INDIANAPOLIS — With the AFC South Division championship already wrapped up, the Indianapolis Colts, Houston Texans, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday played what could’ve been perceived as meaningless games.
But don’t tell that to those four teams.
For the Texans, their game against the Titans was a chance to try to gain some momentum as they head into Saturday’s first round of the playoffs. But the Colts, Titans and Jaguars, their games were opportunities to evaluate their current players one more time before beginning to formulate their offseason rosters.
And, as it turned out, both games — Texans/Titans and Colts/Jaguars — were actually pretty good. Tennessee earned its ninth win of the season with a 24-17 victory over the Texans, while the Colts made a major comeback to earn a 24-20 victory over the Jaguars in what was outside linebacker Robert Mathis’ final game.
Now, the Texans begin preparations for the Oakland Raiders in Saturday’s Wild Card round of the playoffs, while the Colts, Titans and Jaguars dive right into their plans for the 2017 NFL Draft.
But before we get too far into the postseason/offseason, let’s take a comprehensive look around the AFC South during Week 17 of the 2016 regular season, via the AP:
• Indianapolis Colts 24, Jacksonville Jaguars 20:
Indianapolis Colts linebacker Robert Mathis left football the way he wanted Sunday.
He got one more strip-sack for the record books, one more football for his family, and one more win for his personal resume — even if he did have to thank a quarterback for making it possible.
Andrew Luck threw a 1-yard TD pass to Jack Doyle with 9 seconds left, giving the Colts a 24-20 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars that set off a frenzied postgame farewell celebration two days after Mathis announced he was retiring.
"You just don't want it to end, but to be in position to say goodbye to the fans and the teammates the way they did, I can't ask for anything more," Mathis said. "I was extremely nervous, like more than usual for some reason. I guess for obvious reasons."
The game had more impact on draft position than playoff position, and the final result may play some role in what the two team owners decide to do with their coaches.
Otherwise, it was all about milestone feats, Bill Polian's induction into the Colts' Ring of Honor and the departure of Mathis, Indy's career sacks leader (123).
Unlike many of his former high-profile teammates — Peyton Manning, Dwight Freeney, Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne — Mathis was able to go out on his own terms and received the kind of send-off the others did not.
There was a tribute video during his final introduction; highlights played throughout the game; a halftime hug from Polian; and a public postgame celebration with his wife and children on the field. Teammates, coaches and even a couple of Jaguars came over to congratulate Mathis.
"This is the only fitting ending for one of the greatest players of all time, one of the greatest pass rushers of all time and probably one of the greatest teammates of all time," Luck said after going 24 of 40 with 321 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
It couldn't have happened without him.
Luck rallied the Colts from a 17-0 halftime deficit by leading them to two third-quarter touchdowns and then, with no timeouts and down 20-17, took Indy (8-8) on a season-closing 75-yard TD drive that ended with the TD pass to Doyle. It took 84 seconds and left Jacksonville (3-13), which had just taken a 20-17 lead with 1:33 to go, with barely enough time for one miracle play.
Mathis' teammates snuffed that out as time expired.
"It kind of speaks of our year," Jags quarterback Blake Bortles said after blowing the lead and matching the second-worst record in franchise history. "You take what you can from this game and move forward."
• Tennessee Titans 24, Houston Texans 17:
The Houston Texans are going into the playoffs with their quarterback situation unsettled once again, this time a combination of injury and improved play by Brock Osweiler.
Tom Savage wound up sidelined by a concussion Sunday, and Osweiler played well enough after coming off the bench in Houston's 24-17 loss at Tennessee that coach Bill O'Brien said the Texans will be evaluating who starts their AFC wild-card game.
"We will talk about that as a staff," O'Brien said. "We will talk about that tomorrow and the next day."
Savage started for the AFC South champions, left in the second quarter to be evaluated for a concussion and was cleared. He took a snap to kneel down on the final play of the first half, and O'Brien told team radio Savage would play in the second half. But Savage was diagnosed with a concussion after being re-evaluated at halftime.
O'Brien said he did not know what happened. The Texans (9-7) will host Oakland (12-4) next weekend.
That left Osweiler, benched during a win over Jacksonville on Dec. 18, running the offense. He threw for 253 yards and a touchdown and also ran for a 1-yard TD on fourth-and-goal in the fourth quarter.
Osweiler had one final chance to tie with Houston getting the ball with 53 seconds left. But he was sacked and threw incomplete on fourth down as Tennessee held on.
"He did a good job," O'Brien said. "He competed. Guys got open for him. He threw the ball. Did a nice job for us."
Osweiler, the quarterback signed away from Denver for $72 million, said he absolutely wants to start in the playoffs.
"You play this game to be a starter," Osweiler said. "You play this game to contribute positively to your team, so I would absolutely love to start this playoff game. But at the end of the day I don't make those decisions."
Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins said nobody panicked when Savage left the game.
"We hate that Tom went down the way he did," Hopkins said. The guy's just getting his chance in this league. But this is the NFL, and it's next man up."
DaQuan Jones recovered a fumble for a touchdown in the first quarter, and the Titans never trailed to finish with their first winning season since 2011.
The Titans (9-7) also ended a five-game skid to the two-time AFC South champs, who had beaten Tennessee eight of the previous nine games in this series. With their six-win improvement from going 3-13 in 2015, the Titans matched the biggest one-year turnaround in franchise history, previously set in 1967 and 1974.
Matt Cassel also threw for a touchdown in his first start this season in place of an injured Marcus Mariota, and Derrick Henry ran for a TD.
The Texans had little at stake except sweeping the AFC South for the first time in franchise history. They deactivated six starters before kickoff and had just one starter in on defense by midway through the third quarter. Undrafted rookie Joel Heath had two of the Texans' four sacks.