Fifth Consecutive Victory Further Enhances Colts Playoff Positioning
INDIANAPOLIS – Another week, another push forward.
And although it was another week in which the Colts did not make up ground in the AFC South – and although the Tennessee Titans (11-1) very much control their division and postseason fate – the Colts did Sunday what they did throughout a nail-biting, thrilling, productive November.
1) They rallied from an early deficit.
2) They won a close game.
3) They improved their playoff positioning.
The Colts (8-4), who ended October with back-to-back, double-digit road losses to slip under .500 after seven games for the first time in a decade, on Sunday rallied from a three-point, fourth-quarter deficit to win in Cleveland, 10-6.
It was the Colts' fifth consecutive victory – a stretch that included victories at Pittsburgh, San Diego and Cleveland – and their fifth consecutive victory by six points or less.
Never before in Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy's seven seasons with the team has it won five consecutive games by less than a touchdown.
The Colts enter the season's final four weeks seeded fifth in the AFC, holding that spot over Baltimore (8-4) because of a superior conference record and because of head-to-head victories over each team.
Tennessee (11-1), Pittsburgh (9-3) and the New York Jets (8-4) lead the AFC South, North and East, respectively, with Denver (7-5) leading the West. There are currently eight teams in the AFC with records of 7-5 or better, with the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins also at 7-5 in the East.
The four division winners from each conference make the playoffs along with two wild-card teams – the teams with the two best records among non-division winners.
A look at the rest of the AFC and AFC South:
Tennessee Titans (11-1)
Last week: The Titans beat the Detroit Lions, 47-10, at Ford Field in Detroit, Mich., on Thursday.
Next week: Home against Cleveland (4-8) Sunday.
Recent trend: The Titans, who lost for the first time this season a week ago the New York Jets, have won 14 of their past 15 regular-season games. A loss a week ago to the Jets snapped a league-best 13-game regular-season winning streak, which was a franchise record. Until this season, they hadn't led the South since 2002, when they won the first title in the division's history.
What happened Thursday: Four days after their first loss of the season, the Titans took advantage of a matchup against winless Detroit, taking a 21-3 lead after the first quarter and a 35-10 lead after the second quarter. "We just came out swinging," Titans running back LenDale White said. "We hit the first punch and they fell."
Statistically speaking: Titans running backs Chris Johnson (125 yards) and LenDale White (106 yards) each rushed for more than 100 yards against the Lions, with quarterback Kerry Collins completing 11 of 18 passes for 127 yards and no touchdowns.
Coming up: The Titans will play host to Cleveland (4-8) Sunday before visiting Houston (4-7). They finish the season by playing host to Pittsburgh (9-3) and visiting Indianapolis (8-4).
Quote to note: "We're back on the right track. It's as simple as that. We're going to rest up and regroup and recover. Just to win two out of three games in 15 days is good for this football team. That one got away from us last week. It's clear behind us now."
-- Titans Head Coach Jeff Fisher
Jacksonville Jaguars (4-7)
Last week: The Jaguars visit Houston (4-7) Monday night.
Next week: At Chicago (6-6).
Recent trend: A team selected by many to contend for the AFC South title, the Jaguars – after a 2-3 start – have lost four of their last six games to slip nearly out of the AFC playoff chase. 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 visit Houston Monday night.
Statistically speaking: The Jaguars visit Houston Monday night.
Coming up: The Jaguars will visit Chicago (6-6) Sunday before playing host to Green Bay (5-7) and Indianapolis (8-4) the following two weeks. They then finish the season at Baltimore (8-4).
Quote to note: "This is a production business. We're paid to produce so we're going to work hard at it. I know what it looks like to be on a great team and I know what it looks like to be on a team that's struggling. We're somewhere in the middle."
--- Jaguars Head Coach Jack Del Rio
Houston Texans (4-7)
Last week: The Texans play host to Jacksonville (4-7) Monday night.
Next week: At Green Bay (5-7).
Recent trend: The Texans snapped a three-game losing streak with a victory at Cleveland a week ago. 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 four of their last five games to avert a sixth losing season in seven years.
What happened Sunday: The Texans play host to the Jaguars Monday night.
Statistically speaking: The Texans play host to the Jaguars Monday night.
Coming up: The Texans will visit Green Bay (5-7) before playing host to Tennessee (11-1). They finish the season with a road game at Oakland (3-9) and a home game against Chicago (6-6).
Quote to note: "We made a lot of progress last year. We were excited going into this season and we have struggled. We went through a very tough start the first month, not only football-wise but personal-wise, too, around here with some things going on with hurricanes. We'd like to be in a heck of a lot better shape than we are but there's a lot of football left and we're looking forward to the next five weeks."
--- Texans Head Coach Gary Kubiak
New York Jets (8-4): The Jets have established themselves as a serious contender in the AFC. They have won seven of their last nine games, with their last two victories coming at defending AFC Champion and five-time defending AFC East Champion New England and at previously-unbeaten Tennessee. On Sunday, they never led after the first quarter and were outgained 484-383 by the Denver Broncos in a 34-17 loss at home. "We realize we're not as good as we thought we were," Jets running back Leon Washington.
