Jaguars vs. Texans preview

December, 25, 2014
Dec 25
We come to the end of a tumultuous season for the Houston Texans and one that, remarkably, has a chance to continue past Week 17.

If the Texans win, the Kansas City Chiefs beat the San Diego Chargers and the Cleveland Browns beat the Baltimore Ravens, Houston gets a playoff berth. That leaves the Jacksonville Jaguars in the role of spoilers.

In their first meeting, the Texans struggled early and Jacksonville went into halftime with a lead. Houston took over in the second half and came away with an important win. The Texans were swept last season by the Jaguars, but this year, Houston is going for the season sweep. A win here would give Houston a 4-2 division record.

They are facing a Jaguars team that earned its third victory of the season last week and enters Sunday's contest with 10 days' rest.

ESPN NFL Nation Texans reporter Tania Ganguli and Jaguars reporter Mike DiRocco discuss.

Ganguli: Mike, the Jaguars didn't have much success against J.J. Watt last time these teams met. Any reason to think that will change this time?

DiRocco: Watt did get three sacks, but one came when he was intentionally unblocked on a bootleg (not sure why you’d choose to do that) and another came when he tapped quarterback Blake Bortles after he slipped on a sprint out to this right. He beat right tackle Sam Young for another sack. Watt also had another tackle for loss and drew a holding penalty that stalled a fourth-quarter drive, but overall the Jaguars felt like they did a decent job of keeping Watt from doing too much damage. They’ll do the same thing on Sunday they did the last time: chip him with a back, keep a tight end in for extra help, and try to throw quick passes to somewhat neutralize his rush. It’s hard to really take him out of the game because he lines up everywhere on the defensive front. He spent a lot of time lined up over Young in the last meeting and the Jaguars are expecting to see him do that again. Watt will still make an impact because he is such a game-changer, but the Jaguars are hoping that’s limited to one or two plays and he doesn’t dominate the game as he has against other teams.

We talked about it before, but I need you to give me the definitive argument on why Watt should be the league's MVP.

Ganguli: Your answer to my previous question actually gives me a good starting point. Watt had three sacks, a batted pass, another tackle for loss, five quarterback hurries or hits and drew a holding penalty on a critical drive and his opponent felt like that was a job well done. That's quite a compliment. In watching the game, it was apparent Bortles was thinking about Watt's whereabouts, including on the sack that resulted from Bortles tripping as Watt sprinted after him. You can't say Watt's pursuit didn't affect Bortles there. This kind of thing happens a lot. I recall a Titans lineman a few years ago downplaying Watt's impact despite his two sacks against this particular lineman.

Regardless of what shows up on the stat sheet, Watt impacts every play in an opponent's game plan. He has the trust of his coaches, which means if he finds a spot from which he thinks he can wreak the most havoc, they'll sometimes let him park there and do it. It doesn't matter how someone gets to the quarterback, when he does it makes a difference. Defensively, here are Watt's numbers: 17.5 sacks, 72 tackles, 42 tackles for loss or no gain, nine batted passes, five fumble recoveries, three forced fumbles and one interception. He leads the NFL in TFLs, batted passes and fumble recoveries. Only once since sacks became an official statistic in 1982 has a player accounted for a larger percentage of a team's sacks than Watt's 53 percent. He's played better this season than he did in 2012, when he won Defensive Player of the Year.

Now let's get to the historical significance of his offensive touches. Watt is the first player in NFL history to have three touchdown catches, a fumble return for a touchdown and a pick-six in the same season. Watt is the first defensive lineman since 1944 to have at least five touchdowns in a season. He's the first defensive player to have five touchdowns in a season since 1971. The Texans are 4-1 when Watt scores a touchdown. By the very nature of his position, he isn't going to be able to affect every game's outcome as much as a quarterback -- who touches the ball on every play -- does. But he shouldn't be penalized for that.

The vibe around Jacksonville has seemed exceptionally positive the past few years, though the Jags' record isn’t improving much. Do you think it will next year?

