JACKSONVILLE – Senior correspondent Brian Sexton examines the AFC South entering Week 16 of the 2023 NFL season …
- The Colts are pushing for a playoff spot despite starting a backup quarterback and playing without All-Pro running back Jonathan Taylor much of the season. Mix a six-game suspension for nose tackle Grover Stewart with other nagging injuries and what they've done – and what they hope to do – makes a strong case that the organization is turned around after a disastrous 2022.
- Lost in the hype of a playoff run is the news that their hope for the future – quarterback Anthony Richardson – is working his way back eight weeks after shoulder surgery and fully engaged in what he's watching happen without him on the field.
- "When I got injured, the first thing I wanted to do was to grow mentally," Richardson said. "This year just flew by for me. Everything went just so fast. I never really had the time to sit down and study the game for real. Just having this opportunity to watch [quarterback] Gardner [Minshew] and how he goes through the week and processes defenses, I'm trying to get to that level. I'm trying to get as much information as I can. Sometimes it sucks that I have to sit back and watch, but sometimes the best thing you can do is sit back and watch."
- An early-season concussion followed by the shoulder injury limited the promising rookie's first season to 173 offensive snaps. Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter sees a lot to like about how Richardson has handled the obstacle.
- "I think it's a great learning environment for a young quarterback, a rookie quarterback," Cooter said. "Anthony has done a nice job of asking his questions when the time is right and taking notes and being locked in. You've got the ability to learn some things when you're not going into the line of fire. He's not learning something so he can go execute it in 45 minutes on a practice rep. He's able to dive a little deeper into a different nuance of the play or the idea or the defender to hopefully build a little more long-term understanding, which we hope will pay off in the future."
- The Texans are running step for step with the Colts in their chase for both a playoff spot and potentially an AFC South division title. Like the Colts, they're finding life without their star rookie quarterback to be a challenge. C.J. Stroud sustained a concussion two Sundays ago in New York.
- The Texans lost that game to the Jets and backup Case Keenum rallied them to beat the Tennessee Titans in overtime this past Sunday, and they haven't looked quite the same since Stroud's injury.
- Stroud didn't look on track to play against the Cleveland Browns Sunday, but the Texans don't see it as a desperate situation.
- "We're going through the protocol," Texans Head Coach DeMeco Ryans said. "Each concussion is different. It takes a different amount of time for each person to heal. He's just going through the protocol just like everyone else has. The most important thing is making sure C.J. is healthy."
- Keenum, a veteran and former Texans player who was signed last summer to mentor Stroud, was 23-of-36 for 229 yards and a touchdown against the Titans. He knows Houston's playoff hopes might very well rest on his ability to keep the ship steady against another one of his former teams.
- "For me, it's the protocol deal, where you've just got to stay ready," Keenum said. "You don't know what's going to happen. Obviously, we'll see moving forward. It's kind of day-to-day. Just getting ready to play, and we'll get the word when we get the word. If the chance pops up to get to do it again, I'm happy to get any reps I can."
- Longtime Titans starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill has prepared this week to start again weeks after losing the starting job to rookie Will Levis. Levis was injured in the loss to the Texans and his status has been in doubt all week. For Tannehill, whose contract expires at the end of the season, it's about being mentally ready to physically do what he's done in Nashville since 2019.
- "It's been a tough couple of weeks," Tannehill said. "Obviously a lot of changes and settling into a new role. But I'm trying to be an asset to the team, be an asset to Will and help him out as much as I could. It's definitely a different role but I've tried to contribute."
- Tannehill injured his ankle in October. When he was ready to play again, he had lost his job to Levis who is himself battling an ankle injury.
- "It's a challenge, right?" Tannehill said. "You get your job taken, basically, and your first instinct is not a positive one."
- Still, Tannehill is poised this week to play well and create another opportunity for himself either the following Sunday or when free agency opens next spring.
- "It's tough to wrap it up at this point," Tannehill said. "I think when it's all said and done, I'll reflect a little more and try to wrap things up mentally a little bit. But at this point I'm totally focused on doing what I can to get ready to go this week if necessary."