Colts Enhance Playoff Positioning with Victory over Houston
INDIANAPOLIS – The Colts' midseason theme continued Sunday.
Once again, as has been the case all season, winning an imant game didn't mean gaining ground in the AFC South standings.
But once again, the Colts enhanced their playoff positioning.
The Colts (6-4), after being under .500 through seven games, won their third consecutive game Sunday afternoon, turning a four-point halftime deficit into a 33-27 lead over the Houston Texas at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis.
The Colts remained four games behind the AFC South-leading Tennessee Titans (10-0), who beat the Jacksonville Jaguars, 24-14, to remain the NFL's lone unbeaten team.
But they also continued to enhance their wild-card positioning, and enter Monday's Buffalo-Cleveland game as one of four AFC teams – the others being New England (6-4), Miami (6-4), Baltimore (6-4) – tied for the conference's two wild card slots.
The New York Jets (7-3) and Pittsburgh Steelers (7-3) lead the AFC East and North, respectively. Denver (6-4) leads the AFC West, two games ahead of San Diego (4-6).
The Colts, Jets, Denver, Pittsburgh, Miami, New England and Baltimore are among 10 teams in the AFC with between seven and four victories with six games remaining. The others are Jacksonville (4-6), San Diego (4-6) and Buffalo (5-4).
Buffalo will play host to Cleveland Monday.
A look at the rest of the AFC South and AFC:
Tennessee Titans (10-0)
Last week: The Titans beat the Jacksonville Jaguars, 24-14, at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium in Jacksonville, Fla., Sunday.
Next week: Home against New York Jets (7-3) Sunday.
Recent trend: The Titans are 10-0 for the first time in franchise history and have won a league-best 14 consecutive regular-season games, setting a franchise record. Their four-game lead is their largest since the 2002 inception of the AFC South. Until this season, they hadn't led the South since 2002, when they won the first title in the division's history.
What happened Sunday: Quarterback Kerry Collins threw three touchdown passes as the Titans overcame a 14-3 halftime deficit to remain the NFL's lone unbeaten team, sweeping the Jaguars for the third time in the last seven seasons. Tennessee also won its seventh consecutive regular-season road game. "We wanted to knock Jacksonville out of contention and out of the playoffs, and we did that," Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth said.
Statistically speaking: Collins completed 13 of 23 passes for 230 yards and three second-half touchdowns and wide receiver Justin Gage caught four passes for 147 yards and two touchdowns. Tennessee converted just 1 of 12 on third downs.
Coming up: The Titans will play host to the New York Jets (7-3) the following week. Tennessee will visit Detroit (0-10) on Thanksgiving Day and will play host to Cleveland (3-6) before visiting Houston (3-7).
Quote to note: "It's great. People keep counting us out and we like proving the world wrong, I guess."
--- Titans Defensive Tackle Albert Haynesworth
Jacksonville Jaguars (4-6)
Last week: The Jaguars lost to the Tennessee Titans, 24-14, at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium in Jacksonville, Fla., Sunday.
Next week: Home against Minnesota (5-5).
Recent trend: A team selected by many to contend for the AFC South title, the Jaguars – after a 2-3 start – have lost two of their last five games to slip into a ninth-place tie in the AFC overall standings. The Jaguars haven't been under .500 after 10 games since 2003, Head Coach Jack Del Rio's first season. They have lost three consecutive home games and are 1-4 in Jacksonville this season after going 6-2 at home last season.
What happened Sunday: The Jaguars dominated the NFL's only remaining unbeaten team for two quarters, but the Titans outscored the Jaguars 21-0 in the second half. Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew rushed for two first-half touchdowns, but Jacksonville allowed touchdowns on Tennessee's first three second-half possessions.
Statistically speaking: Quarterback David Garrard completed 13 of 30 passes for 135 yards and no touchdowns with an interception for a passer rating of 43.1, the second-lowest rating of his career. Jacksonville outrushed the Titans, 140-114, but allowed Garrard to be sacked four times. Tennessee sacked Garrard seven times in the season opener. Jones-Drew has six rushing touchdowns in the last three games.
Coming up: The Jaguars will play host to Minnesota (5-5) Sunday. They then play back-to-back road games at Houston (3-7) and Chicago (5-5) before playing host to Green Bay (5-5) and Indianapolis (6-4) the following two weeks.
Quote to note: "It's very frustrating. We pretty much shut them out the whole first half, came in and felt like we had a lot of momentum going our way and then went back out and gave up a few big plays. That sums it up pretty much. That was horrible."
--- Jaguars Safety Gerald Sensabaugh
Houston Texans (3-7)
Last week: The Texans lost to the Colts, 33-27, at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis Sunday.
Next week: At Cleveland (3-6).
Recent trend: After winning three consecutive games to move to within a game of .500, Houston has lost three consecutive games to slip further out of the AFC playoff chase. The Texans, a year after finishing .500 for the first time in franchise history, must win five of their last six games to avert a sixth losing season in seven years. They are 0-5 on the road this season and have lost eight consecutive road games.
What happened Sunday: The Texans led the Colts 13-9 in the first half and 20-16 in the second, but Colts quarterback Peyton Manning threw for 320 yards and two second-half touchdowns in Houston's fourth consecutive loss to Indianapolis. Houston cut a 10-point Colts lead to three in the fourth quarter and had possession with a chance to win before a turnover on its final possession.