DiRocco: It should, but I thought it would be better this year than it was in 2013 (4-12), too. Logically, though, the offense should be significantly better with Bortles, right guard Brandon Linder, center Luke Bowanko, and receivers Allen Robinson, Marqise Lee and Allen Hurns in their second season. They all started at least seven games as rookies. Just because they’re a year older doesn’t mean they’ll be a lot better, but it would be unusual if they weren’t at least somewhat improved. The offense was what held this team back from being more competitive. With that unit theoretically better, the Jaguars should be able to win more games. Some other caveats: The offensive line as a whole has to improve (team-record and NFL-high 66 sacks allowed), the speed at linebacker needs to be upgraded, and the defense has to force more turnovers. It sounds like a lot, and it is, but if two of those areas improve, the Jaguars should be able to win more games in 2015.

Great performance by Case Keenum last week to keep the Texans alive in the playoff chase. Does that outing say more about Keenum or the rest of the offense?

Ganguli: He didn't make big mistakes, which allowed the Texans' defense to take over the game. Last season in his eight starts, Keenum led the league in yards lost per sack (10.58). That's an incredible figure. On Sunday, with the help of his protection and play-calling, Keenum didn't take a single sack. He made one horrible decision that ended in an interception, but recovered well and didn't turn over the ball again. It helped that his interception was not in Texans territory. Keenum's numbers weren't especially good, but that's OK for the Texans if he takes care of the ball and manages the game plan well, like he did on Sunday.

Keenum’s protection was great last week against a really strong front that blitzed him a lot. What can he expect from the Jaguars' defense?

DiRocco: The Jaguars likely won’t blitz him as much as Baltimore did, mainly because coach Gus Bradley’s defense doesn’t use a lot of blitzes. Bradley calls it rush and cover: get pressure with only four rushers and blanket the field with seven in coverage. But while Keenum won’t see as many extra rushers as he did last week, he will have to deal with pressure coming from inside and outside. Defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks leads the team with 8.5 sacks, an unusually high number for an interior lineman, and ends Chris Clemons (7.0) and Ryan Davis (6.5) are right behind him. Three other players have three sacks, including rookie end Chris Smith and second-year tackle Abry Jones. The Jaguars are fifth in the NFL with 42 sacks, which shows marked improvement from the past two seasons, when they had 51 combined.

Back to the quarterback. Is the Texans' quarterback of the future on the roster or IR?

Ganguli: He definitely could be on injured reserve. Ryan Mallett showed some very positive things in the game he played. He showed off his arm strength, his football intelligence and his leadership ability. He's played only one healthy game. When I talked to him last week, he wouldn't admit how much pain he was in during that second start, which he played with a torn pectoral muscle, but you can imagine. A one-game sample size isn't one with which you can draw sweeping conclusions, but it offered hope for his future. The X factor here is the free-agent market. Whether or not he's back next year will have more factors than just mutual affinity, which does exist between Mallett and the team right now.

Colts vs. Titans preview

December, 25, 2014
Dec 25
video When: 1 p.m. ET, Sunday Where: LP Field, Nashville

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Indianapolis Colts are eager to clean things up and feel more ready for the playoffs. The Tennessee Titans are eager to end a miserable season and move on.

The NFL fills its final week with divisional matchups in hopes of finding more meaningful games. It works overall, but in this instance it pairs teams that are at opposite ends of the AFC South.

Indianapolis (10-5) crushed Tennessee (2-13) at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sept. 28 by the score of 41-14. They wrap the regular season at LP Field on Sunday. Colts reporter Mike Wells joined Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky to discuss the game.

Wells: It's been a long time since these two teams have met -- Week 4 -- and it's been nine weeks since the Titans won a game. What has been their biggest problem this season?

Kuharsky: Name it. They don’t convert third downs to extend drives, they don’t run the ball well, and they haven’t had any continuity at quarterback. Defensively, they don’t stop the run -- this could be the long-awaited week where Trent Richardson busts out -- and they don’t tackle well. They do OK pressuring the quarterback, but it’s virtually all blitz-generated.