New England (7-5): They have spent the season staying in the AFC playoff chase, and despite a 33-10 loss to Pittsburgh Sunday, the Patriots remain very much in contention. They are one game behind the Jets in the AFC East and are a half game behind the Jets with a 3-2 division record compared to 3-1 for the Jets. Quarterback Matt Cassell, after throwing for more than 400 yards in back-to-back games, lost two fumbles and threw two interceptions in the second half and for the game, he was sacked five times. The Patriots, who have made the playoffs the past five seasons, are now a game behind Baltimore and Indianapolis in the AFC wild-card chase.
Miami (7-5): A week after a disappointing loss to New England, the Dolphins stayed in serious contention for a playoff spot with a 16-12 victory over the St. Louis Rams in St. Louis. The victory was the Dolphins' fifth in six games and kept them within a game of Indianapolis and Baltimore in the wild-card chase – and within a game of the New York Jets in the AFC East. A week after allowing 530 yards to New England, the Dolphins limited St. Louis to 278 yards.
Buffalo (6-6): As hot as any team in the NFL early in the season, the Bills have lost five of their last six games to slip from first to last in the AFC East. Playing at home Sunday, the Bills allowed just 195 total yards and 12 first downs in a 10-3 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. The last time Buffalo, which had two drives of 15 or more plays that failed to produce points, did not score a touchdown at home was in 2003. Buffalo has lost three consecutive games at home.
Pittsburgh (9-3): The Steelers are holding their slim lead in the North, and doing so in typical Steelers fashion – with a stingy defense that's ranked No. 1 in the NFL for a second consecutive season. In a 33-10 victory over playoff-contending New England on Sunday, the Steelers held the Patriots to 267 total yards and have yet to allow more than 300 yards in a game this season. The Patriots had produced 530 yards last week against Miami. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger completed 17 of 33 passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns with an interception.
Baltimore (8-4): A year after missing the playoffs, the Ravens are very much in the AFC postseason picture, having won six of their last seven games. In those seven games, rookie quarterback Joe Flacco has thrown 11 touchdown passes with just two interceptions. Baltimore's defense, long one of the NFL's best, continues to dominate and on Sunday, the Ravens held the Cincinnati Bengals to six first downs. "I just think it's exciting the way we're playing football right now," Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis said.
Cleveland (4-8): Throughout most of the season, the Browns have played better than their record indicated. Sunday was no exception. The Browns, playing without injured starting quarterback Brady Quinn, led Indianapolis throughout much of the game and held the Colts without an offensive touchdown. The Colts won when defensive end Robert Mathis returned a fumble by quarterback Derek Anderson 37 yards for a touchdown with under 10 minutes remaining. That was the lone touchdown in a 10-6 Colts victory.
Cincinnati (1-10-1): A tough season got even tougher for the Bengals Sunday. After playing competitively in many of their losses this season, the Bengals were never competitive against the Ravens on Sunday, managing just 20 yards on their first six possessions. Cincinnati, which had 154 total yards in a season-opening loss to the Ravens, had just 155 on Sunday. "When you get your head kicked in like that, there's not much to say," Bengals Head Coach Marvin Lewis said. "This team won't have to go through another season like this. Nor will the fans.''
Denver (7-5): Their lead in the AFC West was somewhat tenuous entering the week. It's more solid now, with the Broncos beating the AFC East-leading New York Jets on the road on Sunday and the San Diego Chargers losing to the Atlanta Falcons at home. A week after losing to the Oakland Raiders at home, the Broncos took a three-game lead in the West, with quarterback Jay Cutler throwing for 357 yard and two touchdowns despite wet conditions. Rookie running back Peyton Hillis rushed for a career-high 129 yards to become the first player this season to rush for more than 100 yards against the Jets.
San Diego (4-8): The Chargers, after evening their record at 3-3 after six weeks, have lost five of their past six games to put themselves in very real danger of missing the playoffs. After a stretch of 18 victories in 20 home games, San Diego has lost back-to-back games in San Diego – 23-20 to Indianapolis last week and 22-16 to Atlanta on Sunday. LaDainian Tomlinson, who has led the NFL in rushing each of the last two seasons, rushed for a season-low 24 yards on 14 carries and the Chargers produced a season-low 201 total yards.
Oakland (3-9): A week after a 31-10 victory over the Denver Broncos, the Raiders lost at home on Sunday to the Kansas City Chiefs. With second-year quarterback JaMarcus Russell completing 10 of 28 passes for 132 yards and no touchdowns, the loss clinched the Raiders' sixth consecutive losing season. Oakland has not scored a touchdown on their opening drive in the last 52 games.
Kansas City (2-10): They have had a difficult season, but the Chiefs managed to keep a streak alive on Sunday, winning in Oakland for the sixth consecutive season. The victory snapped a seven-game losing streak for the Chiefs, who had lost 19 of their last 20 games. After allowing 54 points – the most they had allowed in franchise history – the Chiefs allowed 271 yards and 14 first downs in a 20-13 victory over Oakland.