INDIANAPOLIS -- Indianapolis Colts receiver Reggie Wayne has a message for those worried about his injured elbow: Don't panic.

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Wayne
Wayne, who injured his elbow on his first reception in Sunday's victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, said on his weekly radio show Tuesday on 1260-AM WNDE in Indianapolis that he's still waiting on the MRI results to get the extent of his injury.

"I'm just like everybody else, waiting," he said on the show. "But I feel pretty good. ... I'll be fine. Everything will be alright. I can still do the wave and do everything else. I'll be alright."

Wayne won't practice Wednesday because coach Chuck Pagano has given him that day off each week of the season.

What about Wayne's status for Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers?

"It's too early," he said. "Let me tell you this, if I'm not out there that means I probably would be hurting the team. I'm going to do everything I possibly can to rehab, get right. I'm going to wait for the doctors and see what they say. After I hear from them doctors, I'm going to hear from another set of doctors. We can all put our thoughts together and come to a conclusion."

T.Y. Hilton, Hakeem Nicks and Donte Moncrief will get more targets from quarterback Andrew Luck if Wayne is required to miss any games.

The injury occurred when Luck completed a pass to Wayne and he landed awkwardly on his elbow after Bengals linebacker Vincent Rey pulled him to the ground. Wayne immediately signaled to be taken out the game on the play.

Wayne returned and finished with four catches for only 15 yards.

"It just didn't feel right, didn't feel like it did before the game and I just wanted the doctors to take a look at it during the game because so much is going on," Wayne said. "You want to be out there so bad, so I didn't have much time to have a doctor go into much depth as far as examining it after it happened, so I just told them to give me a sleeve. Put a sleeve on, played three more quarters with it and just finished the game as much as I could."
After the Texans' 30-23 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, a common postgame question centered around the ridiculousness of what happened to conclude the first half.

Have you ever been part of something like that?

[+] EnlargeSteelers
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesThe Texans have given up 24-point quarters in consecutive games.
Most said no, or that they couldn't remember. It's worth pointing out, though, the Texans also gave up 24 points in a quarter last week to Indianapolis (just not as quickly). Here's a fact: What the Texans have experienced in the past two weeks is something that hasn't even happened in the lifetimes of most of their players. The last time it happened, Bill O'Brien was in high school.

For a team to give up 24 points in a quarter is unusual. For a team to do it in consecutive weeks is, well...

According to Elias Sports Bureau, prior to the Texans this season, the last team to allow 24 points in a quarter in consecutive games was the Packers in 1986. They did it in losses to the Vikings (42-7) and Bengals (34-28) in Weeks 4 and 5 of the season.

Since the Texans' inception in 2002, there hasn't been a single team to allow 24-point quarters in more than two games in an entire season.

It happened in different ways each time. The Colts' scoring explosion, driven by Andrew Luck and receiver TY Hilton, was aided by an onside kick after their first quick touchdown. That move totally caught the Texans off guard and helped the Colts go up 24-0 in the first quarter before the Texans answered.

Of course, last night's second-quarter catastrophe started with the defense allowing a few big plays, and got worse when offensive turnovers gave the Steelers the ball inside Houston's 10 twice.

The results both times, though, were too much for the Texans to overcome. And if the Texans aren't careful, they would find themselves on the wrong side of history if it happened again.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- What’s the value of a guy who hasn’t played in five of his team’s seven games and ranks fourth among outside linebackers on a team getting minimal production from the position?

The Titans are getting the Patriots' sixth-round pick in next year's draft in exchange for Akeem Ayers and a the Titans' seventh-round pick, as long as he passes a physical.

Ayers
The trade does not have any conditions connected to it.

Good job by the Titans getting something for a guy who’s in a contract year and contributing nothing.

Bad job for the Titans turning a second-round draft pick into much less.

I suspect the move speaks to the ongoing attempt to change the culture of the Titans. Ayers showed no fire and made no strong move to force his way into the lineup even as others at his position have been unproductive. He should have been working tirelessly to show coaches he needed to be active and on the field with the defense. Ayers did no such thing.

This isn’t a huge message-sender, but his teammates should see the team looked for and found a way to divorce Ayers despite needing help at his spot.
INDIANAPOLIS -- It was a year ago today that there was a lot of uneasiness inside the Indianapolis Colts organization after it become official that receiver Reggie Wayne’s season had ended because of a torn ACL.