Speaking of blitz-generated ... do the Colts blitz a lot to make up for not having a great rusher? They got to Titans QB Charlie Whitehurst three times in the first meeting.

Wells: Blitzing is the best chance the Colts have at getting after the quarterback, because their defensive front is not good enough to apply consistent pressure. That goes back to the earlier comment about the Colts’ inability to have success against most pocket-passing quarterbacks. Blitz Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, and they will pick you apart. Sit back in a zone, and those quarterbacks will have plenty of time to decide where they want to throw the ball. The Colts have spent the season hoping somebody would step up to help fill the void left by Robert Mathis' absence. That hasn’t happened, which is why they've had to spend a lot of time blitzing this season.

I assume it's safe to say the injured Jake Locker is not the answer at quarterback. Do you believe the Titans will look at drafting a quarterback -- possibly Jameis Winston -- with their pick in the first round?

Kuharsky: Locker’s deal is up and he will land elsewhere. The Titans have blown a No. 3 pick on Vince Young and a No. 8 pick on Locker in a span of six years. Those failures are a big part of why they are where they are. My guess is that they will keep Zach Mettenberger (also injured) and try to find someone he has to beat out for the job. But Oregon's Marcus Mariota needs to run around some to be his best, and Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt is a pocket-passer devotee. Winston’s baggage has to be a concern. It seems it would be ideal if they landed a top-two pick and then dealt it to a team that wants one of the top quarterback prospects. With more quality picks, they could address a number of areas where they aren’t good enough.

Indianapolis’ defense is very much middle-of-the-pack. How have the Colts managed to be so good on third down?

Wells: A lot has to do with the opponent. In the Colts' 10 victories, their D held opponents to a 24.9 percent success rate on third down. In four games, the opposition converted only one third down. The only team the Colts have beaten that has locked up a playoff spot is Cincinnati, and the Bengals were 1-of-13 on third downs against Indianapolis in October. Things have been drastically different for the Colts in their five losses. Teams that have beaten the Colts have converted 53 percent of their third downs. The common theme for the teams that have beaten the Colts is that all their quarterbacks are pocket passers, a serious area of concern for the Colts.

What is the window on Whisenhunt as coach? Will the Titans' front office give him a fair chance to get things turned around?

Kuharsky: Tommy Smith, who heads the ownership group and is the team president and CEO, has publicly backed both Whisenhunt and general manager Ruston Webster. I don’t see a change coming at either spot, but the tide needs to start changing in a hurry, or they could both be done after the 2015 season. Whisenhunt was entirely too inflexible in his first season, failing to bend his system to fit what he inherited. Webster’s 2014 draft class was pretty good, but his record with free agents beyond Delanie Walker and the injured Bernard Pollard is horrific.

I saw the Colts hand off three times in their first possession in Dallas before punting. Are they still of the thinking that they must run and find balance? If so, why is that? Why don’t they turn QB Andrew Luck loose and take their chances?

Wells: Colts coach Chuck Pagano said this week that his team has to be able to run the football in the playoffs. The reality is, any chance for the Colts to have a successful running game ended on the night of Nov. 16, when running back Ahmad Bradshaw was lost for the season with a fractured fibula. Things were working well with the Bradshaw-Richardson duo. The Richardson-Boom Herron duo? The same can’t be said. That was evident when the Colts rushed for 1 yard -- yes, 1 yard -- against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday. That means Luck will have to lead the Colts if they expect to have any chance of making a run in the playoffs. And at this moment, the Colts don’t even appear to be a team that can win its wild-card playoff game.

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts were without four starters in practice on Wednesday.

Tight end Dwayne Allen (knee), offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus (groin), linebacker Bjoern Werner (shoulder) and linebacker Jerrell Freeman (hamstring) all sat out. Allen isn't expected to play against the Tennessee Titans this Sunday.

Offensive linemen Hugh Thornton and Joe Reitz both practiced. Thornton has missed the past four games with a knee injury. Reitz has missed the past two games with a high-ankle sprain.

