AFC South: 2011 Week 3 reaction

Wrap-up: Steelers 23, Colts 20

September, 25, 2011
9/25/11
11:45
PM ET
Thoughts on the Indianapolis Colts' 23-20 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers at Lucas Oil Stadium:

What it means: The Colts are capable of competing with a good team even without Peyton Manning. But they also have little room for error. They got a giant error from left tackle Anthony Castonzo and quarterback Curtis Painter in the fourth quarter, as James Harrison stripped the quarterback and Troy Polamalu picked the ball up on a bounce and scored. And while Indianapolis pulled even, the Colts couldn't keep the Steelers from marching to a game-winning field goal at the end that dropped them to 0-3.

Things I liked: The Colts ran the ball far better than many of us thought they could (for 97 yards) and stopped the run far better than they usually do (allowing 67 yards). It makes one wonder why they didn’t fare better in both departments in their first two games. Also makes one wonder about their commitment to both moving forward.

Big question lingering for me: Why did the Colts use Dallas Clark to help block Harrison so much early on? Clark is a pass-catcher first and foremost. Brody Eldridge is a far better blocking tight end. Yet the Colts put Clark in position to block the fierce Pittsburgh outside linebacker multiple times.

Stars: It’s easy to say the Colts need to rely on Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis in the absence of Manning. But a lot of other game elements have to go right for those two to dictate things. They did against the Steelers, with incredible rushing efforts and a strip sack each. Freeney also had a sack that took Pittsburgh out of field goal range.

Blame and credit: Painter was forced into action when Kerry Collins left the game with a concussion. Painter missed a wide open Pierre Garcon on a stop-and-go that beat Ike Taylor and would have been a long touchdown. And Painter didn’t sense Polamalu bearing down to strip the ball deep in the Colts’ own end. But he did orchestrate an excellent drive that produced the touchdown that pulled things to 20-20 with 5:13 remaining in the game.

Mea culpa, kinda: I wrote this week about how America was about to learn just how bad the Colts were with the first of their five prime-time appearances. They are not good. But they played a pretty good, and very entertaining, game.

What’s next: More quarterback uncertainty as Collins recovers from a concussion and the Colts sort through Painter’s performance. If Collins is out for the Oct. 3 "Monday Night Football" Game in Tampa, who’s the team’s second quarterback?

Wrap-up: Panthers 16, Jaguars 10

September, 25, 2011
9/25/11
7:11
PM ET
Thoughts on the Jaguars’ 16-10 loss to the Panthers at Bank of America Stadium:

What it means: The Jaguars are 1-2 after losing the first start of quarterback Blaine Gabbert’s career. While they fared much better against another rookie quarterback, Cam Newton, than Carolina’s first two opponents did, they couldn’t beat him like those teams did. Incredible rains had a huge bearing on things, but with Maurice Jones-Drew, who turned 24 carries into 122 rushing yards, they are equipped to handle such conditions.

What I didn’t like: Jacksonville held Newton to 53 percent passing, 158 yards and nothing longer than 18, but still couldn’t beat him. No picks. No sacks. Just one recorded hit on him and five passes defensed. A defense that added five key veterans in the offseason needs to fare better against a rookie quarterback, but the stat sheets shows a lack of plays.

What I liked: It was a somewhat manageable Hail Mary situation, and Gabbert threw his first career touchdown pass just before the half on a 36-yard connection to Mike Thomas. Jack Del Rio shook things up with a news starter on each side of the ball, inserting Dwight Lowery as one of the safeties and a healthy Eben Britton at left guard. We’ll have to wait on reviews of their play.

Good fortune: The Jaguars fumbled five times, but didn’t lose any of them. That’s good luck none were turnovers. But it’s five plays that didn’t have a chance to turn into much.

Poor production: Twenty-one percent on third down for the offense is a huge issue. To win a game with that number, you've got to have some big plays and the Jaguars didn't have enough.

What’s next: The Jaguars host high powered New Orleans, which is coming off a strong come-from-behind win against Houston.

Wrap-up: Titans 17, Broncos 14

September, 25, 2011
9/25/11
6:17
PM ET
Thoughts on the Titans' 17-14 win over the Broncos at LP Field:

What it means: The Titans share the lead in the AFC South with Houston at 2-1, though Tennessee's divisional loss gives the Texans an edge. Matt Hasselbeck had his second 300-yard passing game in a row and has shown he’s in control of an offense that can find ways to win even when its primary pieces are not working the way they might hope for.

What I liked: Hasselbeck found 11 different pass receivers as he completed 27 of 36 throws for 311 yards and two touchdowns. Tight end Daniel Graham’s hardly been a prominent guy to this point, but his 4-yard touchdown catch late in the fourth quarter provided the winning margin against his former team.

What I didn’t like: A wrenching of Kenny Britt’s right knee which could be a season-ending injury. The team’s most dynamic pass catcher fumbled his catch after twisting awkwardly. If he’s gone for an extended period of time, the offense will be without a guy who’s been as explosive a receiver as just about anyone in the league so far.

What I can’t figure out: Another zero game for Chris Johnson on the ground, with a 1.6-yards per carry average. Javon Ringer, the primary alternative, took six carries for negative-6 yards. The Titans are struggling to move it on the ground. But at least they’ve won consecutive games while enduring the struggle. Johnson did contribute as a pass-catcher.

Defensive forces: Will Witherspoon had the Titans’ lone sack and picked off a ball batted by Jason Jones to seal up the game. Jason McCourty also had an interception. And the defense made a strong goal-line stand.

What’s next: The Titans hit the road and head for Cleveland to see if they can stop the Browns on the ground and to try again to get Johnson going.

Rapid Reaction: Saints 40, Texans 33

September, 25, 2011
9/25/11
4:24
PM ET

NEW ORLEANS -- Thoughts on the Texans’ loss to the Saints at the Superdome.

What it means: The Texans reverted to their old ways, failing to put away an opponent when they were playing well enough to do just that. They gave the Saints life and watched an offense even better than theirs take advantage of the opportunity. They’ll say it was just one failure against one very good team at one very tough venue, but it’s hard not to take it as symbolic. At 2-1, Houston’s got the same record as Tennessee atop the AFC South.

Fast, fast, fast: The Texans nearly matched the Saints’ furious pace but ultimately could not keep up. They gave up the lead three times in the second half and could only take it back twice. A Matt Schaub interception helped turn the tide. He took a sack on third-and-15 at the very end as well.

If there is a silver lining: I think the Saints are going to win their second Super Bowl in three seasons. If they are one of the NFC’s best teams, ultimately there will be no shame in having lost to them at their building. But it’s still going to sting to the Texans as one that got away.

Too much: Neil Rackers saw far too much action, booting four field goals. If the Texans were more effective with their scoring chances, they’d have put the game out of range.

Injury concern: He returned to action, but a second-half right leg injury to Mario Williams could be a concern going forward. He flexed the knee over and over on the sideline before he returned to action.

What’s next: The Texans host Pittsburgh at Reliant Stadium and get to see for themselves if the Steelers are aging. They’ll get a measuring stick on the Steelers tonight when they play the Colts.

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