That’s because the Colts had no idea who would step up at receiver besides T.Y. Hilton.

The Colts haven’t given an update on his MRI from Monday, but Wayne, who injured his left arm against Cincinnati on Sunday, could miss this week’s game at Pittsburgh. If that’s the case, the Colts might have to decide if they want to hold Wayne out until after the bye week on Nov. 9 because their final game before the bye is at the New York Giants on Nov. 3 if he ends up being out against the Steelers.

Hilton
The Colts are better prepared this time around if Wayne has to miss some time. Hilton is third in the league in receiving yards with 711. Unlike last year when Darrius Heyward-Bey was momentarily elevated to the No. 2 receiver before being demoted, Hakeem Nicks will be able to handle the role. Nicks has gotten off to a slow start this season. He didn't have a reception against the Bengals.

Quarterback Andrew Luck also has rookie Donte Moncrief and tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener to throw the ball to. The Colts are coming off a season-high 171 yards rushing and are averaging 123.3 yards a game on the ground. That's why they have the top-ranked offense in the league.

The hope for the Colts is that Wayne doesn’t have to miss an extended period of time, but if that’s the case, they’re in a good position to survive without him.

The Film Don't Lie: Titans

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
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A weekly look at what the Tennessee Titans must fix:

To beat the Houston Texans Sunday at LP Field, the Tennessee Titans need to keep their offense in situations that need 10 yards or fewer to sustain a drive.

In the loss at the Washington Redskins, the Titans ran 13 plays on which they needed 13 yards or more for a new set of downs. That's 13 of 49 offensive plays -- nearly 27 percent of the team's offensive snaps.

Six of nine Titans possessions featured such a scenario, and they managed just three points out of those six series. On the three series they did not set themselves back, they came away with 14 points.

It's not a particularly good offense out of manageable downs and distances. The odds are low of converting drives that feature especially difficult down and distances.

To make things easier on Jake Locker or Charlie Whitehurst, the offensive penalties have to be far less frequent.

The Titans have to move the ball steadily forward with a lot more frequency against the Texans if they are going to find their third win of the season and their second against an AFC South foe.

The Film Don't Lie: Colts

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
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A weekly look at what the Indianapolis Colts must fix:

The Pittsburgh Steelers proved on Monday that they can take advantage of an opponent’s mistakes to come back from a double-digit deficit when they fell behind 10-0 to the Houston Texans and came back to win the game 30-23.

The Indianapolis Colts took note of that as they watched the game.

The Colts had every opportunity to bury the Cincinnati Bengals in the first half of their 27-0 victory on Sunday, only to squander their chances.

Running back Ahmad Bradshaw was stripped of the ball trying to gain extra yards in the red zone. Quarterback Andrew Luck fumbled trying to hand the ball off to running back Trent Richardson. Luck got a break when he threw a pass right at a Bengals defender, only to have him drop it in the red zone.

The Colts are just 14th in the league in red zone efficiency. They know not being able to take advantage of their opportunities inside the 20-yard line will eventually catch up with them at some point.

“We’ll address it when they get back in here Wednesday and try to eliminate those things because again, ‘It don’t catch up until it catches up with you’ is what we say,” coach Chuck Pagano said. “So we’ve got to get it cleaned up ... score touchdowns, because you can’t let people hang around. In the National Football League, it doesn’t matter ... [the] offense’s job is to move the ball, move the chains and score points.”

The Film Don't Lie: Jaguars

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
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A weekly look at what the Jaguars must fix:

Playing a rookie quarterback means dealing with a lot of mistakes as he goes through the learning process, but the Jacksonville Jaguars need Blake Bortles to start cutting down on his interceptions beginning with Sunday's home game against the Miami Dolphins.

Bortles has thrown 10 interceptions in the five games in which he has played (four starts) and that puts him on pace to tie Peyton Manning's rookie record of 28 interceptions. Some of them haven't been his fault -- Allen Hurns slipped coming out of a break and Cecil Shorts III couldn't come back to a pass because he hurt his hamstring, for example -- but most are the result of poor decisions. That's what happened twice against the Browns.

Bortles' first interception came because he was hit as he threw by linebacker Jabaal Sheard. In studying film, it's clear his second interception came because he was confused by what the Browns did after the snap and he threw the ball off his back foot and tried to squeeze it into a tight window to Denard Robinson.

