Seventh Consecutive Victory Keeps Colts at the Head of AFC Playoff Chase
INDIANAPOLIS – And now, they're one victory away.
The Colts, after slipping below .500 seven games into the season for the first time in a decade, on Sunday afternoon beat the Detroit Lions at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis for their seventh consecutive victory.
The victory over the winless Lions further enhanced the Colts' playoff positioning. It not only enabled them to maintain their hold on the AFC's fifth seed, it means they can clinch a seventh consecutive playoff appearance with a victory this week.
The Colts visit the Jacksonville Jaguars (5-9) Thursday in Jacksonville, Fla.
A victory in that game also would clinch the No. 5 seed in the playoffs for the Colts.
The Colts (10-4), the AFC South champions from 2003-2007, were eliminated from division title contention last week when the Tennessee Titans (12-2) beat the Cleveland Browns. Although the Titans and Colts could still finish tied at 12-4, the Titans have clinched the division because they have clinched having a superior record to the Colts in common games.
The Colts now hold the fifth seed by a game over Baltimore (9-5), which lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers (11-3) Sunday. The Colts also have tiebreaker advantages over Baltimore because of a superior conference record and a head-to-head victory at home against the Ravens in early October.
The Colts now lead not only Baltimore in the Wild Card chase, but also the New York Jets, New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins, who are tied atop the AFC East at 9-5.
One of those teams likely will win the division.
Denver (8-6) leads the AFC West by two games and can clinch the division with a victory Sunday. Pittsburgh has clinched the AFC North.
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 (12-2)
Last week: The Titans lost to the Houston Texans, 13-12, at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas, on Sunday.
Next week: Home against Pittsburgh (11-3).
Recent trend: The Titans, after winning their first 10 games of the season to take control of the AFC South, now have lost two of their last four games. Two weeks ago, they clinched their first South title since 2002 and they already have clinched a first-round postseason bye.
What happened Sunday: With a chance to take a step toward clinching home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, the Titans instead lost to the streaking Houston Texans.
Statistically speaking: The Titans, after rushing for 527 yards in their last two games, managed just 100 against Houston. The Texans game was the first time this season Tennessee failed to score a touchdown.
Coming up: The Titans will play host to Pittsburgh (11-3) Sunday and visit Indianapolis (10-4) in the regular-season finale.
Quote to note: "Hopefully we'll be up for the challenge and guys will come back from vacation. I think we were on vacation this week, knowing we got a bye and whatever other good stuff happened for us last week."
--- Titans Linebacker Keith Bulluck
Houston Texans (7-7)
Last week: The Texans beat the Tennessee Titans, 13-12, at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas, on Sunday.
Next week: at Oakland (11-3).
Recent trend: The Texans, after three consecutive losses, have won their last four games – at Cleveland, at home against Jacksonville, at Green Bay and at home against Tennessee. 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, can secure their first winning season with victories in their last two games.
What happened Sunday: The Texans continued their recent surge with one of the biggest victories in franchise history, taking a 10-6 halftime lead and holding off the AFC South champion Titans for a 13-12 victory. While Houston has been eliminated from playoff contention, the Texans have won four consecutive games for the first time in franchise history. They also snapped a seven-game losing streak to the Titans.
Statistically speaking: Rookie running back Steve Slaton has rushed for more than 100 yards in four the last five games, and the Texans have yet to lose at home this season in a game in which quarterback Matt Schaub has started. They are 4-0 at home with Schaub playing this season. Wide receiver Andre Johnson had 207 yards receiving Sunday and has a career-high 1,408 yards receiving this season.
Coming up: The Texans finish the season with a road game at Oakland (3-11) and a home game against Chicago (8-6).
Quote to note: "Everyone is confident. Everyone sees what we can do against the great teams of the league. We know what we can do now. As long as we play the way we are capable of playing and protect the ball and force turnovers on defense, we see what we can do. These past few weeks have really given us extra motivation for the rest of the season and heading into next season."
--- Texans Left Tackle Duane Brown
Jacksonville Jaguars (5-9)
Last week: The Jaguars beat the Green Bay Packers, 20-16, at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium in Jacksonville, Fla., on Sunday.
Next week: Home against Indianapolis (10-4).
Recent trend: A team selected by many to contend for the AFC South title, the Jaguars have lost four of five games and six of their last eight to ensure themselves a sub-.500 record. The Jaguars haven't been under .500 after 14 games since 2003, Head Coach Jack Del Rio's first season. They had lost four consecutive home games before Sunday and are 2-5 in Jacksonville this season after going 6-2 at home last season.
What happened Sunday: The Jaguars have been eliminated from the playoffs, but on Sunday, they won a back-and-forth game, beating the Packers when running back Maurice Jones-Drew scored on a 2-yard run with 2:00 remaining.
Statistically speaking: Quarterback David Garrard passed for 238 yards and two touchdowns and also ran for 31 yards. A 16-yard run by Garrard set up Jones-Drew's touchdown. Garrard also set up a touchdown with a 41-yard pass to wide receiver Dennis Northcutt. It was the first pass play of more than 40 yards for the Jaguars this season.
