INDIANAPOLIS – Thursday night’s game at EverBank Field will be the 22nd divisional tilt between the Colts and Jaguars, and it will be the third prime-time meeting there in the last five years.
The Colts lead the series, 13-8, since the teams were paired in the AFC South in 2002, and that stands as the tightest record Indianapolis has with any of its division rivals.
That the overall series record is tight is not surprising, the margins of outcomes have been close, too.
Sixteen times the teams have played within a one-score finish, while nine times the games have been decided by five points or less. Six have been decided by a field goal or less.
Three times the Colts have cobbled together a three-game series winning streak. Jacksonville currently has a streak of the same length, and that is the only time the Colts have lost three straight to any AFC South team.
The prime-time games in Jacksonville were wild affairs in 2008 and 2009, with the Colts pulling off fourth-quarter wins each time, 31-24 and 35-31. The 2009 game was a see-saw contest that featured nine lead changes.
Interim Head Coach Bruce Arians’ only experience with the rivalry is from the first game this season when Jacksonville scored on an 80-yard touchdown pass in the final minute to wrest a 22-17 win over the Colts. That scoring play came just 11 seconds after the Colts had rallied to grab the lead.
“They’ve been a good football team for a long time, ever since Tom Coughlin put that thing together and left his stamp on it,” said Arians. “Throughout the years, it has become a great rivalry. They were good, the Colts were good early. It’s always had that type of atmosphere to it.”
Head Coach Chuck Pagano left the club after that game and has been battling leukemia. Arians stepped in and has directed Indianapolis to a 4-1 mark. Jacksonville has yet to win since that game, but Arians is ready for a full attack on Thursday.
“If we don’t get their best shot, I’ll be shocked,” said Arians. “They have a lot of pride in Jacksonville. Mike Mularkey is a (heck) of a coach. I’ve known him for a long time. We’re going to get everything they’ve got – both barrels. We had better be ready for it.”
Mularkey, Pagano and Arians are new names to the rivalry, one that saw the likes of Coughlin, Tony Dungy, Jim Caldwell, Jack Del Rio and Mel Tucker, who faced Indianapolis last year as an interim leader.
“I don’t know. That’s just the way the game goes. Each game has its own identity,” said Wayne. “Some teams know each other better than others. They do a good of matching up with us. They are a physical team. You’ve got to be ready, no matter what their situation is, no matter what ours is. You can expect a hard-fought football game.”
Ten of Freeney’s 104.5 career sacks have come against the Jaguars. Only Houston (15.5) and Tennessee (13.0) have suffered more from Freeney’s punch, but the veteran linebacker is not unscathed from this tough opponent.
“Them being a division opponent, they know us and we know them. It doesn’t change,” said Freeney. “I don’t care that their record is, it’s always going to be some type of battle, some type of fight. Especially them, they’re tough, they’re blue collar. They work hard.
“There definitely have been some great games. Sometimes the records don’t always match up on paper as being great games, but those guys fight. They’re always going to be hard-working guys. It’s always going to be a challenge. After the games, you’re pretty bruised up physically because of the style of game it is. It will be fun.”
Arians is like any coach who sees talent beyond a difficult record. Likening the Jaguars to a wounded but dangerous animal is not a stretch in his estimation.
“There’s no doubt,” said Arians of the analogy. “This is a division game. With this team, there have been some great games over the years, especially there.
“I think the biggest thing is they are playing hard and they’re learning their systems. They’ve also been hit with a bunch of injuries, and we have all the respect for that franchise. It’s just a matter of time before Mike (Mularkey) gets it all together for them. We’re expecting the biggest, baddest punch they’ve got because of their situation. We can’t sit back and pat ourselves on the back, or they’ll bloody our nose on Thursday night.”
Wayne is ready for Jacksonville trying to better its record.
“It’s always a tough game, always a battle,” said Wayne. “These dudes, I don’t want to speak for them, but I can imagine this is not where they wanted their season to go. They’re going to be pretty upset, pretty determined to go out there and try to turn some things around for the second half of the season. It’s going to be a normal Colts-Jaguars type atmosphere. Just like all the other games, the team that makes the most mistakes is going to be the team that loses.”
Wayne, Freeney and quarterback
“I wouldn’t say (we) owe them one. We owe everybody. We just want to take care of business,” said Wayne. “They came here, beat us at our house. We need to return that favor. On top of that it’s a division game. We just want to keep winning, get as many as we possibly can.”
Arians said on Monday that tight end
“I think we’ve improved. We’ve improved in a number of areas and a lot for us is going to depend on who’s healthy enough to play in this ballgame,” said Arians. “We have a motto, ‘Next man in line,’ and whoever is out there with a blue horseshoe on his helmet is going to be playing hard.”
As for coming off a stirring 23-20 win last Sunday over Miami, Arians will remind his team about how it faced the New York Jets just after beating Green Bay at home.
“We have to learn from the last time we had an emotional win. We got our brains beat out,” said Arians. “I’ll remind them of that.”