INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts' grasp on first place in the AFC South Division was short lived — and now they need help.
After the Colts' 22-17 loss to the Houston Texans on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium — coupled with the Tennessee Titans' victory against the Denver Broncos — the Texans and Titans, at 7-6, now sit atop the AFC South with just three games remaining, while the Colts (6-7) are on the outside looking in.
To even get a shot at the division crown, the Colts have to win their three remaining games, first and foremost, and then they need the Texans to go 1-2 and the Titans to go 2-1 the rest of the way.
… And then there's the Jacksonville Jaguars, who find themselves at 2-11 and mired in an eight-game losing streak.
The Colts hope to keep their slim postseason hopes alive on Sunday, when they travel to balmy Minneapolis to take on the Vikings and their talented defense.
But before we jump to far ahead into the Week 15 games, let's take a comprehensive look around the AFC South during Week 14 of the 2016 regular season, via the AP:Houston Texans 22, Indianapolis Colts 17
The Houston Texans hoped to cash in on a hefty offseason investment in the offense.
Turns out, their rugged defense may still be the way to the playoffs.
Photo highlights from the Colts vs Texans game at Lucas Oil Stadium.
On a day the Texans scored only one touchdown against Indianapolis, the defense forced three turnovers and stopped the Colts on fourth-and-1 with 1:24 left in the game to preserve a 22-17 win on Sunday.
"What the defense did is truly unbelievable," quarterback Brock Osweiler said. "It was like a playoff game."
Win a couple more, and it will be a playoff game.
By snapping a three-game losing streak, Houston (7-6) and Tennessee remained tied atop the AFC South though the Texans are better positioned because of season sweeps over the Titans and Colts (6-7).
The Texans won their second straight game in Indy after losing their first 13 and have won nine straight over division foes.
This one sure wasn't easy.
Nick Novak made five field goals, Lamar Miller ran 21 times for 107 yards and scored on a 2-yard run late in the first half for all of the points.
Osweiler, meanwhile, went 14 of 24 for 147 yards with no touchdowns despite twice starting drives inside the Colts 20-yard line.
Still, the old-school style played right into the hands of Houston's defense, which picked off Andrew Luck twice and recovered a fumble after Jadeveon Clowney beat tight end Dwayne Allen on third-and-goal from the 3-yard line.
They finished it off by beating the Colts with a blitz that forced an errant throw on Indy's final play.
Luck blamed himself.
"Bad plays, I mean those turnovers," he said after going 24 of 45 for 276 yards with two TD passes. "We didn't execute and you've got to execute to have a chance to win the game."
After the Colts took a 3-0 lead on their opening series, they didn't score again until Frank Gore took a screen pass and raced 18 yards to the end zone to make it 16-10 early in the third quarter. T.Y. Hilton scored on a 35-yard TD pass early in the fourth, cutting the deficit to 19-17.
But the Texans used nearly 6½ minutes on the ensuing drive to set up Novak's 34-yard field goal, and the defense, as it did all day, held up.
"Was it perfect by any means? No. But we got the job done," Osweiler said.Minnesota Vikings 25, Jacksonville Jaguars 16
Just about everything that could have gone wrong for Minnesota did.
The Vikings lost the turnover battle, failed to score twice inside the 1-yard line and allowed a fourth-down conversion on a fake punt. Those kinds of mistakes normally would doom a team. Not against the hapless Jacksonville Jaguars.
Matt Asiata scored on a short touchdown run , Kai Forbath kicked four field goals and the Vikings beat the Jacksonville Jaguars 25-16 on Sunday, winning for just the second time in nine weeks.
"This was huge to win today," tight end Kyle Rudolph said. "The situation we put ourselves in, we feel we have to win out. You can't win out until you win the first one."
Asiata had a chance to score three times, but he was stopped on a fourth-and-goal run in the second quarter and fumbled at the goal line in the fourth. Those turned out to be mere speedbumps against Jacksonville (2-11), which dropped its record-tying eighth consecutive game and fell to 0-6 at EverBank Field this season.
Minnesota (7-6) hadn't won on the road since Sept. 25 at Carolina and needed a victory to keep pace in the NFC playoff picture.
"We know what lies ahead for us and we felt we needed to win this one to get us going," running back Jerick McKinnon said.
Sam Bradford completed 24 of 34 passes for 292 yards and a touchdown. He wasn't sacked and scrambled four times for 17 yards. His 3-yard TD toss to Rudolph with 2:13 remaining sealed the victory.
"It was big for us just to get back on a winning track in general," Rudolph said. "We know we're going to have to win our last four games, so we needed this one to get us started."
The Vikings finish the season against Indianapolis, Green Bay and Chicago.
The Jaguars, meanwhile, will try to avoid setting a franchise record by losing their ninth in a row next week at Houston.
"It's tough anytime you lose," quarterback Blake Bortles said. "I know for me personally, I can't wait to play on Sunday the following week and get another opportunity and hopefully to try to erase some of this stuff that's going on and maybe wake up from this nightmare.
"With these last three weeks left and then having to live six months until you get another opportunity, I think is more fearful than counting down the days until it's over. I don't want to have to go through those six months."Tennessee Titans 13, Denver Broncos 10
A year ago, the Tennessee Titans lost their way in the race for the No. 1 overall draft pick. Now they find themselves tied atop the AFC South and coming off a very big upset of the defending Super Bowl champions.
DeMarco Murray ran for 92 yards and a touchdown, and the Titans held on to beat the Denver Broncos 13-10 Sunday and keep a piece of the lead in their division.
"We're definitely a team that's on the rise," Titans linebacker Brian Orakpo said.
With the win, the Titans (7-6) also climbed above .500 for the first time all season. They are tied atop the AFC South with Houston, a 22-17 winner over Indianapolis. Tennessee hosts Houston in the regular-season finale Jan. 1.
"All it does is just reconfirm what we're doing, that we can play with anybody in this league," Titans coach Mike Mularkey said.
The Titans came in with the NFL's third-best rushing offense and the AFC's top runner in Murray, and they ran right over a Denver defense that came in 28th in that category. By halftime, the Titans led 13-0 having run 26 times for 138 yards — the second-most rushes by any team in the first half this season and most allowed in the first half by Denver since 2014.
Tennessee then had to hold on as Trevor Siemian tried to rally Denver (8-5) despite a sprained left foot that kept him out last week. He threw a 3-yard TD pass to Emmanuel Sanders with 9:58 left and drove the Broncos to first-and-goal at the Tennessee 7 before rookie Aaron Wallace sacked him.
Coach Gary Kubiak settled for a 34-yard field goal by Brandon McManus on fourth-and-goal at the 16 with 4:28 left.
Siemian was driving the Broncos again when A.J. Derby fumbled after a catch. Safety Daimion Stafford recovered with 53 seconds left, and the Titans finished off their biggest win in years.
"We had our chances down the stretch and we didn't make the plays, but the start sure as heck didn't help us," Siemian said.