The third interception was worse when re-watched on film. Bortles stepped up into the pocket and easily could have run for a first down on third-and-5 from the Cleveland 14-yard line. Instead, just before he crossed the line of scrimmage, he tried to hit Shorts at the 6 with a last-second pass. He never saw cornerback Buster Skrine charging Shorts and it was an easy interception in the red zone that cost the Jaguars points.

A positive: Coach Gus Bradley said Bortles at least has an awareness as it's happening that he has made a poor decision on some throws, which shows progress from earlier in the season.

"I know in my conversation with him it's coming to him right before the play happens and when he's going and right before he throws the ball it's like, 'Oh, maybe I shouldn't have thrown that,' where before it was 'I'm throwing it' and it was an interception," Bradley said. "He is building a consciousness about it."

One of Bortles' biggest strengths is he doesn't often make the same mistake twice, so some of the poor decisions he's making won't be repeated. He's a bit of a gunslinger so he's always going to take chances, but he's got to understand when to take those chances. In the red zone holding a four-point lead in the third quarter isn't one of those times. That's something that comes only with experience.

The Jaguars' defense bailed out Bortles with three turnovers but the Jaguars can't count on that happening every week. The Dolphins are coming off a big road victory at Chicago in which they sacked Jay Cutler three times and forced him into a pair of turnovers. You can bet they'll come at Bortles pretty hard Sunday. If the Jaguars are going to get victory No. 2, Bortles will have to cut down on poor decisions.
INDIANAPOLIS – Vontae Davis and Greg Toler's relationship goes beyond them being the Indianapolis Colts’ starting cornerbacks.

It started when the two grew up in the same area in Washington D.C. Toler competed against Davis’ older brother, San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis. Vontae Davis was that little kid who enjoyed hanging out with the older crowd.

“We’re both from the same area and it’s like we’ve been playing since we were in little league,” Davis said. “We just know each other that well. We push each other. We’re always competing and reminding each other to compete.”

[+] EnlargeGreg Toler
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesGreg Toler has developed a bond with fellow Colts corner Vontae Davis that dates back to childhood.
Davis and Toler led an aggressive defense that fed off them during the first seven games of the 2013 season. Things changed after Toler went down with a hamstring injury against the Denver Broncos in Week 7. Davis was inconsistent the rest of the season, and Toler wasn't the same player when he returned briefly.

They’re back together, making it difficult on wide receivers. The front seven gets the majority of the credit because they’re the ones usually getting the sacks, but they wouldn’t be able to do those things if Toler and Davis weren’t playing so well on the outside.

“I mean when you don’t have anywhere to go with the ball, it makes it ... the quarterback’s got to hold it, and it’s given the guys up front time,” coach Chuck Pagano said. “It’s a collaborative effort. One complements the other ... Having guys like that that are shutdown guys that can play that well, it allows you as a signal-caller, it gives [defensive coordinator] Greg [Manusky] the ability to have faith and trust because you’ve got guys out there that can lock guys down and play tight coverage. Even if they don’t hold the ball and they want to throw it deep, the guys are there.”

The Colts paid Davis (four years, $39 million) with the expectations that he would be one of the top cornerbacks in the league. The respect for the opposition is there. Pagano said Davis got the Richard Sherman treatment after the Tennessee Titans didn’t throw his way in Week 4. Toler has improved his tackling, a weak area of his, and continues to work at cutting back on illegal contact penalties.

Davis has 20 tackles, 12 passes defended and two interceptions this season. Toler has 17 tackles, seven passes defended, two interceptions and a touchdown. The Colts are fifth in the league in pass defense, giving up just 214 yards a game.

“We always say we’re playing for keeps like I got your back, you’ve got my back, no matter what happens out there,” Toler said. “It’s always we’re just uplifting one another, just staying the course. Just knowing that that guy over there is going to do his job, all 10 of the other guys are going to do their job. Just like for Vontae, when I’m down, he’s lifting me up. When he’s down, I lift him up. I think it’s bigger than just football.”

The competition is there between the two childhood friends. One makes a play and the other tries to counter it. Davis put a big hit on Cincinnati Bengals running back Giovanni Bernard in the flat on Sunday, so you can expect Toler to try to top him in the near future.

It’s situations like that fuel Toler and Davis, which carries over to the rest of the defense.

