AFC South: 2013 Week 17 Rapid Reaction

Rapid Reaction: Jacksonville Jaguars

December, 29, 2013
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A few thoughts on the Jacksonville Jaguars' 30-10 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

What it means: The Jaguars finished 4-12, doubling their victory total from last season and likely securing the No. 3 draft pick. The Houston Texans (2-14) and Washington Redskins (3-13) have the top two picks, but the Redskins traded their pick to St. Louis, so the Rams will pick in their spot.

Stock watch: Two young players stood out. Safety Johnathan Cyprien has steadily improved this season and broke up three passes to go along with six tackles. The team’s second-round draft pick out of Florida International also did a much better job of patrolling the seam and keeping Colts tight ends Coby Fleener and Weslye Saunders from doing a lot of damage. Fleener caught five passes for 77 yards and a touchdown in the first meeting between the teams but had just one catch for 25 yards on Sunday. The Jaguars have been limited at receiver since Justin Blackmon's suspension and Cecil Shorts' groin injury ended his season. However, Kerry Taylor has stepped up over the past three weeks. He caught a team-high eight passes for 75 yards and a touchdown against the Colts and has 16 receptions for 162 yards and a touchdown over the past three games. Not bad for a guy who didn’t join the team until Nov. 4.

Farewell? This might have been the final game in a Jaguars uniform for running back Maurice Jones-Drew, and it wasn’t exactly a memorable one. He had averaged 100.9 yards per game rushing against the Colts in his career, but had just 39 yards on 13 carries Sunday. He also fumbled on the game’s third play a turnover the Colts turned into an early 7-0 lead. That was Jones-Drew’s first fumble lost in more than two years (against Baltimore on Oct. 24, 2011). It definitely was the final game for center Brad Meester, who is retiring after 14 seasons in the NFL.

What’s next: General manager David Caldwell will begin the process of evaluating the roster and making decisions on which players are worth re-signing, specifically quarterback Chad Henne and Jones-Drew. Both are unrestricted free agents.

Rapid Reaction: Indianapolis Colts

December, 29, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS -- A few quick thoughts on the Indianapolis Colts' 30-10 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

What it means: There was little doubt that the Colts would beat the Jaguars, who are officially on vacation, but the way they did it early on was the impressive part. The Colts had their best opening quarter of the season when they used the shotgun and no-huddle to score a season-high 17 points. Quarterback Andrew Luck was 10-of-18 for 135 yards in the first quarter, and running backs Trent Richardson and Donald Brown ran for both touchdowns in the quarter. Indianapolis held Jacksonville to 34 yards in the first quarter. The Colts (11-5) led by as many as 24 points and matched their win total of last season. The comfortable lead allowed Colts coach Chuck Pagano to rest Luck and several other key players in the fourth quarter. Pagano is the first coach in Colts history to win at least 11 games in each of his first two seasons.

Setting a record: Luck managed to set a record before watching the fourth quarter from the sideline. He passed Carolina quarterback Cam Newton for the most passing yards in the first two years of a career in the first quarter. Luck ended the afternoon 26-of-37 for 282 yards and a touchdown. He has now passed for 8,196 yards in the first two years of his career.

Mathis increases his total: Colts linebacker Robert Mathis made one final push to be the league’s defensive player of the year when he recorded two more sacks in his Pro Bowl season. Mathis ends the regular season with 19.5 sacks. He was held without a sack in only five games this season, and he had seven games where he recorded more than one sack in a game.

Hilton has a career day: Receiver T.Y. Hilton, who had been held without a 100-yard receiving game for six straight weeks, set a career high in receptions and yards with 11 catches for 155 yards. He surpassed his previous career high in catches of eight by halftime, when he had nine catches for 95 yards.

What’s next: The Colts will host a playoff game at Lucas Oil Stadium next weekend.

Rapid Reaction: Tennessee Titans

December, 29, 2013

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Rapid reaction from the Tennessee Titans' 16-10 win over the Houston Texans at LP Field.

What it means: The Titans finish the season 7-9 with a two-game winning streak against the two worst teams in the AFC South, Jacksonville and Houston. The record is a one-game improvement over last season but a far cry from the pledge of dramatic improvement the team made as it built for 2013. The Titans finish four games off the pace of AFC South winner Indianapolis.

Stock watch: Running back Chris Johnson ran hard and ran well in what might have been his last game with the team. He was clearly motivated to reach 1,000 yards and has now done so in his first six seasons, an impressive streak. He’s just the sixth NFL back to reach 1,000 yards in his first six seasons. He topped 100 yards for just the second time this season with 127 on 27 carries.

Stumbling: Left guard Andy Levitre had a rough day, getting pushed backward by a variety of Texans, including Antonio Smith and Earl Mitchell. His knee issue from last season meant he missed the offseason after he signed with Tennessee, never got his strength back, and he’s hardly been the player the Titans had expected. I expect a giant jump next season, but Year 1 was poor. Chris Spencer finished the game at left guard as Levitre was hobbled.

What’s next: Titans head coach Mike Munchak will address the media in a season wrap-up news conference Monday. His fate will be determined in the days after that, and we should get a verdict on him from president and CEO Tommy Smith by the end of the week.

Rapid Reaction: Houston Texans

December, 29, 2013

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Thoughts from the Houston Texans' 16-10 loss to the Tennessee Titans:

What it means: The Texans win ... the first pick in the 2014 NFL draft. It's not a great year to have it, but Sunday's loss ensures that the Texans can get exactly whom they want in April. Texans general manager Rick Smith is spending bowl season scouting quarterbacks of a deep class without a clear-cut sure thing.

Stock watch: There were rumblings after bad plays during our in-game chat that clearly this player or that player was doing his best to get the Texans the top pick in the draft. Once it happened after the Texans' offense stalled on the first drive of the game. Here's why that doesn't make sense: Matt Schaub's fate with the Texans didn't depend on this game, but it could certainly affect his future elsewhere. There was no pick-six against the Titans this time, but he threw one interception and lost a fumble. Schaub didn't have any passing yards in the third quarter and had just two passing attempts. Schaub's body language showed his frustration both after the fumble and at other points late in the game. The Texans' last offensive play was an interception by Schaub.

Watt returns to double digits: With a third-quarter sack on Titans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, Texans defensive end J.J. Watt reached double-digit sacks for the second straight season. With 10.5 sacks this season, Watt became the second player in franchise history to reach double-digit sacks in consecutive seasons, following Mario Williams, who had at least 10 sacks in 2007 and 2008. According to the Texans, his total for his first three seasons of 36.5 sacks moves him beyond Jevon Kearse and Anthony Smith (36.0) into seventh place all time. Watt had 20.5 sacks last season. He likes to set lofty goals and was aiming for 20 sacks, 20 batted passes and 20 additional tackles for loss this year. It didn't happen, but nobody who watched can deny that Watt remained a big problem for opponents this fall.

What's next: The Texans need to hire a head coach next and could have that finished early in the week. Once that's done, they'll turn their attention more firmly to reshaping the roster.