INDIANAPOLIS — Football is officially back, and it will really feel that way tomorrow, when the Indianapolis Colts open up 2017 preseason play when they take on the Detroit Lions at Lucas Oil Stadium.
But when they take the field at 1:30 p.m., the Colts will actually be the final AFC South Division team to have begun their preseason slate.
The Houston Texans led things off on Wednesday with a 27-17 loss to the Carolina Panthers, while the Jacksonville Jaguars opened up their preseason with a 31-24 victory over the New England Patriots.
The Tennessee Titans, meanwhile, make their preseason debut tonight, when they travel to take on the New York Jets.
So what's the latest on the Colts' AFC South rivals? Let's take our weekly look around the division:Houston Texans
Deshaun Watson reminded everyone why Panthers coach Ron Rivera — and many others — felt he should have won the Heisman Trophy last season.
Watson shined in his NFL preseason debut, completing 15 of 25 passes for 179 yards and running for a score in the Houston Texans' 27-17 loss to the Carolina Panthers on Wednesday night.
Watson, who led Clemson to the ACC championship on this field last December en route to winning the national championship, received a rousing ovation from Tigers fans dressed in orange when he entered the game in the second quarter.
The cheers grew louder when Watson outran two defenders for a 15-yard touchdown — although Panthers fans tried to cover the celebration with boos.
"It was good just to get my feet wet," said Watson, who was pleased with his overall effort.
Houston's first-round draft pick looked comfortable in the pocket, stepping up to avoid pressure and getting rid of the football in a timely manner. He didn't let penalties on his team affect him and didn't turn the ball over in nearly three quarters of play.
"He's a smart player, an instinctive player," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said.
"For the first game out there I thought he did some good things. That's a big jump from college to the NFL and I thought he handled it pretty well."
Tom Savage went three-and-out on his first two possessions against Carolina's first-team defense. Savage had better luck with Carolina's starters out of the game, completing 8 of 8 passes for 67 yards on his final drive capped by a 16-yard TD run by Alfred Blue.
(via The Associated Press)Jacksonville Jaguars
Jimmy Garoppolo missed his chance at an on-field audition when he was injured during Tom Brady's four-game "Deflategate" suspension last season.
So this might be his best chance to show the Patriots — or another team that wants to trade for him — that he's ready to be an NFL starter.
"Coach always has us guessing," the heir apparent said Thursday night after completing a Brady-like 22 of 28 passes for 235 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-24 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
"You never know if you're going to play a little or a lot," said Garoppolo, who played two quarters and then went out for two more series in the second half while coach Bill Belichick sat the reigning Super Bowl MVP out. "When he put me back in, I was happy to get back out there with the guys."
Chad Henne hit Keelan Cole on a 97-yard touchdown pass, Corey Grant scored on a 79-yard run and the Jacksonville Jaguars feasted on a Patriots lineup without Brady and Rob Gronkowski — or much defense at all — to beat the defending NFL champions in their exhibition opener.
Garoppolo completed 13 straight passes at one point, finding Austin Carr on a 3-yard touchdown pass at the end of the first half and then K.J. Maye from 5 yards out to start the second and make it 17-17.
But the New England defense followed by giving up another one-play scoring drive — this one Grant's run down the left sideline to make it 24-17.
"One of our basic plays. Coach called the play. The O line did their job. And then it was up to me to make that one guy miss," Grant said. "And then it was off to the races."
Third-string QB Brandon Allen hit Dede Westbrook from 42 yards out — victimizing Patriots cornerback Cyrus Jones for another big play — to make it a two-touchdown game. "We weren't expecting the touchdown, but everything worked out perfectly," Westbrook said.
Garoppolo was drafted in the second round in 2014 and has been stuck behind Brady, a five-time Super Bowl champion who has shown no signs of slowing down at 40 years old. The backup's big chance might have been last year, when Brady was suspended the first four games of the season, but Garoppolo only lasted five quarters before a shoulder injury knocked him out.
Unless Brady gets injured, these exhibition games are probably Garoppolo's only chance before he is eligible for free agency at the end of the season to show other teams he can play.
"He makes the throws and he led his team up and down the field," Jaguars defensive end Calais Campbell said. "I have a lot of respect for him and I am excited to see when he becomes a starter some day and see how he does."
Grant ran for 120 yards on eight carries for the Jaguars, who were playing their first game under new coach Doug Marrone after firing Gus Bradley following a 3-13 record. Executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin, the former New York Giants coach who twice beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl, watched from the press level.
Jaguars starter Blake Bortles completed 3 of 5 passes for 16 yards in two offensive series that resulted in one field goal. Henne came on with one play left in the first quarter and went 5 of 6 for 139 yards.
(*via The Associated Press*)Tennessee Titans
Wide receiver Eric Decker insists he has no desire to go out Saturday night and remind the New York Jets what they're missing after letting him go in June as part of the team's salary cap purge.
Oh sure, he'll say hello to a few old buddies, maybe even a coach or two.
But Decker is focused on improving his chemistry with Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota two weeks into training camp with his new team.
"I don't worry about that stuff," Decker said Thursday . "I know I still got it, and I'm happy to be here. I'm excited about what we're capable of doing. Just have to put the work in."
Decker was just the latest of several big names released when the Jets cut him June 12 to save $7.25 million in salary after failing to trade the 30-year-old receiver . Decker had interest from some teams as a free agent but signed with the Titans in Nashville, where his family has a home.
The seven-year veteran with 385 receptions for 5,253 yards and 52 touchdowns has shown an immediate chemistry with Mariota. Decker also has shown off the precise route-running and hands that earned him a five-year, $36.25 million deal from the Jets in March 2014.
The Titans aren't counting on Decker to start, though he should be on the field alongside Rishard Matthews in the preseason opener because rookie Corey Davis is recovering from a strained hamstring .
Titans coach Mike Mularkey says he doesn't think Decker has any type of payback approach to this game.
"He's going to try and operate at a high level for us with this new system that he's in," Mularkey said. "I think it would be more of 'I don't want to disappoint us' than 'try to wow them' in my opinion. That's just the personality the guy has."
The analysis from those producing content on Colts.com does not necessarily represent the thoughts of the Indianapolis Colts organization. Any conjecture, analysis or opinions formed by Colts.com content creators is not based on inside knowledge gained from team officials, players or staff.