“When he makes a big hit, I’m itching to catch myself someone out there but not trying to hurt no one,” Toler said. “We push each other and that’s just great in the game itself being the serious competitors that we are. It’s good to know that off the field you’re going to hear about it later if someone catches one on me. Anything, you’re going to hear about later. We’re texting all the time. We’re always in group chat and that’s just with all the secondary. I think that’s why we’re playing at the level we are right now.”
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PITTSBURGH -- When did the 21-point deluge at the end of the first half start?

Depends whom you ask, but the result was three touchdowns in just over a minute and a half, which sparked the Pittsburgh Steelers to a 30-23 victory over the Houston Texans.

Some thought it started with the short pass Ben Roethlisberger threw to Le'Veon Bell, which went for 43 yards on third-and-10 with 5:42 remaining in the second quarter.

"That sort of sparked it," Houston safety D.J. Swearinger said. "They ran a little play to the running back. We just didn't capitalize."

You could say it started with the two-play, 19-second drive -- a 28-yard pass and a 35-yard pass -- that led to Pittsburgh's first touchdown.

"Anytime you give up a score that quickly, the offense is going to take that momentum and run with it," linebacker Mike Mohamed said. "We didn't do a good job of staying the course. It was just one thing after another, play after play."

Danieal Manning thought it started on the ensuing kickoff, when he bobbled the ball and landed on it deep in his own territory.

"I just muffed the ball," Manning said. "Trying to return and run before I caught the ball. Every time you have the opportunity, you're going to want to make a play. But you can't run without the ball. You just can't do it."

In the span of 92 seconds, the Texans allowed three touchdowns, two of which were fueled by turnovers inside their own 10-yard line. It was the first time since 2012 (when the Texans did it to the Dolphins) that a team has scored three touchdowns in the final two minutes of the first half. Prior to 2012, it hadn't happened since 2002.

The first touchdown -- Roethlisberger's 35-yard pass to Martavis Bryant, on which Bryant beat fellow rookie Andre Hal -- was on the defense. Kareem Jackson reminded Hal afterward that he needed to let that one go.

Then, the Texans' offense imploded.

"Just self-inflicted wounds," running back Arian Foster said. "We give the ball up twice in our own territory. Anytime you do that, teams are going to capitalize. [We] gotta be better."

After Manning's fumble pinned them deep, the Texans opted to pass the ball to Foster and gained only 1 yard. Next, they handed it to him, and after a lengthy review, the officials determined he had fumbled.

"I dropped it," Foster said when asked what happened.

Gaining confidence, the Steelers ran a play in which Roethlisberger flipped the ball back to receiver Antonio Brown, who threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Lance Moore.

With that pass, a 13-point lead had turned into a four-point deficit. But the bad stretch wasn't over yet, though the Texans believed they were going to recover some momentum and head into halftime with some positivity.

"We were very confident going into that drive [at the end of the first half]," left tackle Duane Brown said.

But like everything else in this horrific stretch, the pass play the Texans called at their own 20-yard line with 1:08 left didn't work.

"We had the turnover on the possession before and went out there really just trying to get three points out of that drive," quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said. "We had a decent play with Arian matched up, and it's not a good feeling to see the ball get tipped like that."

After the game, Fitzpatrick talked about the pass that hit Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel, caromed off another player and bounced back to Keisel for an interception, one he returned 16 yards. With the ball at the Houston 8-yard line, the Steelers took two plays to score this time, as Bell caught a 2-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger.

"Do stuff like that, [and] you don't win," receiver Andre Johnson said. "That's pretty much it."

Fitzpatrick called it miserable.

Jackson called it frustrating.

Swearinger chose a more active word.

"Crushed," he said.

It was just too much.

"We couldn't come back from it," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said. "Just too many turnovers. We had a hard time overcoming all those things."
PITTSBURGH -- You don't have to hang around Houston Texans coach Bill O'Brien long to know he has a fiery, emotional personality. That comes through after losses, but never more clearly than it did after the Texans' 30-23 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday.

O'Brien was heated. The tone and volume of his voice showed it. It was an appropriate response to a game that should have upset him, one in which players and coaches alike made mistakes.

O'Brien
"We had a terrible second quarter," O'Brien said. "We couldn't come back from it. Just too many turnovers. We had a hard time overcoming all of those things. But at the end of the day, we were one onside kick away from tying it. So we are trying to take some positive out of it, but we have to coach it better. We have to play a lot better."

