How the AFC South was won (Part 1)

How the AFC South was won (Part 1)
Reading Time: 4 minutes.

Going in to the 2018 season the Jacksonville Jaguars were defending their AFC South title, the Tennessee Titans were looking to build on a 9-7 season and a wildcard spot, and the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans were looking to flip disappointing 4-12 campaigns. The 2018 season was a story of slow starts and a dramatic shift in the fortunes of almost every team. Lets break down how that happened. Part 1 covers week 1 – week 10.

Week 3  Titans 9 Jags 6

Jags begin to slide

Going in to week 3 the Jaguars were 2-0 and following on from exacting revenge on the Patriots for the 2017 AFC Championship defeat. It was their first 2-0 start since 2006. The Titans were 1-1 and already had one divisional win under their belt having beaten the Texans in week 2. This week 3 match up in Jacksonville was not pretty, with just over 450 yards of total offence between them and trading 5 field goals. If you were a fan of the art of punting as a tool for winning the field position battle then this game was for you. On 6 occasions the respective punt teams pinned the opposition inside their own 20 yard line. The Titans stopped the Jags run game (Fournette was out) and Bortles struggles to find targets downfield, a narrative which would run through the Jags season. 

Week 4 Texans 37 Colts 34

Desperate times, desperate measures

The Texans were in real danger of their season being over already at 0-3 and the Colts (by then 1-2) were probably looking at this as the win to bring them back to a .500 record. Andrew Luck and Deshaun Watson then led their offences (almost 800 passing yards) in a shootout. That’s not to say that the defences slept through this one as the Texans forced two fumbles, one returned for a TD by Jadevon Clowney, and the QBs were put on their backs a total of 10 times. The Texans were ahead at half-time and extended the lead to 28-10 after a clock draining 8:21 15-play drive. The Colts rallied in the 4th quarter to draw level 31-31 with :51 remaining. There was still time for a 59 yard field goal attempt by the Texans to sail wide right and this slug fest went to OT. 

Both sides traded field goals before crucially the Colts were penalised for holding followed by a Clowney sack of Luck, pushing Colts to 3rd and 21. Bravely, the Colts went for it on 4th and 4 but turned the ball over on downs. With only 24 seconds remaining Deshaun Watson hit DeAndre Hopkins for 24 yards and Ka’imi Fairbairn slotted the 37 yard field goal, and the Texans were off the mark and now level with the Colts at 1-3.

Week 7 Texans 20 Jags 7

Texans take control

Both sides were 3-3 coming in to this fixture but the Jags were reeling from a demoralising 40-7 defeat to the Cowboys. What’s more the Texans must have done their homework from that game tape as they adopted the same run heavy approach with Lamar Miller piling up a 100 yard day at the office. The Jags simply could not get anything going on offence as they began with a fumble on the 3rd play of the game and then punted their way through the rest of the half. Then they fumbled again on their first drive of the 3rd quarter. At this point Cody Kessler came in for Blake Bortles.

The Texans had taken advantage of the fumbles for two short-field possessions resulting in an easy 10 points. By the time Kessler finally got the Jags on the board the score was already 20-7. Defences dominated in the 4th quarter and any hope the Jags had to salvage anything from the game dissipated when Tyron Mathieu intercepted Kessler in Texan territory with a little over 5 minutes remaining. The win for the Texans was their fourth on the spin and it was the Jags third defeat in a row. Momentum was shifting in the AFC South.

Week 10 Jags 26 Colts 29

Colts recover at Jags expense

Approaching week 10 the Colts and Jags were coming off their bye week and both sat at 3-5 with much to do in the second half of their seasons. However, importantly, both sides were headed in different directions. The Colts had won their last two, the Jags had lost their last four. Both sides came out of the traps fast and offense was on top in the first half which ended 29-16 to the Colts. Jacksonville’s offense continued in that vein in the 2nd half with a grinding 17 play 8:35 drive ending in a TD to close the gap to 29-23.

There were opportunities for the Jags to close the gap further but a 52 yard missed field goal from Lambo and then a wasted possession from an interception of Andrew Luck failed to result in any further points. Lambo made amends in the 4th quarter from 55 yards and when Adam Vinatieri missed from 52 yards the Jags got the ball back in good field position with 2:53 remaining only 3 points behind. However, a somewhat controversial call to rule a fumble after catch by Rashad Greene (originally ruled down by contact) closed this game out in favour of the Colts.

At the end of week 10 the AFC South standings were as follows.

Texans 6-3

Titans 5-4

Colts 4-5

Jags 3-6

All was still to play for but it was all about momentum and that sat with the Texans (6 wins in a row) and the Colts (3 wins in a row). The Titans had bounced back from 3 losses to beat the Cowboys (week 9) and Patriots (week 10) but the Jags had fallen from 3-1 to 3-6 and the title had all but slipped from their grasp. The question was, who would last the distance down the stretch to take the AFC South in 2018?

Mark or MJ has turned his love of the NFL into sharing his thoughts and opinions on twitter @47yards and on – He has been a New York Giants fan since their Super Bowl wins in 1986 and 1990 (47 yards is a reference to the distance Scott Norwood missed from in 1990 for the Bills – sorry Bills fans). He enjoys all things NFL and has extended that enjoyment to College football of late, following Ohio State. He is loving seeing the growth of the NFL fan base in the UK and finds September to February is the best part of the year!

Image credit: AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith

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