Colts' Eighth Consecutive Victory Clinches Seventh Consecutive Playoff Appearance
INDIANAPOLIS – The Colts on Thursday clinched everything they had left to clinch.
On Sunday afternoon, their opponent in the regular-season finale – the AFC South champion Tennessee Titans – did, too.
The Colts (11-4), winners of their last eight games, on Thursday night clinched their seventh consecutive playoff appearance with a dramatic, come-from-behind, 31-24, victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium in Jacksonville, Fla.
Three days later, the Tennessee Titans (13-2) – who earlier this month clinched their first South title since 2002 – clinched home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with a 31-14 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers at LP Field in Nashville.
The results mean the Colts-Titans regular-season finale will have no playoff implications. The Colts will play host to the Titans at Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday.
With the victory over Jacksonville, the Colts also clinched the No. 5 seed in the AFC, and because they cannot win the division, they can finish no higher than that seed.
They will open the postseason with a road game at the AFC West champions. The West will be decided Sunday when the San Diego Chargers (7-8) play host to the Denver Broncos (8-7) at Qualcomm Stadium Sunday in San Diego, Cal.
In the AFC, the Titans have secured the No. 1 seed, with Pittsburgh assured of being the No. 2 seed. The Miami Dolphins can clinch the AFC East – and the No. 3 seed in the AFC – with a victory over the New York Jets Sunday. The San Diego-Denver winner will be the No. 4 seed.
The Baltimore Ravens, New England Patriots and Jets also are still in playoff contention.
A look at the rest of the AFC and AFC South:
Tennessee Titans (13-2)
Last week: The Titans beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, 31-14, at LP Field Nashville, Tenn., on Sunday.
Next week: At Indianapolis (11-4).
Recent trend: The Titans, after winning their first 10 games of the season to take control of the AFC South, lost two of four games before clinching home-field advantage with a victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday. It's the first time the Titans have held the No. 1 seed in the AFC since the 2000 season, the year after they won their lone AFC title.
What happened Sunday: Needing a victory to assure themselves home-field advantage for as long as they stay in the AFC playoffs, the Titans got it by doing what they did en route to the AFC South title. They won by being opunistic and forcing opponents into mistakes. The Titans forced four Pittsburgh turnovers and committed none, with the Steelers' turnovers leading to 21 Tennessee points.
Statistically speaking: Rookie Jason Jones, starting in place of injured Albert Haynesworth – a Pro Bowl defensive tackle – had 3.5 sacks and forced three fumbles. The Titans have allowed eight sacks this season.
Coming up: The Titans will visit Indianapolis (11-4) in the regular-season finale.
Quote to note: "This was not a statement game – by no means. It was a momentum game. We needed to build momentum for the playoffs and the bye week by playing well and winning the game. The bonus is the second game here at home."
--- Titans Head Coach Jeff Fisher
Houston Texans (7-8)
Last week: The Texans lost to the Oakland Raiders, 27-16, at Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, Cal.
Next week: Home against Chicago (8-6).
Recent trend: The Texans, after three consecutive losses, won four consecutive games before losing to the Oakland Raiders on Sunday. Houston, after never finishing .500 or better from 2002-2006, can secure a second consecutive .500 season with a victory over the Chicago Bears on Sunday.
What happened Sunday: A week after beating the Tennessee Titans for one of the biggest victories in franchise history, the Texans never led in a loss to the Raiders. After tying the Raiders, 13-13, at halftime, the Texans allowed two third-quarter touchdowns and never threatened to make the game competitive again.
Statistically speaking: Wide receiver Andre Johnson, a Pro Bowl selection, caught just two passes for 19 yards Sunday, his lowest yardage output of the season and his fewest receptions since Week 3. Johnson set a franchise record with 207 yards receiving in the Texans' victory over Tennessee last week. On Sunday, he didn't catch a pass in the first three quarters. Texans rookie running back Steve Slaton has now rushed for a franchise-record 1,190 yards this season.
Coming up: The Texans play host to the Chicago Bears (8-6) in the regular-season finale Sunday.
Quote to note: "We were looking forward to having the first winning season in our history. When you play the way we played last week, with a big win over a big team, you have to find a way to play with the same effort, and we didn't do it."
--- Texans Linebacker DeMeco Ryans
Jacksonville Jaguars (5-10)
Last week: The Jaguars lost to the Indianapolis Colts, 31-24, at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium in Jacksonville, Fla., on Thursday.
Next week: At Baltimore (10-5).
Recent trend: A team selected by many to contend for the AFC South title, the Jaguars have lost five of six games to ensure themselves a sub-.500 record. The Jaguars haven't been under .500 after 15 games since 2003, Head Coach Jack Del Rio's first season. They have lost four of their last five home games and went 2-6 in Jacksonville after going 6-2 at home last season.
What happened Sunday: The Jaguars have been eliminated from the playoffs and on Thursday, they led the Colts throughout much of the game before Indianapolis rallied for a playoff-clinching victory in Jacksonville. With the score tied, 24-24, Colts cornerback Keiwan Ratliff intercepted Jaguars quarterback David Garrard and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown with 4:48 remaining. Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning threw for 364 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions and completed his first 17 passes.
Statistically speaking: Jaguars quarterback David Garrard completed 28 of 41 passes for 329 yards and a touchdown and also rushed for a touchdown. Third-year running back Maurice Jones-Drew rushed for 91 yards on 20 carries and also caught seven passes for 91 yards. Dennis Northcutt caught eight passes for 101 yards and a touchdown, his second 100-yard receiving game in as many weeks.
Coming up: The Jaguars finish the season at Baltimore (10-5) Sunday.