He was asked if he'd ever seen anything like that final two-minute span, during which the Steelers scored three touchdowns in just more than a minute and a half. He said he wasn't sure. He was asked whether it was hard to stop the Steelers from scoring once they started, and that's when O'Brien bristled a little bit more.

"It was 30-23. It wasn't 50 to nothing," O'Brien said. "My point is we can't do that."

O'Brien went through a list of all his team did wrong: the 12-men-on-the-field penalty, the bobbled kickoff, the turnovers, the big plays.

"These questions are like we lost 50 to nothing," he continued. "We lost by a touchdown with all that stuff that we did. We have to improve it. We have to coach better, and we have to play better."

Next came a question about turnovers, and, again, O'Brien mentioned his frustration while also noting how close the Texans were to tying the game.

Finding positives is not always a bad thing, but focusing too much on those positives after another loss in what should have been a winnable game can be. I wanted to know if O'Brien actually was looking at the closeness of the game as a positive, or if his concern about all that went wrong (and we'll get into all of that in another post) outweighed that.

"I think it's a negative! We lost," he said, more visibly upset than he had been earlier. "It's a negative. It's terrible to lose. It's not good to lose."

And then the explanation for the search for the positives.

"My point is to these players in the locker room, is that with all those things that we did wrong, if we can fix those things that we're doing wrong, especially turning the ball over twice inside the 5-yard line, if we could fix those things, maybe we would have a shot, a better shot to win," O'Brien said.

"So no, it's awful to lose. It's not good to come close. There are no moral victories. But we have to fix these things."

Rapid Reaction: Houston Texans

October, 20, 2014
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A few thoughts from the Houston Texans' 30-23 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday night.

What it means: The Texans have a lot of work to do, and starting fast isn't a magic elixir. We talked a lot about the slow starts leading up to this game. This time, the Texans scored early -- it was just the second time this season they've scored on their first drive. They talked about needing that first first down to develop a rhythm that would change the complexion of the game. It didn't exactly work like that. Although that first drive was easy, the rest of it wasn't, and the Steelers' maligned defense gave its offense time to get going.

Stock watch: The Texans' pass defense's stock is down again. They knew Pittsburgh's forte was big plays yet still gave up pass plays of 30 yards or longer to three different Steelers. Pittsburgh had previously only scored on two of their 11 such plays, but on Monday, they scored on a 35-yard pass to Martavis Bryant. Houston was short on defensive backs, especially with A.J. Bouye missing, but even some of their best defensive backs fell victim here.

Cornucopia of mistakes: In the fourth quarter, the Texans negated every chance they had to get back into the game with costly mistakes. There was an errant pass to an open Damaris Johnson at the beginning of the quarter. There was a penalty for having 12 men on the field. There was another for defensive holding, on Andre Hal. Then, with just under five minutes to play, DeAndre Hopkins caught a deep pass near midfield, tried to get a few extra yards and fumbled the ball. That fumble led to a Steelers field goal, which put Pittsburgh up 14 with 3:04 remaining.

Game ball: I had a few candidates for this as I watched the first 27 minutes of the game. Arian Foster was cruising nicely. Whitney Mercilus had a couple sacks and a forced fumble. But Shane Lechler gets the game ball for booting three punts for 135 yards (45.0 average), including one downed at the Pittsburgh 1-yard line.

What's next: The Texans have the short week that follows a Monday night game before they travel to Nashville to play the Tennessee Titans in their second division game.
INDIANAPOLIS – Indianapolis Colts linebacker Erik Walden has yet to talk about his ejection from Sunday’s game, but coach Chuck Pagano said he doesn’t believe Walden will be suspended.

Walden was ejected in the second quarter of Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals after he swiped down to push head linesman Bruce Stritesky’s arm off of him.

Under Section 3 "unsportsmanlike conduct" of the NFL rulebook, it states that any unnecessary physical contact with a game official may result in disqualification and discipline from the commissioner.

“It is what it is, the rules are the rules,” Pagano said Monday.

Walden had already left the locker room before the media arrived after the game Sunday and Pagano gave the players Monday off.

