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Story of the South: Week 5


JACKSONVILLE – In a division with little separation, things can change quickly.

That's the case in the AFC South, with just one game between first and second place through the first four games of the 2021 NFL season – and only two games between first and last.

So it is that a team such as the Indianapolis Colts can breathe easier than otherwise might be the case. At 1-3, they have had a tumultuous start to the season – from quarterback Carson Wentz' broken foot to significant injuries on the offensive line to a vaccine issue.

A players-only meeting last week settled everything down.

At least that's what the players said in the aftermath of their first win of the season last Sunday in Miami. The meeting, instigated by defensive lineman DeForest Buckner and linebacker Darius Leonard, focused on little things each player could do.

"We know that everyone in the building hasn't been playing their best ball," running back Jonathan Taylor said of the meeting's tone. "We've been working, we've been playing hard, but we haven't been playing our best ball, and in order to win games in the NFL, you've got to be at your best. Your best is needed."

It led to a memorable practice session on Wednesday.

"I've been here for five years," tight end Mo Alie-Cox. "That was probably the hardest practice I've been in."

One meeting won't change everything, but players said it set an important tone for a game they didn't feel they could afford to lose against the Dolphins.

Colts Head coach Frank Reich took an aggressive approach to help get his team in gear in Miami.

Deciding to go for it on fourth down at the Indianapolis 27-yard line leading 7-3 late in the first half couldn't have been easy, but he felt his winless team needed a lift. Wentz converted the fourth down – and even though the Colts didn't score to end the half, Reich liked the call.

"First of all, there was a split second where I was trying to decide: 'Was I really going to go for it on our own 27 or whatever it was?'" Reich said. "I just had a lot of confidence in the guys."

Expect the Colts to stick with that aggressive posture.

"We're going to play the odds and we're going to maximize our chance to win," General Manager Chris Ballard said. "I think if you do that over time, it's going to play out in your favor.

*The Houston Texans may play a lot closer to the vest with rookie quarterback Davis Mills starting. Mills will try to bounce back on Sunday against the New England Patriots after a four-interception performance in the rain in a 40-0 loss at Buffalo last week.

To be fair, Mills wasn't expected to be on the field so early this season, replacing starter Tyrod Taylor in Cleveland in Week 2. Mills has starts since then against the Carolina Panthers and Bills, but the offense has scored just a single touchdown.

"You can't scare him," Texans Head Coach David Culley said. "Most rookies who went through what he went through Sunday you'd be concerned, but I'm not concerned. I see the same look in his eyes. He comes in and prepares to win. We've talked about what we need from him, what's expected from him for us to have a chance to get this offense where it needs to be."

The Texans will stick with Mills until at least October 12 when Taylor is eligible to come off injured reserve. But there are no guarantees the hamstring injury that landed him there will be healed. Former franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson is on the trading block, has said he'll never play for the Texans again and isn't a factor while his legal issues continue.

*In Nashville, there is still consternation over an offensive line that isn't playing well enough for a team expected to be an AFC contender in 2021.

The Tennessee Titans are struggling to stay on the field on third down, have settled for far more field goals in the red zone than expected for a team with running back Derrick Henry and have watched their quarterback run for his life more than anyone expected.

"Tough to pinpoint one area or one group or anything," quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. "One thing here, one thing there. Bad snap. Miss opportunity. Bad throw. Drop. It's been everything. We have to as a group really clean up those things, come together and all execute and make plays."

The offensive line isn't getting all the blame, but in Nashville everyone seems to understand the unit must play better. First, they must have their guys on the field. All Pro left tackle Taylor Lewan is working his way back from an ACL injury last year and hasn't been himself – and injuries to guard Roger Saffold and center Ben Jones contributed to the Titans allowing seven sacks to the Jets. They've allowed 17 sacks in four games.

"Nah, not at all," Henry said when asked if he was worried. "Everything is fixable. We just gotta clean up. Come back to work next week and get ready to play."

The Jaguars will learn Sunday at TIAA Bank Field if the Titans were successful doing that.

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