Colts Pull to Within Three Games of Titans in AFC South
INDIANAPOLIS – The Colts on Sunday did something they hadn't done all season.
They made up ground in the AFC South.
The Colts (7-4), the five-time defending division champions, on Sunday beat the San Diego Chargers, 23-20, at Qualcomm Stadium, a victory that moved the Colts to within three games of South-leading Tennessee (10-1).
The Titans sustained their first loss of the season, 34-13, to the New York Jets, and now lead Indianapolis by three games with five games remaining.
Indianapolis will play host to Tennessee in the regular-season finale.
Also with the victory, the Colts maintained the fifth seed in the AFC, holding that spot over Baltimore (7-4) and New England (7-4) because of a superior conference record and because of head-to-head victories over each team.
Pittsburgh (8-3) and the New York Jets (8-3) lead the North and East, respectively, with Denver (6-5) leading the West.
There are currently nine teams in the AFC with records of 6-5 or better, with the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins also at 6-5 in the East.
Six teams make the playoffs from each conference – the champions of the four divisions and the two teams with the best records among non-division winners.
A look at the rest of the AFC South and the AFC:
Tennessee Titans (10-1)
Last week: The Titans lost to the New York Jets, 34-13, at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn., Sunday.
Next week: At Detroit (0-11) Thursday.
Recent trend: The Titans lost for the first time in 11 games, a loss that ended the best start in franchise history. The loss to the Jets snapped a league-best 14-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 Sunday: The Titans' chances at an unbeaten season ended with a one-sided loss to the AFC East-leading New York Jets at home. After winning their first 10 games with an efficient, run-oriented offense, the Titans rushed for a season-low 45 yards against the Jets. "It was a great run, and now we have to win our next game," Titans Head Coach Jeff Fisher said.
Statistically speaking: After allowing just 13.1 points a game in their first 10 games, the Titans allowed Jets to control the line of scrimmage and the game's momentum. The Jets held the ball for more than 40 minutes and the Jets outgained the Titans, 409-281. Jets quarterback Brett Favre completed 25 of 32 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns and New York rushed for 192 yards, the most rushing yards Tennessee has allowed this season.
Coming up: The Titans will visit Detroit (0-11) on Thanksgiving Day and will play host to Cleveland (4-7) before visiting Houston (4-7). They finish the season by playing host to Pittsburgh (8-3) and visiting Indianapolis (7-4).
Quote to note: "I think this team will respond positively. I think it is up to the leaders on this team, myself included. We need to keep the right approach and the right attitude. Even though we are all disappointed by the day, we need to put this all behind us. I think that needs to come from veteran leadership. . . . We absolutely have no time to feel sorry for ourselves. We hopefully can make a positive out of this, somehow and someway. And we are going to need to do it pretty quick. We get (back) to playing in four days and I think everybody is going to come back hungry this week."
--- Titans Quarterback Kerry Collins
Jacksonville Jaguars (4-7)
Last week: The Jaguars lost to the Minnesota Vikings, 30-12, at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium in Jacksonville, Fla., Sunday.
Next week: At Houston (4-7).
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, a week after playing then-unbeaten Titans tough for a half, trailed NFC North-leading Minnesota from early in the first quarter. The Vikings scored two touchdowns in the game's first 1:41, including a 28-yard fumble return after a botched snap seven seconds into the first quarter.
Statistically speaking: The Jaguars committed five turnovers, including two on their first two drives, and quarterback David Garrard completed 27 of 45 passes for 317 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions. The Jaguars rushed for just 35 yards and kicker Josh Scobee missed two field goals in a game for the first time since 2006.
Coming up: The Jaguars will play back-to-back road games at Houston (4-7) and Chicago (6-5), before playing host to Green Bay (5-5) and Indianapolis (7-4) the following two weeks. They then finish the season by visiting Baltimore (7-4).
Quote to note: "I found that performance today to be totally unacceptable and I take full responsibility for not preparing my football team. To have a team that plays that sloppily, turns the ball over on the first play of the game and allows the defense to pick up the ball and run for a touchdown is embarrassing. I will evaluate everything and everyone including myself. I have to do a better job with my staff."
--- Jaguars Head Coach Jack Del Rio
Houston Texans (4-7)
Last week: The Texans beat the Cleveland Browns, 16-6, at Cleveland Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio, Sunday.
Next week: Home against Jacksonville (4-7).
Recent trend: The Texans snapped a three-game losing streak with a victory at Cleveland Sunday. 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. The victory over Cleveland snapped an eight-game road losing streak.
What happened Sunday: The Texans, who have been competitive in most games during a difficult season, won on the road for the first time in more than a year, never trailing in a 16-6 victory on a cold day in Cleveland. Houston quarterback Sage Rosenfels, playing in place of starter Matt Schaub for a third consecutive game, completed 24 of 32 passes for 275 yards and a touchdown.
Statistically speaking: After entering the game last in the NFL in turnover margin at minus-13, the Texans forced five turnovers and committed just two. Wide receiver Andre Johnson caught 10 passes for 116 yards and wide receiver Kevin Walter caught nine passes for 73 yards and a touchdown.