Walden was suspended for a game last season for head butting a helmet-less Delanie Walker in a game against Tennessee.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans' hazy quarterback situation could gain some clarity by the time the team practices on Wednesday.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt said Jake Locker, who has missed the past two games with a bruised thumb, will throw Tuesday and they will assess how he responds as the team begins its practice week for the Houston Texans on Wednesday.

[+] EnlargeZach Mettenberger
Don McPeak/USA TODAY SportsZach Mettenberger has impressed with his preparation, Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt said.
Whisenhunt stuck with his stance that nothing has changed in his thinking about the Titans' quarterbacks, which means Locker will be starting when healthy.

Charlie Whitehurst has led the Titans to one win and two losses in his starts this season for the injured Locker, who missed another game with a wrist injury.

Meanwhile the buzz in Nashville continues to mount, of course, for sixth-round rookie Zach Mettenberger to play.

“I know he’s growing up from the standpoint of his preparation, how he handles himself in the huddle," Whisenhunt said. "He’s gotten some reps, especially with the starting offense just because of the quarterback situation the last couple weeks.

“You can tell a lot by his interaction in the meetings. You can also tell a lot by how he handles the look team or the scout team huddle on the practice field. I think one of the things I like to watch is if he’s really trying to stick it to the defense when he’s throwing out there against them. Which he is, he makes it competitive for them. At the point where he is, that’s an important part of it for him.”

Considering Locker keeps getting hurt and doesn’t seem to fit what Whisenhunt likes to do and Whitehurst is a backup without much upside or potential to be a long-term solution, when does Mettenberger’s time come?

“We’re tying to get him better as we go, knowing with the way it’s gone for us at quarterback this year that's something that could happen at any time,” Whisenhunt said.

Playing him too early doesn’t sound like a concern at all.

“From my little time around Zach, I don’t think that there is much you can do to mess with his confidence,” Whisenhunt said. “I think the one thing he’s got going for him is that he had a tremendous number of plays in preseason and he had some success with that. So, at least we have a basis from where to start with him.

“As far as putting him out there too early or not putting him out there too early, there are all kinds of different schools of thought on that. I think he’s got to work hard and prepare as best he can. Because at some point he’ll play. He’ll get his chance.”

When?

Right now the head coach’s tone suggests it’ll arrive as a result of injuries to the two guys ahead of him, not because of anything else.
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jaguars middle linebacker Paul Posluszny knew immediately something bad had happened.

He felt a pop and searing pain on the right side of his chest when he sacked Cleveland quarterback Brian Hoyer midway through the fourth quarter of the Jaguars’ 24-6 victory over the Browns on Sunday. He stayed down on the turf for a moment, grabbed his chest with his left hand, and then slowly got up and went back into the defensive huddle.

It wasn’t until he came off the field after Hoyer’s incomplete pass on third down one play later that he found out just how badly he was injured. He had torn his right pectoral muscle away from the tendon that attaches it to his shoulder.

"I knew something was wrong [when it happened] but not that wrong, you know what I mean?" Posluszny said Monday afternoon. "You know how it is. We’re winning, we’re up, you want to finish the game."

The injury prevented him from finishing the game and it’s also going to keep him from finishing the season, too. Posluszny is trying to schedule surgery this week and the Jaguars are going to place him on season-ending IR. It’s certainly a blow to a defense that has played its best over the past three weeks but it’s just as disappointing for Posluszny, who had only missed one game in his three-plus seasons since he joined the Jaguars as a free agent in 2011.

"It’s not easy, especially [because] you get the feeling now that we’re just starting to pick things up and the team’s going to roll a little bit and get on a nice winning streak and play some good ball, so you want to be a part of that," he said. "It’s tough to get hurt now and know that I’m not going to play football for a long time."

Posluszny said team physician Kevin Kaplan hasn’t given him a timetable on the rehab process but assured Posluszny that it would not impact his preparation for the 2015 season. Posluszny has two more years remaining on the six-year, $45 million contract he signed in 2011 and is scheduled to make $7.5 million in 2015 and 2016.

Posluszny is in his fourth season with the Jaguars after spending four years with Buffalo. The 2013 Pro Bowler has recorded at least 110 tackles from 2008-2013 and was second in the NFL with 162 tackles in 2013. Not only is he the team’s leading tackler (69) and best defensive player this season, he’s also responsible for making the defensive calls and is one of the team’s leaders.

