years.

"We're on the outside looking in," defensive tackle Akeem Spence said, "and it stinks."

Miami will finish at .500 or worse for the ninth time in the past 10 seasons, leaving the jobs of coach Adam Gase and top executives in jeopardy.

Play-caller Gase acknowledged his offense was terrible.

"It was brutal to watch, to be a part of," he said.

Jacksonville (5-10) won for only the second time in the past 11 games.

Jaguars starter Cody Kessler bruised his throwing shoulder when hit as he threw a pass and left the game late in the first half. He returned to begin the third quarter, but after being sacked for a fifth time was replaced again by Bortles.

Coach Doug Marrone said he made the change because he thought Bortles' superior mobility would help against Miami's stout pass rush. Marrone declined to say which quarterback will start the season finale next Sunday, and Bortles declined to lobby for the assignment.

"I just work here, man," he said. "I signed up for three years, and until those three years are up or they let me go, I'll play when they need me."

Bortles finished 5 of 6 for 39 yards, and ran four times for 25 yards . The third overall pick in the 2014 draft, he lost the starting job to Kessler in Week 13.

"He gave us a huge lift," Westbrook said. "It felt like old times again."

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Busting out the #VictoryMonday dance

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Tennessee Titans

The Titans have assured themselves of a third straight winning season for the first time since moving to Tennessee, and the NFL's longest current winning streak has them playing the final game of the regular season with a playoff berth on the line.

They'll find out Sunday night if that's enough to sell-out their home stadium with Titans fans.

Safety Kevin Byard believes they've done enough to convince fans to turn out.

"You have a team that's playing for a playoff spot, be one of the few teams that's going to be in the postseason," Byard said. "I think that's every motivation that everybody in Nashville should be in Nissan Stadium. I think we've done a great job this year and previous years. This game is a playoff game, and I think it's something we're trying to make history right now."

The Titans (9-6) will host Indianapolis (9-6) in a win-and-in prime-time showdown on Sunday night; the loser is done for the season. The Titans and Colts will play for at worst the AFC's second wild-card spot and the sixth overall seed with the AFC South title possible if Jacksonville beats Houston.

Crazier still, losses by Houston, Baltimore and New England could leave Sunday night's winner not only as a division champ but the No. 2 seed with a first-round bye.

It's almost unimaginable for the Titans after being 5-6 and fighting to get to .500 when December started. Now the Titans have won four straight to climb past teams like Cincinnati, Denver, Miami and now Pittsburgh. Only the Colts stand in their way now.

"We all can recognize we've been in the playoffs now going on five weeks, we've been in the playoffs for the past four weeks," coach Mike Vrabel said.

The Titans will have to wait and see if Marcus Mariota is available after a stinger knocked the quarterback out of their 25-16 victory over Washington on Saturday. That was the third game Mariota couldn't finish this season and seventh of his four-year career.

Vrabel said Mariota felt better Monday than the quarterback did after his last stinger Nov. 18 in a 38-10 loss in Indianapolis. Mariota didn't miss a start, but the Titans did bring back quarterback Austin Davis who spent two weeks on the active roster in September.

Mariota and the Titans are in a similar situation with an extra day to recover between games. Vrabel said they planned to test Mariota on Monday with individual drills while making sure through the rest of the week that the quarterback can do everything needed to play.

But the Titans will be without four-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jurrell Casey after they placed him on injured reserve Monday with a knee injury aggravated in the fourth quarter against the Redskins.

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ALL IN #TitanUp ⚔️

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