Sixth Consecutive Victory Keeps Colts at the Head of AFC Playoff Chase
INDIANAPOLIS – A memorable streak officially ended Sunday.
But the Colts have a very real chance to keep another streak – and an equally imant one – alive. They moved a step closer to maintaining the second streak the day the first ended.
The Colts (9-4), the AFC South champions from 2003-2007, were eliminated from division title contention Sunday when the Tennessee Titans (12-1) beat the Cleveland Browns, 28-9, to clinch the South for the first time since 2002, the division's inception. Although the Colts and Titans can still finish tied at 12-4, the TItans are ensured of winning the fourth tiebreaker against the Colts: a superior record in common games.
But on that same day, the Colts continued to enhance their position in the AFC Wild Card chase.
The Colts, who slipped under .500 after back-to-back losses in late October, won their sixth consecutive game on Sunday, beating the Cincinnati Bengals, 35-3, at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis.
The victory enabled the Colts to maintain their hold on the No. 5 seed in the AFC, holding that position over Baltimore (9-4) because of a superior conference record and a head-to-head victory at home against the Ravens in early October.
The Colts and Baltimore lead the New York Jets, New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins, who are tied atop the AFC East at 8-5. One of those teams likely will win the division.
Denver (8-5) leads the AFC West by three games and can clinch the division with a victory Sunday, and Pittsburgh (10-3) leads the North by two games.
Four division champions advance to the playoffs from each conference along with the non-division winners with the best record.
A look at the rest of the AFC and AFC South:
Tennessee Titans (12-1)
Last week: The Titans beat the Cleveland Browns, 28-9, at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn., on Sunday.
Next week: At Houston (6-7) Sunday.
Recent trend: The Titans, who lost for the first time this season two weeks ago the New York Jets, have won 15 of their past 16 regular-season games. A loss two weeks ago to the New York Jets snapped a league-best 13-game regular-season winning streak, which was a franchise record. On Sunday, they clinched their first AFC South title since 2002.
What happened Sunday: The Titans clinched the AFC South title with a dominant victory at home, and did so despite committing three turnovers and a season-high 13 penalties. Playing a Browns team that was starting third-team quarterback Ken Dorsey, Tennessee limited Cleveland to 178 total yards and overcame a 6-0 deficit en route to a 19-point victory.
Statistically speaking: The Titans by one yard missed having a second consecutive game with two running backs over 100 yards rushing. Chris Johnson rushed for 136 yards and LenDale White rushed for 99 against Cleveland on Sunday. A week ago against Detroit, Johnson rushed for 125 yards and White rushed for 106 yards.
Coming up: The Titans will visit Houston (6-7) Sunday before finishing the season by playing host to Pittsburgh (10-3) and visiting Indianapolis (9-4).
Quote to note: "We are all pleased, and we are all happy that we won the division. But we know there are a lot of things left that we want to accomplish. Today was a good first step. We accomplished one of our goals. But we have got a lot of work ahead of us."
--- Titans Quarterback Kerry Collins
Houston Texans (6-7)
Last week: The Texans beat the Green Bay Packers, 24-21, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis., Sunday.
Next week: Home against Tennessee (12-1).
Recent trend: The Texans, after three consecutive losses, have won their last three games – at Cleveland, at home against Jacksonville and at Green Bay. The Texans' season has been one of streaks, with Houston losing the first four games of the season before a three-game winning streak. The Texans, a year after finishing .500 for the first time in franchise history, must win two of their last three games to avert a sixth losing season in seven years.
What happened Sunday: After a difficult start to the season, the Texans moved a step closer to .500 with a dramatic victory at one of the NFL's toughest venues. Houston beat the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field in Green Bay despite committing four turnovers, winning when kicker Kris Brown converted a 40-yard field goal on the game's final play.
Statistically speaking: Quarterback Matt Schaub, after missing the last four games with a knee injury, completed 28 of 42 passes for a career-high 414 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. Houston produced 549 yards total offense.
Coming up: The Texans will play host to Tennessee (12-1). They finish the season with a road game at Oakland (3-10) and a home game against Chicago (7-6).
Quote to note: "It's hard to describe, just a lot of excitement for the guys that are in that locker room because every single guy put it on the line today. We needed everybody in order to win that game. We had every opportunity to win it early on and we gave them opportunities to get back in the game, which they did. And then we just had to make another play. We were able to do that and overcome the adversity of being backed up on that last drive. Guys just ended up making plays, and it's just exciting for our team."
--- Texans Quarterback Matt Schaub
Jacksonville Jaguars (4-9)
Last week: The Jaguars lost to the Chicago Bears, 23-10, at Soldier Field in Chicago, Ill., on Sunday.
Next week: Home against Green Bay (5-8).
Recent trend: A team selected by many to contend for the AFC South title, the Jaguars have lost four consecutive games and six of their last seven to ensure themselves a sub-.500 record. The Jaguars haven't been under .500 after 11 games since 2003, Head Coach Jack Del Rio's first season. They have lost four consecutive home games and are 1-5 in Jacksonville this season after going 6-2 at home last season.
What happened Sunday: The Jaguars' difficult second half of the season continued, with a fourth consecutive loss coming at Soldier Field in Chicago. Against the Bears, the Jaguars fell behind 20-3 at halftime and never threatened again with quarterback David Garrard completing 19 of 38 passes for 178 yards a touchdown and an interception. Garrard also was sacked three times.
Statistically speaking: Jaguars running back Fred Taylor rushed for 53 yards to pass Corey Dillon and O.J. Simpson into 16th place on the NFL's all-time rushing list.
Coming up: The Jaguars will play host to Green Bay (5-8) and Indianapolis (9-4) the next two weeks. They then finish the season at Baltimore (9-4).