Here's the rest of the Colts' injury report from Wednesday:

Limited practice: Receiver T.Y. Hilton (hamstring); linebacker Erik Walden (knee)
INDIANAPOLIS -- Reggie Wayne will have offseason surgery on his torn triceps, the Indianapolis Colts receiver confirmed to Tennessee Titans reporters on a conference call Wednesday.

The news of the surgery isn’t surprising as Wayne has been playing with the injury since it happened against Cincinnati on Oct. 19. He missed the Oct. 26 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but he’s had no interest in missing any other time despite a slippage in his production.

Wayne, who wears a sleeve on his left arm, has accumulated 24 receptions for 254 yards and one touchdown since returning to the lineup.

Wayne, who is a free agent at the end of the season, has said he won’t decide if he’ll return for a 15th season until he talks to his family in the offseason.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- One of the goals that Jacksonville Jaguars offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch had for rookie quarterback Blake Bortles over the final six games of the season was cutting his turnovers in half.

Bortles had thrown 14 interceptions through the first 10 games before the bye week and Fisch said that number needed to be around six.

Barring a three-interception game in the season finale against Houston, Bortles is going to come in below that mark. He has thrown just three interceptions in the past five games and one came on a desperation fourth-down throw from his own 23-yard line in a 20-12 loss to Baltimore on Dec. 14.

[+] EnlargeBlake Bortles
Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesBlake Bortles has shown marked improvement in taking care of the ball in the second half of the season.
"We talked about, I guess it was [six] weeks ago, that I said I’d like to cut his interceptions in half and I know he said something like [he wanted to throw] a couple less than I wanted," Fisch said. "I think we got that going into this final game so we continue to build off of that and just continue to find little things that show improvement areas."

Bortles threw at least two interceptions in five of the eight games in which he played before the bye week, including four that were returned for touchdowns. He threw three in the Jaguars’ 24-6 victory over Cleveland but the team was able to overcome that by forcing the Browns into three turnovers.

He hasn’t thrown more than one in his past seven games. He didn’t throw one against the New York Giants and Tennessee.

"Seeing it more, becoming more consistent in the decisions that are being made and not being so sporadic and doing different things versus the same look [is why he has cut his interceptions down]," Bortles said. "When you get the same look and have the same play call you want to do it over and over again so that everybody has a feel for what you’re going to do rather than doing multiple things. I think that was the biggest thing, was just becoming consistent with decisions."

Coach Gus Bradley said he was concerned that constant reminders of not turning the ball over might take away some of Bortles’ aggressiveness and wiliness to take chances here and there, but said that hasn’t been the case. Bortles is still aggressive and taking chances, but he’s smarter about when and where he takes chances.

Plus, he is more experienced and has a bank of knowledge from which to draw so he’s not making the same mistakes in certain situations he did earlier in the season.

"We don’t want to have him operate in any fear," Bradley said. "We want to protect that part of that environment and it was a challenge because there was multiple games with too many interceptions, but I think what’s impressive about him is we have challenged him to make good decisions, play smart, but it hasn’t affected his mentality. I think he goes out there and is willing to take chances and risks and he has been ultra-competitive throughout the whole thing.

"To me, that he has stayed true to who he is he has made corrections and has been consistent is what’s impressive. I think I remember a couple of weeks ago he said, ‘I’m coming up with more answers. When I’m out in the field and I see different looks I know where the answers are.’ I think that’s probably the biggest reason he’s made better decisions."

They may not always be the correct answers, Fisch said, but they have worked on game days. The evaluation usually comes on Mondays in the film room when Bortles details what he saw, why he made a certain throw, and whether the decision he made was the one he was supposed to make in that situation.

It’s easier for Bortles to answer those questions now than it was in October.

"As with everything it’s [gaining] experience," Fisch said. "One more game of experience. One more game of study. Better understanding of what we’re doing, where to go with the ball, how to get it out of your hands quicker.

