AFC South: rapid reaction 16

Rapid Reaction: Raiders 27, Texans 16

December, 21, 2008

Posted by's Paul Kuharsky

Houston Chronicle columnist Jerome Solomon gets props Sunday.

He wrote Friday that he thought the Texans were overly relaxed and overly confident about their trip to Oakland, primed for a fall. They had a chance to win an eighth game for the second year in a row and set themselves up for their first winning season with a victory in their finale against Chicago. Instead they turned Solomon into a prophet.

Whether over-relaxation and overconfidence were the issues is up for debate -- I did not see much of the game and can't judge it. But the streaking Texans laid a major egg and set up something beside a winning season: A miserable plane flight home and a week of regret.

They allowed Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell to have the best day of his two-year career -- completing 18 of 25 passes for 236 yards and two touchdowns, with a 128.1 passer rating.

They allowed someone named Chaz Schilens to catch a touchdown pass.

They also made a star out of Johnnie Lee Higgins, who got to dance in the end zone twice -- following a 29-yard touchdown catch and an 80-yard punt return that extended Oakland's lead to 27-13.

From what I saw, the rush was insufficient and the coverage was too loose -- problems the Texans need to address this offseason no matter what record they finish with.

Rapid Reaction: Titans 31, Steelers 14

December, 21, 2008

Posted by's Paul Kuharsky

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The AFC road to Super Bowl XLIII officially comes through Music City.

At least for a while, the Titans have quieted those who've been critical of their schedule and insistent that they peaked too early. They are the conference's No. 1 seed.

They played a fantastic and complete game today, pushing around a team regarded as the league's most physical and moved the ball against a defense that's been talked about as an all-time great unit. Steelers fans who infiltrated Nashville were sitting on their Terrible Towels in the fourth quarter as the Titans delivered the knockout punches.

Tennessee forced four turnovers and was uncharacteristically aggressive on offense, going for it twice on fourth down and converting both times. Without star defensive linemen Albert Haynesworth and Kyle Vanden Bosch, the Titans still harassed Ben Roethlisberger enough to have a big influence on the outcome of the game.

Rookie Jason Jones, who stepped into Haynesworth's starting spot, had a monster showing with 3.5 sacks and three forced fumbles.

The Titans topped 300 yards of offense, halting Pittsburgh's streak of 14 consecutive games holding opponents under that mark. The Steelers have to settle for a tie with the 1973 Rams in that department.

The last three Super Bowl champions didn't have a bye and started out on the road. That's fine for other coaches to tell their teams for inspiration, but Fisher can tell his team this: We have given ourselves the easiest possible route to Tampa Bay. With a win Jan. 10 or 11 in a divisional round game, Tennessee will host the AFC Championship Game for the first time.

With an irrelevant finale at Indianapolis next week, the Titans have wins over second-seed Pittsburgh and the fifth-seeded Colts.

Don't expect Jeff Fisher to kill momentum by resting many people next week, when Tony Dungy will definitely hold out a bunch of key people and pull others very early.

Rapid Reaction: Colts 31, Jaguars 24

December, 18, 2008

Posted by's Paul Kuharsky

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Their pulse rate never up, the Colts calmly fought back from another significant deficit Thursday night, topping the Jaguars and securing an AFC wild card berth.

Thanks to its 31-24 win over Jacksonville, Indianapolis will be the No. 5 seed.

Peyton Manning was surgically precise, connecting on his first 17 passes -- dropping them over defenders, slinging them through tight windows and lofting them to open receivers after double moves. He also caught Jacksonville with too many men on the field, drawing a penalty with a quick snap to convert a third down.

Jacksonville started big, building a 14-0 lead and for a time it looked like the Jaguars would be able to play keep-away like they had in a Week 3 victory at Lucas Oil Stadium. But while the Jaguars had a lot of success moving the ball early on, broke a ton of tackles and kept the Colts' run game quiet, ultimately Manning was more than they could deal with.

Manning got the Colts back to even, then David Garrard handed the game away -- throwing a horrible interception that Keiwan Ratliff returned 35 yards for a touchdown with 4:48 remaining in the game. The Jaguars had a chance at a tying touchdown at the end, but Dwight Freeney sacked Garrard on the final play.

The Colts are now set to rest up in their season finale on Dec. 28 against the Titans -- a game that can't impact Indianapolis' positioning for the following week.

If Tennessee beats Pittsburgh on Sunday, that game won't have meaning for either team. If the Steelers win, the Titans will need to win and hope for a Steelers loss to the Browns in order to get the No. 1 seed.

Either way, with the Titans lining up for a bye, Jeff Fisher will play more top people longer than Tony Dungy will.