In this, the most competitive of NFL seasons, no division is tighter than the AFC South, where only two games separate the best teams from the worst.
Much of the excitement Sunday was generated by those four teams — Indianapolis, Tennessee, Jacksonville and Houston — as, for everyone but the Jaguars, Southern discomfort was the order of the day.
New England slammed the door on a Colts comeback.
Tennessee lost in overtime to Washington — and Titans quarterback Vince Young had a major meltdown.
The New York Jets beat Houston in a thriller, taking full advantage of the Texans’ feeble pass defense.
And Jacksonville had six turnovers . . . but still rallied to beat Cleveland for its third consecutive victory.
If players received Oscars for their histrionics, Young would be thanking the Academy after his Week 11 performance. He was sidelined in the second half because of a torn thumb ligament, and was replaced by Rusty Smith, making his rookie debut.
Although Young was able to throw the ball on the sideline, Coach Jeff Fisher opted not to put him back in the game because he was even less accurate than usual. After the loss, Young pulled off his shoulder pads and heaved them into the home crowd — the latest in a rich history of tantrums.
“Clearly, that is no way to respond,” Fisher said, “so we have some things we have to sort out with him.”
The only saving grace for the Titans is that they play at Houston on Sunday, and the Texans’ defense — ranked last against the pass — would have a hard time intercepting those shoulder pads, let alone the passes of Tennessee’s new quarterback.
A week after losing to Jacksonville on a Hail Mary pass, the Texans got burned at the New Meadowlands Stadium when Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez threw a six-yard touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes with 10 seconds left for a 30-27 victory.
It was another narrow victory for the Jets, who followed two road overtime wins with a squeaker in front of their home crowd.
“I swear it’s like ‘Groundhog Day,’ ” said Sanchez, who would have been correct uttering that in either locker room.
You want repetitive? The Colts have played the Patriots eight consecutive seasons (the longest streak of non-division opponents since realignment in 2002) in a matchup that pits Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, who have defined quarterback excellence over the last decade.
As usual, the game didn’t disappoint. Manning nearly led his team to a spectacular comeback, but his last pass was intercepted deep in Patriots territory near the end, and New England held on for a 31-28 victory.
Brady, meanwhile, walked away with his 25th consecutive regular-season home victory, tying a record Brett Favre set in Green Bay from 1995-98. The Colts and Patriots could meet again in the AFC championship game.
The Jaguars took full advantage of the Indianapolis loss, moving into a first-place tie with the Colts at 6-4, the first time since 1999 that Jacksonville has been atop the division this late in the season.
Jacksonville might want to burn the game video — or study it intensively. The Jaguars beat the upstart Browns despite five consecutive drives in the second half that ended in turnovers.
“We defied the odds,” Jaguars Coach Jack Del Rio said. “We held our ground and didn’t allow them to take those turnovers and bury us. That’s what typically happens — it’s a landslide.”
That is to say, for one AFC South team the arrow pointed north.
There were several close games Sunday, but there were also some blowout laughers — Green Bay over Minnesota by 28, Pittsburgh over Oakland by 32, and Tampa Bay shutting out San Francisco, 21-0.
The Vikings’ loss was an era ender — it was almost certainly the last time Brett Favre will face the Packers, and it could be the final straw for embattled Coach Brad Childress.
“This has got me at a loss for words,” Favre said. “Disappointing would be an understatement.”
More telling, Vikings owner Zygi Wilf was also mum. He left the locker room without comment.
Don’t look now, but Drew Brees is quietly returning to his 2009 form after a painfully slow start to the season. He threw for 382 yards and four touchdowns against Seattle, pushing his league-leading total to 22 touchdown throws. New Orleans has won three in a row.
The Saints play at Dallas on Thursday, and the Cowboys, like the Seahawks, are ranked in the bottom half against the pass.
Amazing that it took this long, but Dallas picked up its first home victory of the season with a 35-19 win over Detroit. That nudged the record of interim Coach Jason Garrett to 2-0 and was another step toward his getting the job for good after the season.
“When you are looking for crumbs, it doesn’t take but a little piece to get you to smile,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. “And these [victories] have been a couple of nice little pieces.”
Comeback or collapse? Depends on your perspective. Buffalo overcame a 31-14 halftime deficit to outscore Cincinnati in the second half, 35-0.
Asked after the 49-31 defeat what it was like to be part of a crazy game like that, Bengals receiver Terrell Owens said: “Crazy? What’s crazy is the fact that we’re just terrible. That’s just plain and simple. When I say we, that’s me included. Let me look you in the eyes and emphasize — we are terrible. Terrible. I have no answers for you. I have no sound bites for you.
“All I know is, right now, we are terrible.”