Quote to note: "Certainly, having some success generates some momentum – an energy-begets-energy type of thing. It can snowball in a positive way. We really haven't had that. In fact, we've really had more of the other, where even when we begin to get a few things going we have some deflating things come up that you have to fight like heck to overcome."
--- Jaguars Head Coach Jack Del Rio
New York Jets (8-5): After surging to the front of the AFC East with back-to-back victories over New England and Tennessee, the Jets have lost two consecutive games, first to the Denver Broncos (34-17) and Sunday to the San Francisco 49ers (24-14). The 49ers held New York to 182 total yards and 10 first downs, with Jets quarterback Brett Favre completing 10 of 21 passes for 137 yards and no touchdowns with an interception. They are now tied with New England and Miami in a tightly-contested division race. "I don't sense desperation,'' Favre said. "We're still in decent shape . . . but if we continue to play the way we have, we won't be.''
New England (8-5): With their playoff hopes seemingly fading, the Patriots did what championship teams do, rallying from a fourth-quarter deficit for a 24-21 victory over the Seahawks at Seattle. New England, the five-time defending AFC East champion, is now 18-1 the week after a loss under Head Coach Bill Belichick. The Patriot trailed 21-13 in the fourth quarter before rallying to improve to 21-2 in December since 2003.
Miami (8-5): Last season seems a long time ago in Miami. A year ago, they were 1-15. Now, with three games remaining, they are tied for first place in the AFC East. On Sunday, they traveled to Toronto, Canada, and dominated the struggling Bills, 16-3. The Dolphins' sixth victory in seven games moved them into a three-way tie with the Jets and Patriots. "The story does keep getting better,'' safety Yeremiah Bell said. "This is something that's definitely sweet, going from one win to being in every game this year and having a legitimate chance to win. It's a great feeling.'' Miami has won three consecutive road games for the first time in three seasons and is three games above .500 for the first time since 2001.
Buffalo (6-7): As hot as any team in the NFL early in the season, the Bills have lost six of their last seven games to slip from first to last in the AFC East. On Sunday, they played host to the Dolphins in Toronto rather than Orchard Park, N.Y., as part of an eight-game agreement that will run through 2012. The Bills had won seven of nine games against the Dolphins all-time in Buffalo in December, but playing indoors on Sunday, Miami outgained Buffalo, 295-163, en route to a victory that all but ended Buffalo's fading playoff hopes.
Pittsburgh (10-3): The Steelers on Sunday moved a step closer to clinching the No. 2 seed in the AFC with a come-from-behind victory over the Dallas Cowboys. Playing at home, the Steelers rallied from a 10-point deficit with two touchdowns in the final 2:04 to win their fourth consecutive game. Cornerback Deshea Townsend's 26-yard interception return with 1:40 remaining came 26 seconds after Ben Roethlisberger's 6-yard touchdown pass to Heath Miller and gave Pittsburgh a dramatic 20-13 victory.
Baltimore (9-4): A dominant defense and consistent offense has been more than enough to keep the Ravens very much in the AFC wild-card chase. The Ravens trail currently hold the No. 6 seed in the AFC, a game ahead of New England, Miami and the New York Jets, one of which likely will win the AFC East. On Sunday night, the Ravens took a 14-0 lead in a 24-10 victory over the Washington Redskins. Baltimore forced three turnovers and clinched the victory when quarterback Joe Flacco passed 28 yards to wide receiver Derrick Mason with 3:44 remaining.
Cleveland (4-9): A difficult season for the Browns continues to get tougher. They lost their top two quarterbacks to injuries the past two weeks, and on Sunday, were outgained by 212 yards in a 28-9 loss to the Tennessee Titans. A season after going 10-6 and missing the playoffs by a game, the Browns are assured of a losing season and have all-but been eliminated from the postseason. "We're not last year's team," returner Joshua Cribbs said. "We have a different football team. We have to play better football."
Cincinnati (1-11-1): The Bengals' struggles continued Sunday, committing four turnovers and never leading in a 35-3 point loss to Indianapolis. Cincinnati, which is now 0-7 on the road this season, has been outscored, 96-16, in its last three games and the Bengals have gone the last 11 quarters without scoring a touchdown.
Denver (8-5): After losing three consecutive games at home, the Broncos ended that streak in come-from-behind fashion, moving closer to the AFC West title in the process. Denver, which last qualified for the postseason in 2005, can win the West with a victory at Carolina Sunday. Against Kansas City on Sunday, the Broncos outgained the Chiefs, 425-260, and rallied from an early 10-0 deficit for a 24-17 victory. The Broncos had lost to the Chiefs, 33-19, earlier this season.
San Diego (5-8): The Chargers are in danger of missing the playoffs, but a bright moment in what so far has been a disappointing season came Thursday. San Diego dominated the Oakland Raiders, 34-7, at home to stay mathematically alive in the postseason chase. Quarterback Philip Rivers threw for three touchdowns and the Chargers extended their winning streak over the Raiders to 11 games. The victory was the Chargers' second in seven games.
Oakland (3-10): The Raiders' offensive struggles continued in a big way Thursday, and so did those of second-year quarterback JaMarcus Russell. Oakland lost to division rival San Diego by 27 points to ensure a sixth consecutive season with 10 or more losses. The Raiders are 22-71 since playing in the Super Bowl following the 2002 season. On Thursday, Russell – the No. 1 selection in the 2007 NFL Draft – completed 9 of 13 passes for 68 yards.
Kansas City (2-11): They're struggling, but the Chiefs have remained competitive. On Sunday, they led the Denver Broncos, 10-0, in the first quarter and 17-14 at halftime before allowing a Denver rally. The Chiefs, who have lost 20 of their last 22 games, have lost eight consecutive games in Denver.