The Texans improved to 10-1 by winning a scintillating, controversial game over the Lions on Thanksgiving. The Jaguars and Colts were also victorious, with Jacksonville's Chad Henne-led offense again igniting against the Titans, and the Colts winning ugly over the Bills.
What we learned: Head coach Gary Kubiak put it best when he said "you make your own breaks when you work." There is no question the Texans have gotten some breaks lately, none bigger than the 81-yard Justin Forsett TD in which he was clearly down after seven yards, but head coach Jim Schwartz threw his challenge flag on the scoring play, negating the opportunity to review the play. It was a major turning point in the game, just 28 seconds after Detroit had taken its biggest lead of the day, a 10-point margin more than halfway through the third quarter. Both teams would go back and forth most of the afternoon, and a plethora of injuries definitely contributed to another rocky performance from the defense, particularly against the pass. Yet, with the game on the line, it was Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson carrying their team once again, spearheading a 15-play, 97-yard drive in the final minutes to force overtime, and the Texans' defense not allowing points on Detroit's final six drives, all of which ended in Houston territory.
What's in store next: A desperately needed mini-bye. The Texans have been battered and bruised in three extremely physical contests over the past two weeks, thus healing time has never been more necessary for myriad injury concerns that have suddenly arisen, including LBs Brooks Reed (groin) and Bradie James, as well as OT Derek Newton. The club was already without its top corner, Johnathan Joseph, starting NT Shaun Cody and backup RB Ben Tate. In Week 13, the Texans travel to Nashville to face their division-rival Titans.
What the heck? Schwartz quickly patted his chest, acknowledging that he was to blame for the Forsett phantom TD run that should have been overturned, if it wasn't for an emotional Schwartz throwing a challenge flag on a scoring play that would have been automatically reviewed upstairs. Again, we agree with Kubiak when he said teams make their own breaks. But we disagree with this league rule, which really needs to be changed after the season. We understand the 15-yard penalty for a head coach letting his emotions get in the way of his understanding of the rule book. But we strongly disagree with a team being penalized twice; once with a 15-yard penalty and again with a TD that was ruled incorrectly on the field holding up because Schwartz threw his challenge flag.
What we learned: The Colts can win games without QB Andrew Luck carrying them. On Sunday, it was the strength of their third-down defense (4-of-13 for the Bills) and special teams (T.Y. Hilton's 75-yard punt return; P Pat McAfee (51.2 gross average, 46.4 net average), with Luck and the offense never quite getting into gear. Hilton is turning out to be a third-round steal, and ILB Jerrell Freeman (team-high 16 tackles), who has led the Colts in tackles nine times this season, continues to fly all over the field. It’s worth mentioning, however, that neither line played well for the Colts. Luck was sacked four times and the Colts managed just three yards per carry against the league’s worst run defense. Defensively, Buffalo picked up 135 yards on 23 carries. The Colts' effort was good enough to beat the Bills but won’t be against tougher opponents.
What’s in store next: A visit to Ford Field, where the reeling Lions, losers of three straight, await. Indianapolis’ struggles away from Lucas Oil Stadium have been well documented (2-3 on the road vs. 5-1 at home), and Luck, in particular, could be in for a long day against Detroit’s dangerous front four if he doesn’t make smarter decisions with the football. The Lions are coming off a deflating Thanksgiving-day loss to the Texans, in which they squandered one opportunity after the next. Their high-powered offense was kept off the scoreboard despite traveling into Houston territory on its last six possessions, but the Texans are a much different animal than the Colts, who have struggled at times against spread offenses.
What the heck? You won’t hear the Colts complaining, but Bills head coach Chan Gailey’s curious clock management at the end of the first half was a major assist to Indianapolis. After starting their drive at their own eight-yard line with just 58 seconds remaining and no timeouts left, the Bills took just five seconds off the clock with two incompletions, before a third-down run attempt by Fred Jackson was stuffed for just four yards. Buffalo would punt to the Colts after milking just 26 seconds off the clock. Three Reggie Wayne completions and a defensive pass interference call later, Adam Vinatieri nailed a 19-yard FG with one second remaining, widening the Colts lead to 13-6. Gailey likely would have been better served running the ball and heading into the locker room down four.
What we learned: The Titans’ defense played OK most of the afternoon, tallying a season-high seven sacks and limiting the Jaguars to 321 total yards. Yet, the third-down defense faltered (Jacksonville converted 7-of-14) and the continued coverage breakdowns and missed tackles reared their ugly head later in the game. PK Rob Bironas converted 4-of-5 field goals, though a missed 42-yarder early in the second quarter turned out to be very costly. QB Jake Locker made some really nice throws — particularly in the red zone — but he threw interceptions on the Titans’ final two offensive possessions, effectively burying the Titans’ chances of a comeback.
What’s in store next: The Titans return to LP Field to host the division-leading Texans, who desperately needed the extra time to heal following a taxing 34-31 overtime victory over the Lions on Thanksgiving. Houston pummeled Tennessee, 38-14, in Week Four, with Jake Locker suffering a separated non-throwing shoulder on a big hit courtesy of blitzing S Danieal Manning. The good news for the Titans is that RB Chris Johnson had success running the ball in that contest, and that will again be the necessary recipe for success against a Houston club that finished off the Lions in Detroit without three of its four starting linebackers.
What the heck? After registering a season-best seven sacks against the Jaguars, giving the Titans 14 in the past four games, it begs the question: where was the pressure earlier in the season? Tennessee’s LB corps has really improved in the pass rush department over the past month, but the Titans are still waiting for DEs Kamerion Wimbley and Derrick Morgan to get going. The Titans will find out just how far their pass rush improvement has come against Houston, as they’re a far superior group to the Jaguars, and Matt Schaub does a good job of getting rid of the ball quickly.
What we learned: This is a completely different offense with QB Chad Henne at the controls. Jacksonville had eight passing plays of 20-plus yards against the Titans, with Henne consistently driving the ball downfield into the hands of his playmakers. The offensive line was a disaster against a porous Titans pass-rushing group (seven sacks allowed), however, making Henne’s performance all the more impressive. Defensively, the Jaguars kept RB Chris Johnson mostly in check, and they were able to get off the field on third downs, in addition to coming up with a critical interception of Jake Locker in the final minutes. Jacksonville continues to fall short getting pressure (the Jaguars were held to one sack or less for the sixth time), magnifying the need for a difference maker off the edge.
What’s in store next: Head coach Mike Mularkey returns to Buffalo, where he first broke into the head-coaching ranks in 2004-05. After being edged 20-13 by the Colts, the Bills have now lost four of their last five and are no longer in the postseason discussion. However, they are very dangerous up front on defense, which means the Jaguars will have to make great strides in protection this week to give Henne more time to throw. Jacksonville’s first win in over two months didn’t come without consequence — it finished the game without its top two cornerbacks. Buffalo has the ability to spread defenses out, which could be trouble given the Jaguars’ poor CB depth.
What the heck? We truly would prefer not to continue picking on Mularkey, but what was he thinking going for it on 4th-and-3 at the Tennessee 45 with 52 seconds remaining in the first half? His team was clinging to a 7-3 lead, and despite being 1-9, the much higher percentage play would have been to allow rookie P Bryan Anger the chance to kick it deep and make the Titans drive the length of the field. Instead, Mularkey went for it, with Henne badly misfiring deep for Justin Blackmon, and he needed his defense to bail him out, again, on a short field.