Coming up: The Texans will play host to Jacksonville (4-7) Sunday. They will then visit Green Bay (5-5) before playing host to Tennessee (10-1). They finish the season with a road game at Oakland (3-8) and a home game against Chicago (6-5).
Quote to note: "When you are on the road, and you see the crowd filing out, that's the way you want it to be."
--- Texans Defensive End Anthony Weaver
New York Jets (8-3): The Jets have established themselves as a serious contender in the AFC. They have won five consecutive games – and seven of their last eight – with their last two victories coming at defending AFC Champion and five-time defending AFC East Champion New England and at Tennessee. On Sunday, they became the first team this season to beat the Titans. "I'm not going to sit here and say we've established ourselves as the best team in football,'' New York Jets quarterback Brett Favre said. All it says is I think we beat the best team in football today, definitely if you go by record and the way that they've played. They have been the best team in football.''
New England (7-4): So much for the idea the Patriots couldn't win without quarterback Tom Brady. The Patriots actually discounted that notion long ago, and on Sunday, they turned in a crucial AFC East victory over contending Miami, 48-28 at Miami. New England, which lost to Miami earlier this season, has not been swept by a division opponent since 2000. Quarterback Matt Cassell completed 30 of 43 passes for 415 yards – his second consecutive 400-yard game – and three touchdown passes. Wide receiver Randy Moss caught eight passes for 125 yards and three touchdowns.
Miami (6-5): The Dolphins, after winning just one game last regular season, scraped their way into the playoff chase with four consecutive victories, but lost a critical division game to defending AFC East champion New England Sunday. After producing 119 yards and four touchdowns from the so-called "Wildcat" formation in an early-season victory over the Patriots, eight direct snaps to running back Ronnie Brown produced just 25 yards rushing Sunday.
Buffalo (6-5): After a four-game losing streak moved them from first to last in the AFC East, the Bills beat the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday to improve their playoff chances. And they did so in striking fashion. After scoring five offensive touchdowns in their previous four games, the Bills came within four points of a 42-year-old record for points in a game, beating the Chiefs, 54-31. Bills quarterback Trent Edwards, after throwing eight interceptions and three touchdown passes in his previous 13 quarters, threw for two touchdowns and ran for two more Sunday.
Pittsburgh (8-3): The defending AFC North champions, the Steelers maintained their division lead with a 27-10 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals Thursday. After not scoring a touchdown for seven consecutive quarters – including the second half of a 24-20 loss to the Colts and four quarters of an 11-10 victory over San Diego – the Steelers' offense scored one in each of the final three quarters in a victory that enabled Pittsburgh to maintain a one-game lead over Baltimore in the North.
Baltimore (7-4): A year after slipping from AFC North champions to out of the playoffs, the Ravens are very much in the postseason chase this season, particularly after a dominant victory over the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday. The Ravens led just 10-7 at halftime, but pulled away with 26 second-half points for a 36-7 victory. Baltimore held Philadelphia to 206 total yards and forced five turnovers, including an NFL-record 108-yard interception return for a touchdown by safety Ed Reed.
Cleveland (4-7): A year ago, the Browns came within a game of an AFC wild-card appearance, losing when the Colts lost to the Tennessee Titans in the last game of the regular season. On Sunday, the Browns' frustrating 2008 season continued with a 10-point loss to the Houston Texans, who hadn't won a road game in more than a year. The Browns lost their third consecutive home game, committing five turnovers. Browns quarterback Brady Quinn, playing with a broken index finger on his throwing hand and making his third NFL start, left the game in the third quarter. "Brady has not lost his job," Browns Head Coach Romeo Crennel said.
Cincinnati (1-9-1): Playing without suspended wide receiver Chad Ocho Cinco, the Bengals took an early lead over division-leading Pittsburgh, but the lead didn't last. Instead, the Bengals lost a fifth consecutive game to the Steelers, and against the NFL's No. 1-ranked defense managed just 208 total yards.
Denver (6-5): They were one of the NFL's hottest teams early in the season, and five losses in eight games haven't cost the Broncos their first-place status in the AFC West. The Broncos on Sunday lost to struggling Oakland, 31-10, at INVESCO Field at Mile High Stadium. The Raiders and Broncos were tied, 10-10, before Oakland – a team the Broncos beat, 41-14, in Oakland in the season opener – pulled away for the victory.
San Diego (4-7): The Chargers, after evening their record at 3-3 after six weeks, have lost four of their past five games. On Sunday, they rallied from a 10-point second-half deficit to tie the Colts, 20-20, before losing by a score of 23-20 on a 51-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri on the game's final play. Although San Diego trails Denver by two games, they play their next two games at home and play host to the Broncos in the season finale.
Oakland (3-8): Through most of the season, the Raiders have experienced little but frustration, but Sunday was dramatically different. Playing one of their fiercest rivals, the Raiders – after struggling offensively in recent weeks – never trailed in the second half and pulled away for a 31-10 victory over the Broncos in Denver. The Raiders had lost four consecutive games and had scored two offensive touchdowns in six games.
Kansas City (1-10): A tough season got even tougher for the Chiefs on Sunday. After playing four consecutive opponents competitively, Kansas City allowed more points than in any previous game in their 49-year history in a 54-24 loss to the Bills. The Chiefs committed five turnovers that led directly to 20 Buffalo points. "It's embarrassing," Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson said.