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Texans clinch AFC South with 29-17 win over Colts

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Texans clinch AFC South with 29-17 win over Colts

HOUSTON (AP) The Houston Texans won the AFC South on Sunday and immediately shifted their focus to the future.

``We have bigger goals,'' Andre Johnson said after Houston's 29-17 win over the Colts. ``What we're focused on now is winning and getting home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.''

The Texans host Minnesota next week and finish the regular season at Indianapolis, and will have home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs if they win out.

Houston was happy to put last Monday night's ugly 42-14 loss to New England behind them with Sunday's victory.

``A lot of people were wondering how we were going to respond,'' Johnson said. ``I think a lot of people doubted us after what happened last week. We (felt) like we had to show people what we were really about.''

Johnson gained 151 yards receiving and a touchdown, Bryan Braman had a special teams score on a blocked punt, and Shayne Graham kicked five field goals.

The Texans (12-2) grabbed their first AFC South title last season after the Colts nosedived without injured quarterback Peyton Manning. Manning is gone to Denver and rookie Andrew Luck couldn't do much against the inspired Houston defense.

The Colts (9-5) had won three straight games and needed a win to clinch a playoff berth a year after going 2-14 in 2011. Before that, they took the division seven times since Houston entered the league in 2002.

``It was a tough loss for us in that we came here with one idea and that was to win the division, and we're not going to win the division - they did it,'' Indianapolis interim coach Bruce Arians said.

Thanks in great part to three sacks from Watt, Houston bounced back six days after the loss to New England on national television.

``I'm enjoying myself,'' Watt said. ``I've said all along that if you're not trying to be the greatest, you're wasting your time.''

Luck threw for 186 yards with two touchdowns in the return to his hometown. He had led the Colts to a rookie-record six wins on drives in the fourth quarter or overtime this season, and he got the Colts within six points late in the third quarter.

``We came here to win, not put up a respectable showing,'' Luck said. ``We'll move on to next week and hopefully get better.''

Houston's defense shut Luck down after he made it close, and the Texans used Arian Foster to eat up the clock. Foster ran for a season-high 165 yards to leave him with 1,313 yards rushing, giving him his third straight year with at least 1,200.

``It's not really that we bounced back,'' Foster said. ``It's that we played the football that we know we're capable of playing. We feel we're a team that if we play how we know we can ... it's going to be hard for us to get beat.''

Watt increased his AFC-leading sack total to 19 1/2 - the NFL record for a season is 22 1/2 - and finished with 10 tackles. He also forced a fumble for the third straight game.

``I don't even know the stats,'' Houston coach Gary Kubiak said. ``But it seemed like every time I looked up, he was making a play.''

Luck was sacked five times playing behind a makeshift offensive line missing center Samson Satele (ankle) and right tackle Winston Justice (biceps).

Johnson, who has 11,008 yards receiving in his career, scored on a 3-yard reception to make it 10-0 in the first quarter. The Texans didn't score a touchdown on offense after that, but were helped by Braman's special teams effort.

Braman blocked his second punt of the season, recovered it and returned it 8 yards for his first career touchdown to make it 20-3 just before halftime.

Vick Ballard had 60 yards rushing on a Colts drive that ended with an 8-yard touchdown reception by Dwayne Allen to cut Houston's lead to 23-17 in the third quarter. Ballard finished with a career-high 105 yards rushing.

Houston couldn't do anything on its next drive and punted. But Indy sputtered, and interim coach Bruce Arians even drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on a punt, giving Houston the ball at the Colts 39.

Graham added a 46-yard field goal to push the lead to 26-17 and made his fifth field goal with about a minute left.

Rookie T.Y. Hilton and Luck connected on a 61-yard touchdown pass just before halftime.

Watt's forced fumble on Mewelde Moore on the Houston 1 was recovered by Tim Dobbins early in the second quarter, robbing the Colts of points. And the Colts stalled inside the red zone again and had to settle for Adam Vinatieri's 26-yard field goal to cut Houston's lead to 10-3.

The Texans had set the tone as they got to Luck early, sacking him twice on the Colts' second drive. Antonio Smith got to him first, and Watt put a move on backup tackle Jeff Linkenbach and took him down for a 15-yard loss.

On offense, Johnson was dominant. He put Houston up 10-0 when he waltzed into the end zone for a 3-yard touchdown reception. Johnson kept things going earlier in the drive when he caught a pass, lost it and then grabbed it again just before it touched the ground for a 10-yard gain on third-and-9.