"… The more understanding he has of what we do on offense, the more understanding he has of what other teams do on defense, the easier the answers come."
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Ray Horton considers an NFL season a pass-fail proposition.

Miss the playoffs and you fail.

The Titans were non-contenders very early in a dismal season. Horton recently stood in front of his defense and told players he was sorry for failing to lead them to the playoffs.

“For me, I would say it’s a failure and I’ve apologized to the defense because we didn’t get into the playoffs,” Horton said. “That’s all that matters.”

Distributing blame is big sport during and after a season like this one. Horton hasn't revolutionized the defense in his first season with the Titans, but he’s also had limits on what to work with and relied on a lot of guys who failed to be disciplined with gap fits and proved incapable of tacking reliably.

“He apologized and at the same time, we feel like we let him down, too,” safety Michael Griffin said. “At the end of the day we’re the defense; we’re the 11 guys that trot out there on the field. Nobody’s perfect and there is no best call for anything. It’s like playing a game of chess.

“We had opportunities to win games, to play better, to eliminate the big plays. Sometimes it wasn’t the best call, but at the end of the day, if all 11 of us work together, you’re able to work through a down.”

Said nose tackle Sammie Hill: “We’re sorry we didn’t do what we were supposed to. It goes hand in hand.”

A full year of experience in the system and an influx of new talent should help things be better in 2015, particularly if the Titans acquire the sort of edge pass-rusher who can influence things for the entire defense.
HOUSTON -- Texans kicker Randy Bullock was named AFC special-teams player of the week for a performance in a game in which his team relied heavily on him.

"It’s really special," Bullock said. "It’s an honor I’ve never had before. It sounds like it’s been something that hasn’t happened here in a while. It’s really special, but like I said, I’m just honored and very happy to be able to receive that. But a lot of that, again, is credited to Jon Weeks and Shane Lechler. They’ve been very, very beneficial to me."

Bullock kicked six field goals and made them all from 20, 25, 30, 33, 35 and 39 yards. He accounted for 19 of the Texans' 25 points in their 12-point win over the Ravens.

The six field goals are the most in any NFL game this season and a Texans single-game record.

“Six under 40 yards, that’s a big game," Bullock said. "It was a lot of fun to be able to put points on the board, and hopefully we’ll be able to score some touchdowns and be successful this week.”

Bullock credited long-snapper Weeks and punter Lechler, who is the holder on place kicks, with helping his success this season. Now that he's left it behind, he can assess why he struggled earlier in his career.

"Honestly, looking back I think it was a little bit of everything," Bullock said. "I had been put in some tough situations. I didn’t feel like I was making as good of contact on the ball at times. Looking back, I really studied a whole lot of tape and did a whole lot of mental and physical preparation for this year to try and put that behind me and move forward."

This marks the fourth time the Texans have had a player of the week. Defensive end J.J. Watt has earned the award twice and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick once.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks said he was surprised that he wasn’t named to the Pro Bowl and said he’s no longer going to place any personal significance to that accomplishment.

"You play for your team, you play for your guys, but an individual goal is to make it to that point," Marks said. "You hang your hat on that: If I have a great season it’ll be credited with a Pro Bowl. Well now, it’s just something I won’t hang my hat on any more.

"I’ll continue to play the way I’ve been playing. I just won’t hang my hat on it."

Marks, who was named an alternate, was hurt by playing for a small-market team that has won just three games and appeared on national television only once. He finished 13th among defensive tackles in fan voting despite being second among all defensive tackles with 8.5 sacks. (Buffalo’s Marcell Dareus leads with 10.) He leads the Jaguars in sacks -- unusual for an interior lineman -- to go along with 42 tackles, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and one pass breakup. More than half of his 16.5 career sacks have come this season.

Coach Gus Bradley said Marks has had a phenomenal season and deserves to be a Pro Bowler -- and is in his eyes.

"I can’t say enough good things about him," Bradley said. "I used him as an example to the team today about how he’s internally motivated, and when you build a team full of guys that are internally motivated you have really strong mindset and really strong team.