Quote to note: "He (Manning) was excellent. It was an MVP-type performance. It was sensational. We did things you can't do against anybody, but if you do them against Peyton Manning he's going to torch you."
--- Jaguars Head Coach Jack Del Rio
Miami (10-5): One of the most remarkable turnarounds in NFL history continued on Sunday, with the Dolphins beating the Kansas City Chiefs in frigid conditions to move to within a victory of the AFC East title. After finishing 1-15 a year ago, the Dolphins can clinch the AFC East title with a victory over the New York Jets Sunday. The Dolphins scored 14 fourth-quarter points Sunday to beat the Chiefs, 38-31. At 10 degrees, it was the coldest game in Dolphins history. Miami became the first team in NFL history to win 10 or more games after winning one the previous season.
New England (10-5): A year after finishing the regular season unbeaten, the Patriots have had an impressive season despite the loss of quarterback Tom Brady in the regular-season opener. They routed the Arizona Cardinals, 47-7 on Sunday, outgaining the NFC West champions, 514-186 and holding Arizona to eight first downs. Still, the Patriots are in danger of missing the postseason for the first time since 2002. They need to win at Buffalo Sunday and have the New York Jets beat the Miami Dolphins to win the AFC East. They can make the postseason as a wild card if they beat Buffalo and Baltimore loses to Jacksonville. The 1985 Denver Broncos were the only team in NFL history to win 11 games and miss the playoffs.
New York Jets (9-6): A month ago, the Jets were 8-3 and had beaten the defending AFC Champion New England Patriots and then-unbeaten Tennessee back-to-back weeks. Now, they have lost three of four games and no longer control their destiny in the AFC playoff chase. To make the postseason, New York must beat the Miami Dolphins on Sunday and have the Patriots lose to the Buffalo Bills. On Sunday, the Jets lost at Seattle with quarterback Brett Favre throwing no touchdowns and two interceptions. The Jets are 0-4 on the West Coast this season. "Believe me, every guy in that locker room is disappointed," Favre said.
Buffalo (7-8): They were as hot as any team in the NFL early in the season, and although they faded late, they played a factor in the playoff chase Sunday. The Bills will finish out of the postseason, but on Sunday, they kept the playoff hopes of the San Diego Chargers alive by beating the Denver Broncos, 30-23, in Denver. The Bills went 4-0 against the AFC West this season. They had lost seven of eight games entering Sunday's game.
Pittsburgh (11-4): The Steelers, who had won five consecutive games, entered the weekend with a very real chance at having home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. They needed a victory at Tennessee Sunday and a victory over the Cleveland Browns in the regular-season finale. Instead, they lost to Tennessee and are assured of being the AFC's No. 2 seed with a first-round bye. The Steelers outgained Tennessee, but committed four turnovers and forced none.
Baltimore (10-5): Teams such as Miami and Atlanta have received recognition as two of the NFL's most-surprising stories. But Baltimore shouldn't be overlooked. In 2006, the Ravens won the AFC North and last season, they slipped to a last-place, 5-11 finish. Now, after beating Dallas Saturday, they can clinch a postseason appearance – and the AFC's No. 6 seed – with a victory at home against Jacksonville on Sunday.
Cleveland (4-11): They began the season with playoff hopes, but with quarterbacks Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn out for the season, the Browns are struggling to the end of the season. Cleveland produced just 182 total yards and committed four turnovers in a 14-0 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. Cleveland has not scored an offensive touchdown in five games, which is tied for the longest such streak in more than 50 years. "Worst season I've ever played in," Browns running back Jamal Lewis said.
Cincinnati (3-11-1): The Bengals have struggled much of the season, but they never quit. Running back Cedric Benson rushed for a career-high 171 yards on 38 carries as Cincinnati won a second consecutive game, 14-0, over the Cleveland Browns. It was the Bengals' first road victory since the 2007 regular-season finale.
Denver (8-7): They have led the AFC West throughout the season, but with a week remaining, the Broncos are now in serious danger of missing the playoffs. After a 30-23 loss to the Buffalo Bills at home on Sunday, they must win in San Diego on Sunday to clinch the division. If they lose, the Broncos will miss the playoffs for a third consecutive season. Denver led by 13 points early Sunday, and outgained Buffalo by 532-275, but missed a chance to tie with less than a minute remaining when wide receiver Brandon Stokley had a potential game-tying touchdown pass knocked from his hands.
San Diego (7-8): A month ago, the Chargers seemed out of the AFC playoff picture. Now, they not only have a chance to make the playoffs, they have a chance to play host to an AFC Wild Card playoff game despite being unable to finish with better than a .500 record. The Chargers, who at one point slipped to 4-8, have won their last three games, including a 41-24 victory at Tampa Bay Sunday. They can win the AFC West with a victory at home against the Denver Broncos Sunday. Quarterback Philip Rivers threw four touchdown passes and leads the AFC with 32 this season.
Oakland (4-11): There haven't been a lot of positives for the Raiders in recent seasons, but there were plenty on Sunday. With their opponents – the Houston Texans – trying to put themselves in position for the first winning season in franchise history, the Raiders won their home finale for the first time since 2002, the year they played in the Super Bowl. Oakland has lost at least 11 games in each of the last six seasons. Oakland also scored on its first possession of each half for the first time since 2001.
Kansas City (2-13): The Chiefs have fought all season, and they did again Sunday, narrowly missing a chance to hurt the Miami Dolphins' playoff hopes. The Chiefs led, 31-24, entering the fourth quarter, but allowed 14 fourth-quarter points in a 38-31 loss. At 10 degrees, it was the second-coldest game in Kansas City history. The Chiefs, who are 2-22 in their last 24 games, have lost eight games this season by seven points or fewer.