Coming up: The Jaguars will play host to Indianapolis (10-4) Sunday before finishing the season at Baltimore (9-5).
Quote to note: "It's been a while. It was a happy locker room."
--- Jaguars Head Coach Jack Del Rio
New York Jets (9-5): After surging to the front of the AFC East with back-to-back victories over New England and Tennessee, the Jets lost two consecutive games, first to the Denver Broncos (34-17), then to the San Francisco 49ers (24-14). On Sunday, they made a major move toward the postseason with a dramatic victory over the Buffalo Bills, taking the lead with an 11-yard fumble return by defensive end Shaun Ellis with 1:54 remaining. The Jets swept Buffalo for the first time since the 2002 season and now finish the season with games at Seattle (3-11) and at home against Miami (9-5).
New England (9-5): They haven't been as dominant as a year ago, when they finished the regular-season 16-0, but the Patriots stayed in playoff contention Sunday with a 49-26 victory over the Oakland Raiders. New England produced 487 total yards. The Patriots are currently the No. 8 seed in the AFC playoff chase with games remaining at home against Arizona (8-6) and at Buffalo (6-8).
Miami (9-5): Why are the Dolphins the surprise team in the NFL this season? Simple. They have made fewer mistakes than nearly every team in the NFL, and are on pace to set an NFL record for fewest turnovers in a 16-game season. They currently have committed 10 turnovers in 14 games, and as a result, a team that lost 15 games last season is tied for first place in the AFC East with two games remaining. The Dolphins finish the season with games at Kansas City (2-12) and the New York Jets (9-5).
Buffalo (6-8): As hot as any team in the NFL early in the season, the Bills have lost seven of their last eight games to slip from first to last in the AFC East. After four weeks, they were alone in first place in the East and a loss to the Jets Sunday ensured they will finish last in the division. The Bills held a 27-24 lead on Sunday before committing three turnovers in the final two minutes.
Pittsburgh (11-3): The Steelers on Sunday clinched their second consecutive AFC North title with a dramatic, come-from-behind victory over the Baltimore Ravens. They also have clinched a first-round bye. Although the Ravens could tie the Steelers in terms of overall record, Pittsburgh clinched the division because of a head-to-head sweep of Baltimore. The Steelers' 13-9 victory over the Ravens was their fifth in succession, the second-longest active streak in the NFL behind the Colts' seven consecutive victories.
Baltimore (9-5): With a chance to move into a first-place tie in the AFC North, the Ravens led the Steelers throughout and didn't trail until 50 seconds remaining. But that was when Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger completed a four-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Santonio Holmes that wasn't official until it was overturned on official review. The Ravens still hold the No. 6 seed in the AFC because of a better conference record (7-4) than New England (6-5) and the Miami Dolphins (6-4).
Cleveland (4-9): The Browns visit the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night.
Cincinnati (2-11-1): After not scoring a touchdown in 12 consecutive quarters, the Bengals took a 17-0 lead at home against Washington and held off a late rally for their second victory of the season for a 20-13 victory. Running back Cedric Benson caught a 79-yard touchdown pass for Cincinnati, the longest in Bengals history by a running back. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick completed 16 of 29 passes for 209 yards and a touchdown and also ran for a touchdown.
Denver (8-6): Needing a victory to clinch the AFC West title, the Broncos traveled to Carolina and lost, 30-10. With cornerback Champ Bailey out with a groin injury, Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith caught nine passes for 165 yards and a touchdown. The Broncos can clinch the division title with a victory in either of their final two games, but if they lose Sunday to Buffalo at home – and if the Chargers win at Tampa Bay Sunday – Denver and San Diego will play for the division title in San Diego in the season finale.
San Diego (6-8): A loss on Sunday would have eliminated the Chargers from the playoffs. They trailed Kansas City, 21-3 in the third quarter before rallying with 12 points in the final 1:19. Quarterback Philip Rivers completed 34 of 48 passes 346 yards and two touchdowns, with both touchdowns coming in the fourth quarter. It was the third-largest comeback in Chargers history. "We never stopped believing," Chargers tackle Marcus McNeill said. "I think (the Chiefs) thought they had the game won when the clock was low in the fourth quarter. But we knew if we got another chance that we were going to go down there and score."
Oakland (3-11): Since playing in the Super Bowl following the 2002 season, the Raiders have become the first team since the 1970 NFL Merger to lose at least 11 games in six consecutive seasons. On Sunday, they fell behind 35-14 in the first half en route to a 49-26 loss to the New England Patriots. The 35 points were the most Oakland had allowed in a first half since 1970.
Kansas City (2-12): The Chiefs have fought all season, and they did again Sunday, taking an 18-point lead at home before losing, 22-21, to the Chargers. The Chiefs allowed two touchdowns in the game's final 1:19, but still had a chance to win before kicker Connor Barth's 50-yard field goal on the game's final play missed wide left. "I'm kind of speechless," Barth said. "Don't know what to say. There's no excuse."