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Titans try to close the gap on Colts in AFC South

(SportsNetwork.com) - The Tennessee Titans squandered a golden opportunity to turn up the heat on the Indianapolis Colts in the race for the AFC South crown.

Mike Munchak's club will get another chance starting Thursday in Music City when the two clubs meet in the first of two matchups over the next three weeks. The sequel is scheduled for Sunday, Dec. 1 at Indianapolis.

The 6-3 Colts currently hold a two-game edge over Tennessee in the division and if the Titans are going to make a move they will have to do it knowing that starting quarterback Jake Locker is lost for the season due to a Lisfranc injury.

Locker suffered the problematic injury in his right foot during Sunday's 29-27 loss to the previously winless Jaguars after taking a hard hit during the second quarter.

"I don't know exactly how it happened, but when I got up from that run I could feel it," Locker said. "It's tough. You want to be on the football field with your teammates."

The oft-injured Locker had thrown for 1,256 yards and eight touchdowns this season while completing 60.7 percent of his passes. He also ran for 155 yards with a pair of scores despite missing two games in October with a hip injury suffered in a Sept. 29 win over the Jets.

Veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick took over at quarterback against the Jags and completed 22-of-33 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns. The veteran has thrown 96 touchdowns in his career, and is expected to start for Tennessee for the remainder of the season with the unproven Rusty Smith backing him up.

"We're just concentrating on these seven weeks," Munchak said. "That's all we're concerned about. Next year is next year. Right now we just got to go forward and try to win a game."

Sloppy play cost the Titans against Jacksonville in a setback tight end Delanie Walker called "disgusting." Tennessee was unable to overcome four turnovers, including two by Locker before he left.

Although they fared better than the Jaguars in total yards (362 to 214), first downs (19 to 13) and third down conversions (56 percent to 25 percent), the Titans lost three fumbles and threw an interception, leading to 17 of the Jaguars' points. Jacksonville also scored two points on a safety.

Chris Johnson fumbled on Tennessee's first play from scrimmage when Jags LB Paul Posluszny stripped him and as he hit the ground and recovered the miscue, leading to a Maurice Jones-Drew 6-yard touchdown run. Locker was also intercepted and fumbled as the Titans lost for the fourth time in five games.

"The roles were reversed. We looked like an 0-8 team. We deserved to lose," said Titans safety Bernard Pollard.

"To lose to a team like this, the way we did, we had countless self-inflicted wounds," added linebacker Colin McCarthy.

Indianapolis hardly comes in burgeoning with confidence either after St. Louis rookie Tavon Austin scorched the club with three long TDs last Sunday in an emphatic 38-8 Rams win.

The dynamic Austin, who came into Sunday's game with just two touchdowns, returned a punt 98 yards for a score and caught TD passes of 57 and 81 yards. The rookie wide receiver became the third player in NFL history with three touchdowns of 55 yards or longer in a single game, joining Cliff Battles and Chris Johnson.

"I knew the day was going to come," Austin said. "It was just me being patient and me being true to myself and to keep working. I'm just glad that I had an opportunity."

Andrew Luck connected on 29-of-47 passes for a career-high 353 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions for the Colts, who maintained that two-game gap over the Titans despite their worst performance of the season.

Donald Brown caught five passes for 64 yards and a touchdown for Indianapolis, which suffered its biggest home defeat since losing 31-0 to Chargers in 1993.

"Certainly we're not going to bury our head in the sand on this past ball game," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. "We'll address the issues like we always address them. We know there are things that need to be fixed and we'll go to work on fixing those things."

The Colts have won three consecutive games against the Titans and eight of the last nine in the series, which marks its 38th all-time installment this week. The last time the Titans, who are 14-23 all-time versus Indy, got the better of the Colts was Oct. 30, 2011 at LP Field (27-10).

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

With six wins in their first nine games of 2013, the Colts have carried over the success they had in 2012 when they earned a wild card berth in their first season under direction of Pagano and Luck.

Luck, the league's first-overall draft pick in 2012, is now 17-8 as a starter and has followed up on his Pro Bowl rookie campaign by completing 183- of-311 passes for 2,198 yards, 14 touchdowns and six interceptions so far.