Statistically speaking: Rookie running back Steve Slaton rushed for 156 yards and a 71-yard touchdown on 14 carries, a franchise rookie record. Texans quarterback Sage Rosenfels, after committing three key fourth-quarter turnovers, played a turnover-free game Sunday until throwing an interception on the Texans' final drive.
Coming up: The Texans will visit Cleveland (3-6) Sunday before playing host to Jacksonville (4-6) on December 1. They will then visit Green Bay (5-5) before playing host to Tennessee (10-0).
Quote to note: "When you play Indianapolis, you have to score touchdowns and not field goals. That's what happened. We did a pretty good job for the most part on offense. We played the type of game we wanted to play. We wanted to play sort of a smash-mouth game and not turn the ball over, which we did for 59 minutes of the game."
--- Texans Quarterback Sage Rosenfels
New York Jets (7-3): The Jets have won four consecutive games and six of their last seven, with the lone loss coming at Oakland in overtime. On Thursday, they turned in one of their biggest victories in recent memory, beating New England, 34-31, in overtime to take over first place in the AFC East. The Jets held leads of 24-6 and 31-24, but the Patriots tied the game with :01 remaining in the fourth quarter. Jets quarterback Brett Favre then led the game-winning field-goal drive in overtime.
New England (6-4): With last season's NFL Most Valuable Player, quarterback Tom Brady, out for the season since the regular-season opener, the Patriots nonetheless have stayed in the AFC postseason picture. They shared the lead in the AFC East until last Thursday, when they rallied from an 18-point deficit to force overtime before losing to the New York Jets, 34-31. The Patriots, winners of the last five AFC East titles, were last 6-4 in 2005, when they won seven of their last eight games en route to the division title.
Miami (6-4): It's time to stop calling the Dolphins a surprise. A year ago, they were 1-15. This season, they not only have won four consecutive games, they are a game out of first place in the division and one of four teams tied for the AFC's two wild-card positions. After a 17-15 victory over Oakland Sunday, the Dolphins will play host to New England on Sunday. "This should be the first time I see our stadium sold out,'' Dolphins linebacker Joey Porter said. "I've been here a year and a half and still haven't seen the place sold out. This matchup should definitely get us to that level.''
Buffalo (5-4): The Bills will play host to Cleveland Monday.
Pittsburgh (7-3): The Steelers, the defending AFC North champions, haven't been dominant in recent weeks, but they have been good enough to maintain their lead in the North. On Sunday, the Steelers outgained San Diego 410-213 and won for the first time in their last three games at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh when kicker Josh Reed converted a 32-yard field goal with 11 seconds remaining. The Steelers won, 11-10, to become the first team in league history to win a game by that score.
Baltimore (6-4): They entered the weekend as one of the NFL's hottest teams and stingiest run defenses, but were controlled by the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants Sunday. The Ravens, after not allowing more than 76 yards rushing in a game this season, allowed the Giants to rush for 207 yards in a 30-10 loss on Sunday. Baltimore had allowed 65.4 yards a game rushing. The Ravens, who had won four consecutive games, remain one of four AFC teams in a four-way tie at 6-4.
Cleveland (3-6): The Browns will visit Buffalo Monday.
Cincinnati (1-8-1): A difficult season for the Bengals got a bit stranger on Sunday, when they played the Philadelphia Eagles to a 13-13 tie. The game was the first tie in the NFL since 2002. The Bengals averaged just 1.9 yards on 30 carries. Cincinnati led 10-3 at halftime and 13-3 in the third quarter before the Eagles rallied to tie it in the fourth quarter. Cincinnati kicker Shayne Graham missed a 47-yard field goal with six seconds remaining in overtime.
Denver (6-4): They played without All-Pro cornerback Champ Bailey and the Broncos also have lost four running backs for the season because of injuries. Still, Denver extended its lead in the AFC West to two games on Sunday with a come-from-behind victory over the Atlanta Falcons. Quarterback Jay Cutler, who completed 19 of 27 passes for 216 yards, threw a nine-yard touchdown pass to Daniel Graham with 5:30 remaining to give the Broncos a second consecutive victory after three consecutive losses.
San Diego (4-6): The defending AFC West champions, the Chargers played in the AFC Championship Game last season and were picked by many to challenge for the conference title this season. San Diego on Sunday lost for the 13th time in as many regular-season trips to Pittsburgh when Steelers kicker Josh Reed made a field goal from 32 yards away with 11 seconds remaining. Sunday was the first time in 17 games Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers failed to throw a touchdown pass. San Diego has lost four times in the last six games.
Oakland (2-8): The Raiders traveled to Miami and had a very real chance to pull out their third victory of the season, but Dolphins kicker Dan Carpenter kicked a 38-yard field goal with 38 seconds remaining to give the Dolphins the victory. Oakland has lost four consecutive games and has scored two offensive touchdowns in six games. The Raiders did not score an offensive touchdown on Sunday and were outgained 382-186. They allowed six sacks against the Dolphins.
Kansas City (1-9): The season has been difficult for the Chiefs, but they continue to remain competitive despite losing six consecutive games. The Chiefs have lost 18 of 19 games, but at home on Sunday against New Orleans, they pulled to within seven points in the fourth quarter before the Saints clinched the victory with a field goal.