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AFC South Spin cycle: Titans play spoiler on 'MNF'

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Recent posts by Arthur Arkush

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Posted Dec. 18, 2012 @ 12:31 p.m. ET
By Arthur Arkush

The Titans played spoiler Monday night, dashing the playoff hopes of the Jets. The Texans became the first AFC South club not named the Colts to win consecutive division titles, doing so fittingly by knocking off the Colts. The Jaguars reached a new low by getting throttled by the Dolphins.


What we learned: Defensive coordinator Jerry Gray is coaching like a man who doesn’t want to lose his job. But, unlike Jaguars head coach Mike Mularkey, whose desperation hurt his team Sunday, Gray’s game plan against the Jets was a rousing success. Normally too timid to dial up pressure, Gray unleashed the dogs on helpless Jets QB Mark Sanchez, blitzing early and often and rattling Sanchez into one mistake after the next. Offensively, QB Jake Locker was inconsistent, but it was encouraging to see coordinator Dowell Loggains call for more moving pockets and designed runs to play to Locker’s strengths. RB Chris Johnson was bottled up most of the evening, but like the great home run hitters do, he made the Jets’ defense pay with the one crease he had, turning it into a 94-yard scoring sprint, the longest of C.J.’s career.

What’s in store next: The Titans have a short week to prepare before walking into a hornet’s nest: A late-December game in Lambeau Field against the surging Packers. Green Bay locked up the NFC North with a win over the Bears in Week 15, and it continues to get healthier as the postseason nears. Gray’s heavy blitzing of late is unlikely to yield the same similar results against Aaron Rodgers as it did against QBs like Sanchez, Andrew Luck and Chad Henne, so it will be a big opportunity for the Titans DBs to raise their level of play as they try to carry over positive momentum from Monday night.

What the heck? It’s very much a work in progress for Locker, who completed 13-of-22 for 149 yards, adding 43 yards and a TD on seven carries. The good news is that Locker didn’t turn the ball over for the first time in more than a month, which, not coincidentally, was the last time the Titans won a game before Monday night. However, Locker did take four sacks, which might have been partially a result of consciously not forcing the football and making bad decisions. It’s definitely progress, but it will be nice when Locker begins to show the awareness to throw the ball out of bounds after he has broken the pocket. Locker’s accuracy when he is not in the move also continues to be a major issue; he missed a number of open targets when he did have a secure pocket to throw from.


What we learned: This team has a short memory. For the second time this season, the Texans bounced back from an embarrassing prime-time loss in resounding fashion to beat a playoff contender. Houston didn’t play a complete game — it produced only one offensive touchdown and allowed the Colts their most prolific rushing day of the season — but it leaned on its biggest stars (Arian Foster and Andre Johnson combined for 320 total yards and J.J. Watt bolstered his defensive player of the year résumé with three more sacks, three tackles for loss and a forced fumble in his most dominant showing of the season) to hold off the pesky Colts. QB Matt Schaub bounced back from a terrible showing in New England, completing 74.2 percent of his passes, and the Texans’ offensive line and ground game imposed their will on the Colts with 143 of 178 yards coming after the intermission.

What’s in store next: The Texans will look to lock up home-field advantage throughout the postseason with a win over the Vikings at Reliant Stadium. It figures to be a great test, what with the Vikes clinging to the NFC’s final wild-card spot and RB Adrian Peterson fresh off a 212-yard rushing effort in Minnesota’s impressive road win over St. Louis. To wit: Peterson, in the midst of the most prolific eight-game stretch by any back in NFL history, is just 294 yards away from Eric Dickerson’s NFL single-season rushing record of 2,105 with two contests left to play. The Texans have been uncharacteristically gashed on the ground the past two weeks, with much of the damage done right up the middle as teams look to run away from Watt. Peterson is at his best banging between the tackles, making this battle appointment viewing.