He's on the verge of joining the elite club but things have gotten a bit sticky since veteran receiver Reggie Wayne went down with a torn ACL against Denver back on Oct. 20.

Already without injured tight end Dwayne Allen (hip) for the season, Wayne's absence means Luck is missing his two top targets in key situations and opponents have been focused on taking away TY Hilton, a plan that has worked for most of the last two weeks.

Houston led the Colts 21-3 at halftime in Week 9 before its head coach Gary Kubiak collapsed at intermission with what was later described as a mini- stroke. To its credit Indianapolis was able to take advantage on that situation to rebound and win but the truth is that the team's offense has been ineffective for six of the past eight quarters it has played without Wayne. And take the Kubiak situation out of the equation and its likely the Colts would be in full panic mode.

The speedy Darrius Heyward-Bey hasn't stepped up in Wayne's absence and the running game has been virtually non-existent with in-season pickup Trent Richardson offering little. Indy has been held under 75 yards on the ground in three of its last four encounters.

"We realize how important the run game is to our success," Luck said. "We'll improve, and we're looking forward to the Titans."

Tennessee defensive coordinator Jerry Gray will undoubtedly look to bracket Hilton and force others to beat him.

On the other side of the ball when you hear the term veteran backup, it's usually code for failed starter and that kind of sums up Fitzpatrick. Now playing in his ninth NFL campaign, the former long-time Bills frontman has 70 career starts and more than 15,000 passing yards.

Fitzpatrick is not going to be overwhelmed by the moment but he also doesn't have the physical skills to press opposing defenses. He will be asked to play game manager and stay away from momentum-altering turnovers.

The Colts' defense really needs to excel on first- and second-downs so Fitzpatrick is behind the 8-ball on 3rd-and-long, where he has been known to force things in the past.

Conversely Johnson, who ran it 12 times for just 30 yards against a Jags team that is the NFL's worst against the run, must pick it up for the Titans..

OVERALL ANALYSIS

"The short weeks are always interesting," Luck said. "I think I learned that last year. We need to get back on the field and right our wrongs. Absolve our sins, if you will."

Indianapolis really hasn't been the same since Wayne went down and it's hard to imagine righting those wrongs and absolving those sins on a short week.

Fitzpatrick, meanwhile, is no star but he has a ton of experience and is one of the better backups in football. Look for the Titans to close the gap in the AFC South here before the Colts hold serve in Indy down the line.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Titans 23, Colts 17

11/14 09:10:05 ET

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Standings

 2013 American Football Conference Standings 
East Division W L T Pct. PF PA Home Away Div Conf
y-New England 12 4 0 .750 444 338 8-0 4-4 4-2 9-3
NY Jets 8 8 0 .500 290 387 6-2 2-6 3-3 5-7
Miami 8 8 0 .500 317 335 4-4 4-4 2-4 7-5
Buffalo 6 10 0 .375 339 388 4-4 2-6 3-3 5-7
 
North Division W L T Pct. PF PA Home Away Div Conf
y-Cincinnati 11 5 0 .688 430 305 8-0 3-5 3-3 8-4
Pittsburgh 8 8 0 .500 379 370 5-3 3-5 4-2 6-6
Baltimore 8 8 0 .500 320 352 6-2 2-6 3-3 6-6
Cleveland 4 12 0 .250 308 406 3-5 1-7 2-4 3-9
 
South Division W L T Pct. PF PA Home Away Div Conf
y-Indianapolis 11 5 0 .688 391 336 6-2 5-3 6-0 9-3
Tennessee 7 9 0 .438 362 381 3-5 4-4 2-4 6-6
Jacksonville 4 12 0 .250 247 449 1-7 3-5 3-3 4-8
Houston 2 14 0 .125 276 428 1-7 1-7 1-5 2-10
 