"I know what we believe in him and what our team thinks of him. He’s a Pro Bowl player, just what he brings every day to our locker room, what he brings to practice and on the field."

Marks could end up playing in the game, which will be played on Jan. 25 at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, because Tampa Bay’s Gerald McCoy was selected to the game despite being on injured reserve with a knee injury. Other players may pull out for other reasons, too.

"If I’m called then I’ll go," Marks said. "I think it’s huge for not only me but for the team, for the organization, and the coaches and things like that, but it’s not something that I’ll hang my hat on and play for each year."
Houston Texans defensive tackle Jerrell Powe will bend the ears of some of his old Kansas City Chiefs teammates this week.

"Definitely going to call them and get in their ear and say, we need y'all to play extra hard this week and get the W," Powe said. "I'll ... tell them, hey we need San Diego to lose so you gotta get after Rivers. They’re banged up anyway so bang 'em on up."

This time of year creates strange cheerleaders for various teams. Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers, for example, was a big Texans fan last weekend.

"You should have seen me and Gunner, my 6-year-old," Rivers said, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. "We didn't miss a play in that Baltimore-Houston game. We were truly fans from play to play, cheering and carrying on. He's jumping up and down on the couch. I never cheered for the Texans so hard. It was exciting, and all that did was put us back in control."

The Texans, of course, now need the Chargers to lose. They also need the Ravens to lose again. And Houston needs to beat the Jaguars this weekend. If all three of those things happen they'll return to the playoffs after a one-year hiatus.

"The only person I talked to about it was Justin Houston, but he was like, they need the win, too," former Chief and Texans safety Kendrick Lewis said. "In a sense, it’s not helping, they’re trying to help themselves. ...

"I have confidence in them. They fight, they fight hard. They want to go into the playoffs. Their season didn’t go as they wanted to where they control their own destiny. They’re fighting, they’re fighting. I believe they’ll pull through for us."
INDIANAPOLIS – Indianapolis Colts ageless kicker Adam Vinatieri earned his third Pro Bowl appearance on Tuesday.

Next up for him is perfection.

Vinatieri has an opportunity to finish with a perfect season as long as he doesn’t miss any of his attempts against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, which happens to be his 42nd birthday. He’s 28-of-28 this season and has made 34 straight attempts. Former Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt (37 of 37, 2003) and Gary Anderson (35 of 35, 1998 Minnesota Vikings) are the other kickers to have perfect seasons with at least 20 field-goal attempts.

“That’s always your goal,” Vinatieri said. “Seasons are long and there are lots of things that go on. I never look at the beginning of the year and say I’m going to try to do this. I never look that far out. I’m always trying to have a big game one at a time and see where things end up at the end.”

Perfection is nice and all, but at Vinatieri’s age, it's even more impressive. He is nailing 50-yard field goals when most football players are enjoying retirement.

He entered the league in 1996. How long ago was that?

Quarterback Andrew Luck was 7. Rookie receiver Donte Moncrief was only 3.

“That just means he’s good at what he does and that he’s proven he has a place in the NFL,” punter and holder Pat McAfee said earlier this season. “He’s the greatest.”

Vinatieri’s dedication is evident. He lost about eight pounds in the offseason, said he gets more sleep at night and improved his nutrition. He spent time talking to receiver Griff Whalen, who doesn’t eat meat.

“I play a position that you can get away with a little extra weight,” Vinatieri said. “I was trying to recommit myself. Every year, the older you get, the more determined, the stricter you have to be about everything. I try to get myself to bed at a good time. I try and to make sure I’m up and eating right. It’s still a challenge at that point, but I know my body needs the right nutrition and needs the right amount of rest to perform well.”

Vinatieri doesn’t want to put a timetable on how long he plans to continue playing. He plans to at least finish his contract through the end of next season.

At this rate, Vinatieri could probably still make field goals until he’s almost 50.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The last couple years of a six-year free-agent contract are often window dressing.

It’s uncommon in the NFL for a player to reach the end of his 10th year in the league playing the final game of that six-year term.