What the heck? Two weeks ago it was second-year WR Lestar Jean making his presence felt in the passing game with a 54-yard TD against the Titans. Jean, however, had a pair of costly drops last week in Foxborough, which, combined with third-rounder DeVier Posey’s strong week of practice, opened the door for the former Big Ten standout to make his biggest contribution of the season. Kubiak gushed after the game about the work Posey put in during the week, and the rookie was rewarded with 35 offensive snaps, which he parlayed into three grabs for 46 yards. The numbers don’t jump off the page, but Posey ate into No. 2 wideout Kevin Walter’s playing time, an interesting development as he gives the Texans a vertical dimension they lack with the steady but unspectacular Walter.


What we learned: The Colts already have exceeded even the wildest of expectations this season and, as they have done all season long, they showed great resolve, on the road, against a superior team. But the Texans are the class of the division, even if Indianapolis shot itself in the foot on more than one occasion. One could point to Mewelde’s Moore fumble on the Texans' goal line or a dismal 1-of-8 on third downs, but the bottom line is that the Colts couldn’t stop Houston’s ground game when they needed to, and they didn’t have any type of solution for Houston’s blue-chip players, who took over the game when the Colts couldn’t.

What’s in store next: Win one game in the next two weeks and the Colts will be playing January football. The much more manageable opportunity comes this week, when the Colts travel to Kansas City, where the Chiefs, who went more than 40 minutes Sunday against the Raiders before recording a first down, await. The Chiefs were shut out by Oakland, which entered Week 15 as the NFL’s 30th-ranked defense. Although Romeo Crennel’s group appears to have packed it in for the winter, they still have players who can hurt Indianapolis, namely RB Jamaal Charles and OLBs Justin Houston and Tamba Hali.

What the heck? This was not interim head coach Bruce Arians’ finest game. He admitted afterward that having Moore, cut by the Colts earlier in the season and on the street until this week, in the game taking a goal-line carry with his team trailing 10-0 early in the second quarter was a poor decision — and he's absolutely right. Rookie Vick Ballard was the Colts’ most consistent offensive weapon up until that point and he absolutely needed to be in the game, trying to hammer it in for a TD that potentially would have changed the complexion of the game. Arians also was called for an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty early in the fourth quarter, which negated a booming 63-yard Pat McAfee punt, leading to a short field that allowed the Texans to kick a field goal and increase their lead to nine. Arians has pushed almost all the right buttons this season — and he owned his mistakes after the game — but the Texans are too tough a club to beat with the head coach making these types of gaffes, especially on the road.


What we learned: With each loss — the Jaguars are 2-12, which ties the franchise record for most losses in a season — it becomes harder to fathom wholesale changes not occurring for this organization for a second offseason in a row. Jacksonville was again gashed on the ground (180 rushing yards). Mike Mularkey’s team again showed poor discipline, committing 10 more penalties for 88 yards. Mularkey again showed poor game-management skills, failing three times to convert fourth-down opportunities when field goals would have given his club a chance to win. Rewind one month and the Jaguars had temporary cause for optimism, with QB Chad Henne sparking the offense and perhaps providing hope under center for the future. Well, not only has Henne fumbled his chance, he fumbled an opportunity to exact revenge on the team that drafted him, completing just 18-of-34 passes and failing to find the endzone.

What’s in store next: Just when the Jaguars thought things couldn’t get any worse … their quirky schedule,  which features four consecutive games against AFC East foes, pits them against the Patriots, who just had a 21-game winning streak in the second half of the season snapped by the Niners, 41-34. Suffice to say: three points is unlikely to get it done against Tom Brady and Co. In a season of new lows, the Jaguars still might not have hit rock bottom — but Bill Belichick’s club is more than capable of sending them there if they don’t play their best game of the season.

What the heck? We get that the Jaguars have nothing to lose by going for it on fourth down. But to get stopped, on 4th-and-1 on three separate occasions, the first coming in a 3-3 tie at the Miami 11-yard line? Your offense isn’t going to suddenly become effective in Week 15. But guess what has been effective all season? PK Josh Scobee, who is having another Pro Bowl-caliber season. Mularkey’s second failed fourth-down try came with the Jags trailing 16-3 and 12:27 left to play at the Miami 15-yard line. Sure, it’s still a two-possession game if you kick the field goal, but at least you put points on the board for the first time since the opening possession.

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