West Division W L T Pct. PF PA Home Away Div Conf
y-Denver 13 3 0 .813 606 399 7-1 6-2 5-1 9-3
x-Kansas City 11 5 0 .688 430 305 5-3 6-2 2-4 7-5
x-San Diego 9 7 0 .563 396 348 5-3 4-4 4-2 6-6
Oakland 4 12 0 .250 322 453 3-5 1-7 1-5 4-8
 
x= clinched playoff berth
y= clinched division title
 2013 National Football Conference Standings 
East Division W L T Pct. PF PA Home Away Div Conf
y-Philadelphia 10 6 0 .625 442 382 4-4 6-2 4-2 9-3
Dallas 8 8 0 .500 439 432 5-3 3-5 5-1 7-5
NY Giants 7 9 0 .438 294 383 4-4 3-5 3-3 6-6
Washington 3 13 0 .188 334 478 2-6 1-7 0-6 1-11
 
North Division W L T Pct. PF PA Home Away Div Conf
y-Green Bay 8 7 1 .531 417 428 4-3-1 4-4 3-2-1 6-5-1
Chicago 8 8 0 .500 445 478 5-3 3-5 2-4 4-8
Detroit 7 9 0 .438 395 376 4-4 3-5 4-2 6-6
Minnesota 5 10 1 .344 391 480 5-3 0-7-1 2-3-1 4-7-1
 
South Division W L T Pct. PF PA Home Away Div Conf
y-Carolina 12 4 0 .750 366 241 7-1 5-3 5-1 9-3
x-New Orleans 11 5 0 .688 414 304 8-0 3-5 5-1 9-3
Atlanta 4 12 0 .250 353 443 3-5 1-7 1-5 3-9
Tampa Bay 4 12 0 .250 288 389 3-5 1-7 1-5 2-10
 
West Division W L T Pct. PF PA Home Away Div Conf
y-Seattle 13 3 0 .813 417 231 7-1 6-2 4-2 10-2
x-San Francisco 12 4 0 .750 406 272 6-2 6-2 5-1 9-3
Arizona 10 6 0 .625 379 324 6-2 4-4 2-4 6-6
St. Louis 7 9 0 .438 348 364 5-3 2-6 1-5 4-8
 
x= clinched playoff berth
y= clinched division title
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Scoreboard
Local
Final
NOR 1
DUR 2
 
1:05pm Today
NOR
DUR
 
3:30pm Today
MIA
CHA
Final
WAS 3
STL 4
Final
CLE 0
TOR 5
Final
DET 5
ANA 2
Final
BOS 4
BAL 2
Final
KAN 5
MIN 4
Final
CHC 8
CIN 4
Final
OAK 4
HOU 3
Final
PIT 7
MIL 8
Final
NYM 5
ATL 7
Final
TAM 16
NYY 1
Final
MIA 7
SEA 0
Final
TEX 6
CWS 3
Final
LOS 8
ARI 6
Final
COL 3
PHI 1
Final
SDP 3
SFG 1
1:05pm Today
CLE
TOR
 
1:08pm Today
DET
ANA
 
1:10pm Today
NYM
ATL
 
1:10pm Today
MIA
SEA
 
1:35pm Today
PIT
MIL
 
1:35pm Today
WAS
STL
 
1:40pm Today
TAM
NYY
 
2:10pm Today
KAN
MIN
 
2:20pm Today
CHC
CIN
 
3:05pm Today
TEX
CWS
 
4:05pm Today
OAK
HOU
 
4:10pm Today
LOS
ARI
 
4:10pm Today
COL
PHI
 
4:10pm Today
SDP
SFG
 
7:05pm Tonight
BOS
BAL
 
Final
TOR 87
BRK 94
Final
LAC 105
GSW 109
Final
IND 93
ATL 101
Final
OKC 100
MEM 86
1:00pm Today
SAN
DAL
3:30pm Today
MIA
CHA
7:00pm Tonight
CHI
WAS
9:30pm Tonight
HOU
POR
Final
STL 4
CHI 3
Final
PIT 3
CLB 4
Final
COL 4
MIN 2
12:00pm Today
NYR
PHI
3:00pm Today
BOS
DET
7:00pm Tonight
MON
TAM
10:00pm Tonight
SJS
LOS
Final
NOR 1
DUR 2
 
1:05pm Today
NOR
DUR