Sunday at LP Field, Tennessee Titans receiver Nate Washington will do just that.

"As much as it was hard the past six seasons, I will say there's no emptiness," Washington said. "I can look back at it and say that as a person, as a young man growing, I was trying to do everything I could … and today, I'm still doing the same."

As John Glennon of Tennessean writes, Washington has closed his eyes to savor more than the sites of LP Field in recent weeks and he’ll do so on Sunday against the Colts knowing it is probably his final game with the Titans.
"I've just been closing my eyes and trying to hold on to everything besides the vision -- because the vision is so easily captured. I've been trying to hold on to the smell and hold on to what the stadium sounds like.

"It's those type of things — the atmosphere of the fans, knowing which fans are right there by the tunnel — that I'm trying to hold on to right now. I'm so grateful of the time I've had here that I'm pretty sure [Sunday] will be sentimental for me."

Washington often delivers the final words to teammates circled around him before the group concludes pregame warm-ups and heads to the locker room. He should have an especially captive audience on Sunday.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Dwayne Allen didn’t look down at his hands and rub them together like they were slippery or anything.

He didn't do it after the first drop, the second drop and definitely not the third drop.

Dropped passes are something that’s not supposed to happen to the Indianapolis Colts' tight end.

But that was the case in Sunday’s loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

"I watched the tape and I was like, 'Who's that guy?’” Allen said. “"For some reason, I was not there. The sad part about it was me re-injuring the knee and not having the chance to redeem myself in the run game, pass protection or anything else. That sucks. But if you play this game long enough, you're going to have a game like that."

Allen’s drops started on the Colts’ third series. Quarterback Andrew Luck threw a short pass to the right that was out of the reach of Allen. The play wasn’t classified as a drop, but Allen said it was.

Luck, like he always does, didn’t shy away from throwing the ball back to Allen. He threw Allen’s way on the very next play. But instead of attempting to catch the ball his hands in the middle of the field, Allen used his body and the ball bounced right off his chest. Allen’s last drop would have been an 18-yard gain along the sideline, but he couldn’t bring it in.

"On the one over the middle, it hit me right in the chest," Allen said. "Didn't look it in at all. The one on the sideline, people said, 'Oh, it was underthrown.' No. The ball was in the air, I was in the vicinity, I should have caught it, point blank, period. The timing was perfect. I got my eyes around late. Luck can't throw the ball perfect every time. He was under duress. He was able to get the ball up and in the vicinity. It's my job to go up and adjust to the ball and catch it. That's what I should have done. I wasn't able to stop, turn around and catch and that's why it resulted in another drop."

Allen eventually ended up leaving the game with a left knee injury. The Colts are calling him day-to-day, but he likely won’t play against in the season finale at Tennessee this weekend. Allen acknowledged that his ankle sprain from earlier this season has limited his practice time and, unlike players such as Ahmad Bradshaw and Marshawn Lynch, he needs to practice to be effective.

"I've always been one of the hardest-working guys at practice,” Allen said. “Looking back at the past couple weeks, because of injury I haven't been able to work as hard as I usually work. Maybe that has something to do with it. But I'm going to make sure that I do everything within my power to never have an outing like that again.

“I need to be able to get out there and get a couple of reps in order to be successful on Sunday. Being limited with an injury does hinder that. But my knee and my ankle don't have nothing to do with my eyes and my hands. That's the worst performance I've ever had in my playing career."
» Pro Bowl analysis: AFC | NFC » Complete roster


Andrew Luck, QB, third Pro Bowl selection: Luck spent most of the season leading the NFL in passing yards. He's currently third in that category with 4,601 yards and is second in the league in touchdown passes. Not only is Luck headed to the Pro Bowl for the third consecutive season, he's also headed to the playoffs for the third straight season.

Who he beat out: New Orleans' Drew Brees leads the NFL in passing yards, but the Saints aren't making the playoffs. Seattle's Russell Wilson and San Diego's Philip Rivers also deserved consideration.