The Jaguars’ defense has played its best football in the last three weeks, allowing only two touchdowns and 32 points over that span. They’ve forced four of their seven turnovers during that time as well, including three against Cleveland.

That was with Posluszny in the lineup, though.

"That’ll be huge, losing Poz," defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks said. "Poz is the guy that jells our defense together. He’s the leader of our unit, so losing him will be huge. But Poz, he’s a leader. He’ll step in. Any question a guys has to ask, Poz will be there to answer the question and help the guys through the game plan. It’ll be big for him to be in there in the meeting room helping the guys."

Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said it’s likely that fourth-year player J.T. Thomas will take over as the middle linebacker. He was cross-trained at outside and inside linebacker during training camp but has played mainly on special teams this season and has just three tackles. Second-year player LaRoy Reynolds, an undrafted rookie in 2013, will move into Thomas’ spot. He started at OTTO in the first three games before getting benched because of poor play and has played mainly on special teams since then.

"The guys are going to do a great job," Posluszny said. "Our D-line’s going to continue to play really, really well. That’s going to set the tone for the entire defense. The linebackers are going to step up and take advantage of the opportunity."
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars are going to rely on two unproven players and perhaps the team’s biggest free-agent bust to help offset the loss of middle linebacker Paul Posluszny, the team’s best defensive player and a team captain.

And yet coach Gus Bradley seems pretty confident the Jaguars are going to be fine.

[+] EnlargePaul Posluszny
Richard Dole/USA TODAY SportsWith Paul Posluszny out for the season, the Jaguars are losing more than their top tackler. They're losing key leadership.
"Well, it’s a big loss," Bradley said Monday afternoon. "He’s been really playing really well lately. Well, he’s been playing well ever since I’ve been here but I think he’s come into his own, really understands the defense now, and really takes total command of the defense. That’ll be a difficult one.

“We’ve got some guys that will step up. That’s what this league’s all about. I think we’ll be OK."

Bradley obviously has to say those things and maintain a positive outlook, but the bottom line is that while Posluszny has his limitations in coverage and went through a stretch earlier this season when he tried to do too much and got out of position, he is the team's most reliable defensive player and the Jaguars don't have enough talent to even come close to replacing his production.

Who are the replacements? Second-year player J.T. Thomas and second-year player LaRoy Reynolds, both of whom have made more of an impact on special teams than on defense, and fifth-year player Dekoda Watson, who was signed to fill the newly created OTTO spot but has been disappointing and has played sparingly on defense.

Bradley said it’s likely that Thomas will take over as the middle linebacker. He was cross-trained at outside and inside linebacker during training camp but has played mainly on special teams this season. He has three tackles.

Thomas started at the OTTO linebacker against Cleveland on Sunday and Bradley said Reynolds, an undrafted rookie in 2013, will move into Thomas’ spot. He started at OTTO in the first three games before getting benched because of poor play and has played mainly on special teams since then.

The Jaguars signed Watson in March to fill the OTTO spot, but he missed all of training camp while recovering from a second groin surgery. He returned to practice late in the preseason but had been unable to overtake Reynolds and played mainly on special teams. When Reynolds was benched, the Jaguars inserted Thomas into the OTTO spot and kept Watson on special teams.

Posluszny is a two-down linebacker that has been forced to play on third down because of a lack of better options and struggles in coverage, but he is the team’s leading tackler (69) and best defensive player. He’s also responsible for making the defensive calls, so he’ll be tough to replace from that perspective.

The fact that the Jaguars are relying on Thomas, Reynolds and Watson underscores the need for a significant upgrade at the linebacker position, which the Jaguars are expected to address in the offseason and the draft. Rookie Telvin Smith has progressed and had his best game in the 24-6 victory over Cleveland on Sunday -- two sacks, a forced fumble, and an interception -- but he’s an undersized outside linebacker and isn’t yet ready to be a starter.

"Any time you have injuries with guys that are playing well it stings you a little bit," Bradley said.

Losing Posluszny’s leadership won’t be easy to overcome, either, and that’s something Thomas, Reynolds and Watson aren’t capable of providing, either.

"Everybody has different leadership style. Poz was not really a vocal-type leader," Bradley said. "He led by his actions and his demeanor and how he took care of himself. So hopefully the lessons he’s taught many of our players, they’ll buy into and continue to own it and they’ll demonstrate it. I think it’ll be a group effort."

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