The Colts edged the Titans in the battle for second-best in the AFC South, while the shorthanded Jaguars put forth a gutsy effort in Green Bay, but again came up short, falling to 1-6.
What we learned: The Colts obviously didn’t get the memo informing them they were not supposed to be competitive in a massive rebuilding season. Indianapolis once again never quit fighting, mounting 80-yard scoring drives in the fourth quarter and overtime, to knock off their division rivals. The return of Donald Brown (14 carries for 80 yards, including six carries for 39 yards in overtime), who missed the previous two games because of a knee injury, bolstered the running game. That helped Indianapolis pile up 171 yards on 34 carries (5.0 yards per clip), and rookie QB Andrew Luck made big throws when called upon and continued to show masterful pocket presence and an uncanny ability to avoid trouble when under duress.
What’s in store next: Raise your hand if you had a Week Nine tilt between the Dolphins and Colts circled on your calendar before the season as a game with significant wild-card implications. Well, with both teams sitting at 4-3 in the wide-open AFC, there is plenty at stake. The Dolphins thrashed the Jets Sunday, despite losing QB Ryan Tannehill to a left quad/knee injury in the first quarter. Backup Matt Moore played well in his absence, and Miami’s tremendous defensive and special-teams performances propelled them to the win. The Colts are still hoping to welcome back OLB Robert Mathis and NT Fili Moala, among others, and it remains to be seen how long CB Vontae Davis (knee) and TE Coby Fleener (shoulder) could be out after exiting early Sunday.
What the heck? It’s sometimes better to be lucky than good, and it appeared the Colts caught a major break in the final minute of regulation, when rookie TE Dwayne Allen fumbled deep in Indianapolis territory, yet the play already had been whistled dead because Allen’s forward progress was stopped. Luck would take a knee on the next play, before winning the overtime toss and marching 80 yards for the game-winning score, a 16-yard completion to rookie Vick Ballard on a throwback screen that was nearly intercepted and returned 80 yards the opposite direction by Titans DE Kamerion Wimbley.
What we learned: The Titans did a lot of things well Sunday, yet the Colts were just a little better in nearly every phase of the game. Chris Johnson continued to look more assertive, rushing 21 times for 99 yards, but Tennessee’s run “D” was a sieve, allowing the Colts to pile up a season-best 171 yards on the ground. Matt Hasselbeck had his most efficient game of the season, but, again, Andrew Luck was slightly better, particulary at the end of the game. Hasselbeck missed a wide-open Jared Cook down the seam with a 1:15 remaining and the game tied, before misfiring to Kenny Britt one play later on a pass that should have been intercepted and returned for the game-winning score.
What’s in store next: The Titans play host to the NFC North-leading Bears, who erased a 12-point Panthers lead in the fourth quarter, surviving on a 41-yard Robbie Gould game-winning field goal as time expired, to improve to 6-1. Though Hasselbeck is coming off another strong showing, questions inevitably will be raised this week about the status of starter Jake Locker, whose left shoulder continues to heal. Chicago’s offense is sputtering right now, but a date with the league’s second-worst scoring defense could be just what the doctor ordered. Tennessee’s pass rush has improved in recent weeks, however, and it will look to build on that progress against a Chicago offensive line that has allowed Jay Cutler to be sacked 25 times in seven games, including six by the Panthers — all coming in the first half — Sunday.
What the heck? The Titans were flagged for offensive pass interference three times Sunday, yet arguably the most obvious push-off went uncalled, when Titans rookie WR Kendall Wright hauled in a 23-yard touchdown over Cassius Vaughn shortly before halftime. Though a few of the calls were questionable, they came back to bite the Titans, who committed eight penalties for 65 yards on the afternoon.
What we learned: If only there were moral victories in the NFL. The Jaguars, with star RB Maurice Jones-Drew sidelined with a foot injury, starting QB Blaine Gabbert gutting it through a torn labrum in his left shoulder, and top CB Derek Cox a late scratch, had the Packers on the ropes but couldn’t deliver the knockout punch. However, we learned this team is continuing to fight for head coach Mike Mularkey, and the defense continues to show improvement, holding the Pack to 238 total yards at Lambeau Field. Gabbert, who posted his first 300-yard passing day in the NFL, didn’t play as well in the final 30 minutes, as his receivers continued to do him few favors with poor routes and multiple drops.
What’s in store next: The Jaguars return to the not-so-friendly confines of EverBank Field, where they are 0-3 and have been outscored 95-20, to face another dangerous NFC North outfit, the Lions. Detroit kept its season alive in Week Eight, narrowly beating the Seahawks on a Matthew Stafford-Titus Young one-yard scoring hookup with 20 seconds remaining. Detroit has a number of offensive weapons to account for, none more dangerous than Calvin Johnson, who will be looking to shake off his second consecutive outing with only three catches. Jacksonville really needs Cox, who missed the Green Bay game because of a back injury, to return and shadow Megatron.
What the heck? We understand the Jaguars are a desperate football team right now. We understand they already have little to play for other than pride and potentially saving the skin of GM Gene Smith and others. Yet, Mularkey’s decision to go for a two-point conversion with his team trailing by two with 17 seconds remaining in the first half was just silly. And, of course, it came back to haunt the Jags, who ended up losing by nine points. If the Jaguars had taken the freebie before the half, at least they would have had a prayer when they got the ball back following a Mason Crosby field goal with 28 seconds remaining.