Adam Vinatieri, K, third Pro Bowl selection: Vinatieri is the only kicker yet to miss a field goal (28-of-28) this season. He has made three field goals from at least 50 yards and seven between 40-49 yards. Vinatieri will become just the third kicker with at least 20 field goal attempts to finish with a perfect season if he doesn't miss against Tennessee on Sunday.

Who he beat out: It's hard to say somebody should have made it over Vinatieri when he's the only kicker that's perfect on field goals this season. Atlanta' Matt Bryant has made a league-high seven field goals from at least 50 yards.

T.Y. Hilton, WR, first Pro Bowl selection: Hilton, Luck's playmaker at receiver, is fifth in the league in receiving yards. He also has seven touchdowns. Of the receivers with at least 1,000 yards receiving, Hilton is second in the league with 16.4 yards per catch. This is Hilton's second straight season with at least 1,000 yards receiving.

Who he beat out: Denver's Emmanuel Sanders has more receptions, touchdowns, catches of at least 20 yards and first-down receptions than Hilton.

Vontae Davis, CB, first Pro Bowl selection: Davis is having the best season of his six-year career. He hasn't allowed a touchdown reception in 786 snaps. He's also second in the league with 19 passes defended. Colts coach Chuck Pagano said Davis got the Richard Sherman treatment earlier this season when the Tennessee Titans didn't throw his way in the Week 4 meeting between the two teams.

Who he beat out: Perrish Cox from San Francisco has more interceptions than Davis, but he doesn't have the shutdown corner skills as Davis.

Pat McAfee, P, first Pro Bowl selection: McAfee is second in the league in net punt average (43.2) and fourth in gross punting average (47.2). He has landed 27 of his punts inside the 20-yard line. McAfee also handles kickoff duties for the Colts, where he's first in the league with 69 touchbacks.

Who he beat out: Like with Vinatieri, a legitimate argument can't be made that there's another punter who should have made the Pro Bowl over McAfee.
» Pro Bowl analysis: AFC | NFC » Complete roster


Delanie Walker, tight end, no Pro Bowls: Walker has the strongest case of anyone on the Titans, with a team-high 56 receptions for 847 yards -- a franchise yardage record for a tight end. He’s done that in 13.5 games; he suffered a concussion in the Titans' game at Baltimore and then missed the "Monday Night Football" game against Pittsburgh the following week. That would have been his best exposure of the year. Walker and DE Jurrell Casey are alternates.

Whom he should have beaten out: No one. Greg Olsen of Carolina is on a team that might make the playoffs, and though his yards per catch are fewer, he leads his team with 82 receptions and has a couple more TDs than Walker. Denver's Julius Thomas doesn’t have Walker’s catches or yardage (43-489), but he has three times as many touchdowns.

» Pro Bowl analysis: AFC | NFC » Complete roster


J.J. Watt, DE, third Pro Bowl selection: This is the no-brainer of all no-brainers. Where do we begin? Watt leads the NFL in tackles for loss, batted passes, quarterback hits and forced fumbles. He's second in sacks and this year became the franchise leader in that statistic. He's accounted for 53 percent of the Texans' sacks, and according to Elias, only Tim Harris of the 1989 Green Bay Packers (57 percent) accounted for a higher percentage of his team’s sacks since sacks became official in 1982. Watt making the Pro Bowl was inevitable. The bigger question is: Will he get serious MVP consideration?

Who he beat out: Eagles DE Fletcher Cox, Seahawks DE Michael Bennett, Bills DE Jerry Hughes

Arian Foster, RB, fourth Pro Bowl selection: Foster missed three games this season, but has been dynamic when healthy. He has seven 100-yard rushing games and ranks fourth in rushing yards with 1,223. That Foster is versatile is no secret. He's also caught 37 passes for 317 yards and four touchdowns. This past weekend Foster took his versatility to another level, throwing a touchdown pass to tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz. It was the first passing attempt of Foster's career.

Who he beat out: Baltimore's Justin Forsett, Green Bay's Eddie Lacy, Washington's Alfred Morris