Road to the AFC South division title starts in London for the Colts

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LONDON – The first step is a monumental one: an eight-hour flight that covered nearly 4,000 miles and an ocean.

At the end of their trans-Atlantic journey, the Indianapolis Colts find themselves face-to-face with the Jacksonville Jaguars and their initial incursion into the AFC South.

Let’s provide some immediate perspective what could unfold Sunday at famed Wembley Stadium. The Colts are in position to:

  • Atone for their most recent meeting with the Jaguars. Last December in Jacksonville, they saw a six-game win streak in the series go Poof! A 13-3 second quarter lead unraveled in dramatic fashion and was replaced by a 51-16 loss.
  • Re-establish themselves as contenders in the AFC South. They dominated the division for so long – nine titles in 14 seasons since its inception in 2002 – but saw that end last season when injuries forced Andrew Luck to miss nine starts and opened the door for Houston.

The simplest way to return to the playoffs is to win the division. Period. And that starts by taking care of business in the neighborhood.

“We all know the ramifications. We all know how important these games are,’’ Coach Chuck Pagano said Friday. “You’ve got to do whatever you can to win your division games.

“They’re all important, but this doubly so.’’

A shoulder injury kept Luck out of last year’s meeting with the Jaguars in Indy, and a lacerated kidney forced him to watch from the sidelines as the Jaguars and their fans reveled in what was one of the most lopsided losses in franchise history.

“A lot sticks with me from last year,’’ Luck said. “It’s not fun to lose. But as I’ve said before, win or lose the previous year, the next year truly is different in this league.

“This game counts extra. It’s a division game.’’

Luck clearly took the politically correct approach.

Others did not.

“They beat our butts good,’’ Pagano said. “They embarrassed us. I’m sure they’re confident. They’ve got a good football team. There’s no reason they shouldn’t be confident regardless of what happened last year.

“Now, we’re a different team (and) they’re a different team. We’re playing at a different venue. But they haven’t forgotten that and we haven’t either.’’

Added veteran linebacker Robert Mathis: “You don’t forget when a team drops 50 on you.’’

The Jaguars outscored the Colts 42-3 in the second half. Their offense piled up 431 total yards, including 142 on the ground. Quarterback Blake Bortles passed for 250 yards and three touchdowns.

“We know what they (did) to us last year,’’ defensive end Kendall Langford said. “They flat-out embarrassed us. We didn’t like it.

“It was last year, but it’s still in the back of your head. They dropped 50 on us . . . Jacksonville dropped 50 on us. That’s not cool at all.’’

Gaining atonement with an authoritative first step inside the division would go a long way toward erasing the memory. That’s especially true with the news out of Houston that all-world defensive end J.J. Watt suffered a season-ending back injury.

Suddenly, the defending AFC South champs are without their most influential player. The Jaguars are 0-3 and the Tennessee Titans match the Colts at 1-2. Houston sits atop the division with a 2-1 mark, but that appears shaky considering the loss of Watt.

“He’s a great player, we all know that,’’ Pagano said. “I know they’re going to miss him, but they’ve got a bunch of great players.

“The whole division got better in the offseason.’’

Sunday, we’ll see if that includes the Colts.

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