NOTES: Luck needs 74 yards to break Cam Newton's rookie yards passing record of 4,051 yards. ... Dobbins has recovered four fumbles this season, a franchise record. ... Braman's two blocked punts this season are a single-season franchise record.

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Interested teams have begun reaching out to John Carlson

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USA TODAY Sports

Interested teams have begun reaching out to John Carlson

Free agency does not start until July 1, but John Carlson's agent is already taking calls from other interested teams.

The interview period began at 12 a.m. on Sunday morning, which means teams are now able to reach out to any potential free agents, but no contracts can be signed until July 1. While Brian MacLellan said Friday that a new deal with Carlson to keep him in Washington was "really close," Carlson's agent, Rick Curran, has made it clear there was no deal in place yet as of Sunday.

So does this mean Carlson now has one foot out the door?

Not necessarily.

At this point in the negotiation, Carlson has a major advantage and that advantage is time. Sunday's interview period is just another way to hold the Caps' feet to the fire. The closer we get to July 1, the more pressure the team is under to get a deal done.

But the Caps still have some leverage too.

“I love it here and all that,” Carlson said during on breakdown day. “I want to stay here, but there's more to it than that.”

By rule, as his current team, the Caps are the only team that can offer Carlson an eight-year deal.

So Carlson may have turned up the heat a few degrees on the Caps, but it's not time for fans to worry just yet.

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Nationals look to avoid sweep against Phillies on Sunday night

Nationals look to avoid sweep against Phillies on Sunday night

WASHINGTON -- Having already won their first series at Nationals Park since April 2016, the Philadelphia Phillies will go for the sweep of Washington on Sunday night.

Phillies right-hander Nick Pivetta (4-6, 4.08 ERA) faces Nationals right-hander Jefry Rodriguez (0-0, 4.66).

Pivetta was drafted by the Nationals in 2013 and went to the Phillies in 2015 as part of the Jonathan Papelbon trade.

After struggling for three straight starts -- giving up 13 runs in 14 innings -- Pivetta allowed two runs and four hits in 7 1/3 innings of a no-decision against the St. Louis Cardinals last time out, striking out a career-high 13 batters.

"That's some of the best stuff I've seen him have all year," catcher Andrew Knapp told mlb.com. "The curveball was electric."

Pivetta got 11 swings and misses with the curveball.

"It was nice to have it back," Pivetta told mlb.com. "It all started with my delivery. I was staying up through it, not trying to rush too much and it worked out."

It his first start -- and second big-league appearance -- the 24-year-old Rodriguez picked up a win against the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday. He allowed five runs, four hits and three walks in five innings.

Rodriguez and Satuday's losing pitcher, Erick Fedde, are filling in for injured starters Stephen Strasburg and Jeremy Hellickson.

The Phillies have outscored the Nationals 17-5 in the fist two games of the series. On Saturday, Maikel Franco had four hits and Carlos Santana homered to back Aaron Nola in a 5-3 victory.

"That was just a tremendous all-around baseball game," Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said of Franco. "It's so interesting how we've been looking for him to be not just a hitter but a defender and a baserunner and an all-around athlete."

Franco drove in a run and scored twice, including the go-ahead run when he scored just ahead of the tag on Jesmuel Valentin's sacrifice fly.

The Phillies, who have won six of seven, pounded out double-digit hits for the second day in a row in Washington.

"They have a lot of patient hitters," Fedde said of the Phillies. "I think that's what makes it tough. Guys aren't swinging at bunch of junk, so you have to attack them."

The Phillies have now won four straight series for the first time since May 2016 and are 2-0 in what will be a stretch of 10 games against the Nationals and the New York Yankees.

Anthony Rendon homered and Daniel Murphy had a two-run single for Washington, which has lost three of four while scoring nine runs.

"Look, I've got all the confidence in the world we're going to start hitting," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. "We'll start scoring some runs. Right now, the bullpen is a little beat up. We've got to get them going again."

Rendon is doing his part. In his las 15 games, he is batting .382 with seven doubles, two homers and 12 RBIs.

Hellickson (right groin strain) will make a rehab start Sunday for Class A Potomac and then is expected to rejoin the Nationals' rotation.

Hernandez said first baseman Ryan Zimmerman (right oblique strain) is about a week from beginning a rehab assignment.