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Inside AFC South: Defining Moment

The weekly series on AFC South Division developments with the Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Tennessee Titans focuses on what moment stands out so far.

Before this NFL season began, surprising roster decisions defined where the Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars are as AFC South Division franchises struggling to find stability.

At the top of the division after nine weeks, the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans came up with memorable plays in key victories. The Colts' defining moment came against the Titans on Thursday night.

Here's how writers for the Sports Illustrated-powered sites of each division team summed up defining moments so far.

The Houston Texans' offseason trade of All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona has turned out terribly.

The Texans' surprising offseason trade of All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona defied logic, and it hasn't panned out.

Houston Texans

Matt Galatzan/Texans Daily

There's not another moment that defines the Texans season more than the offseason trade of All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals. In fact, it not only defines the season to this point, but the entire Bill O’Brien era as a whole.

Already known for making questionable moves as the head coach and GM, O’Brien earned the ire of the Texans fan base (and likely more) when he moved Hopkins, one of the most beloved players in franchise history, and a fourth-round pick for running back David Johnson and a second-round pick in March.

The move not only handcuffed star quarterback Deshaun Watson, taking away his best weapon, one of the NFL's best wideouts, but it also changed the entire dynamic of the offense. And to this point, the results speak for themselves.

Gone are the explosive plays in the passing game, gone are the clutch catches in the red zone or on third-and-long, and gone are the days of keeping the defense on their toes with one of the best receiving groups in football.

Instead, the Texans offense has developed into a predictable, underwhelming nightmare that can’t protect its quarterback. The offense requires Watson to constantly dig deep and make plays on his own to keep his team alive, and the Texans still struggle in the run game, despite the entire genesis of the trade being centered around improving that aspect of the offense in the first place.

People may forget, this team with Watson at the helm and Hopkins as his lieutenant, was knocking on the door of a Super Bowl last season. Less than a year later, the head coach and GM are gone, and the team is about to embark on a complete structural rebuild that could take years to recover from.

E.J. Speed blocks Trevor Daniel's punt, which T.J. Carrie (38) scooped and scored on from 6 yards out to give the Indianapolis Colts a 27-17 lead on the Tennessee Titans in the third quarter.

E.J. Speed's blocked punt, which T.J. Carrie (38) recovered and returned for a touchdown, gave the Colts a 27-17 lead on the Titans Thursday night.

Indianapolis Colts

Phillip B. Wilson/AllColts

Before Thursday night, take your pick on what resonated about a Colts team that had beaten weaker foes convincingly but also lost badly to Baltimore and inexplicably stumbled in the season opener at Jacksonville against a Jaguars team that hasn’t won another game since.

But Thursday night could be proof to doubters that these Colts are capable of playing well against a decent team. The Colts’ 34-17 road win against the Tennessee Titans was a surprising about-face from four days earlier. A Colts offense that didn’t score in the second half of a Sunday home loss to Baltimore relied upon quarterback Philip Rivers going mostly no-huddle to dictate situations in scoring 24 consecutive points, including three touchdowns after halftime. The Titans failed to score a point against the Colts’ No. 1-ranked defense in the third and fourth quarters.

In a defining moment perhaps for both the Colts and Titans, an unblocked E.J. Speed stuffed Trevor Daniel’s punt and T.J. Carrie scooped and scored from 6 yards out in the third quarter. That pushed the Colts’ lead to 27-17. As it turned out, the Colts didn’t need the TD, but the special-teams score was reminiscent of last season, when the Titans returned a blocked field goal for a game-clinching touchdown in a December win at Indianapolis.

While the jury is still out on Rivers and an inconsistent Colts offense that struggles on third down and in the red zone, there’s no question the defense and special teams are vastly improved. The Carrie score was the Colts’ fifth return touchdown — special teams had another TD on rookie Isaiah Rodgers’ 101-yard kickoff return at Cleveland and the defense has scored on three interceptions.

But, it’s only one game. The Colts and Titans are tied at 6-3 atop the AFC South Division, with the Colts earning an early edge in the head-to-head tiebreaker. They meet again in Indianapolis in two weeks.

The Jacksonville Jaguars released former first-round draft pick Leonard Fournette in the preseason.

The Jaguars cut running back Leonard Fournette in preseason.

Jacksonville Jaguars

John Shipley/JaguarReport

There are a lot of potential moments the Jaguars could point to that have defined their 2020 season. There have been scrappy, wire-to-wire losses. An emotionally-driven Week 1 upset of the Colts defined the young, raw Jaguars also comes to mind. And of course most recently, Jacksonville's new-founded quarterback carousel has taken center stage. But to fully sum up the 2020 Jaguars, we instead think of the key two-day stretch when the Jaguars officially shedded the most significant remnants of their 2017 AFC Championship squad.

On Aug. 30, the Jaguars put an end to one of the longest player vs. team disputes in franchise history. After an entire offseason of defensive end Yannick Ngakoue requesting a trade, the Jaguars granted the Pro Bowler's request and dealt him to the Minnesota Vikings for a second-round pick and a conditional fifth-round pick in 2022. What had been a public and eventful divorce ended in the early hours of a Sunday, signaling the end of "Sacksonville."

The next day, the Jaguars made another giant move by releasing running back Leonard Fournette. The former No. 4 overall back was fresh off a career year in 2019, but the Jaguars saw undrafted rookie James Robinson as an immediate and clear upgrade. The move to release Fournette just three years into his tenure, and 13 days from the season opener, was a shock to all.

The trade of Ngakoue and release of Fournette followed an offseason purge of the roster. Other 2017 stalwarts such as Jalen Ramsey, Calais Campbell, and A.J. Bouye had already been traded, but moving forward without Ngakoue and Fournette were the final dominos to a complete overhaul of the team.

Tennessee Titans wide receiver A.J. Brown catches a last-second touchdown pass to force overtime against the Houston Texans.

Titans wide receiver A.J. Brown catches a touchdown pass in the final seconds to force overtime in a home win over the Texans.

Tennessee Titans

David Boclair/AllTitans

A.J. Brown’s 7-yard touchdown reception in the final seconds of regulation in the Titans’ Week 6 matchup against the Texans is the most dramatic moment to date in a season that has been filled with them.

Brown’s sliding catch along the left side of the end zone was confirmed after a lengthy video review, which only added the tension. The subsequent PAT forced overtime in a game that featured four lead changes after halftime.

Tennessee was one of three NFL teams that started 5-0 but did not make it look easy. The margin in the first three victories was three points or fewer, and in each case the decisive points came from kicker Stephen Gostkowski within the final two minutes. The Titans trailed or were tied in the fourth quarter of all three before quarterback Ryan Tannehill directed a scoring drive.

Then came the game with Houston, which presented the most significant challenge yet to the offense’s ability to put points on the board as time ran short. Trailing 36-29, Tennessee got the ball at its own 24 with one timeout and 1:45 remaining. After one incomplete pass, Tannehill connected on eight straight to five different receivers, the last of them to Brown. The Titans never faced a third down.

“Just go play confidently, one play at a time, and do what we do,” Tannehill said after the game. “This is a situation, it's not new for us.”

Tennessee got the ball to start overtime and put together another touchdown drive that ended the contest and completed the 5-0 start. Afterward, players said that Brown’s score left them with no doubt they could do it again.

(Phillip B. Wilson has covered the Indianapolis Colts for more than two decades and authored the 2013 book 100 Things Colts Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. He’s on Twitter @pwilson24, on Facebook at @allcoltswithphilb and @100thingscoltsfans, and his email is