Defense Steps Up In Fourth Quarter of 35-31 Victory
The Colts defense was not perfect Thursday night, but thanks to the group's brilliant fourth quarter, their season still is.
Indianapolis mounted its NFL-record seventh fourth-quarter comeback victory Thursday, outlasting the Jacksonville Jaguars in a wild Week 15 shootout, 35-31.
"From a defense standpoint, our guys hung in there," Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said. "Maybe we didn't take care of our gaps in the first half or tackle, but in the second half we began to shore things up a bit, and when it really counted, in the fourth quarter, we found a way to get it done."
The back-and-forth game featured 10 lead changes and nine touchdowns, but the Colts' defense stepped up in the fourth quarter, holding Jacksonville to three punts and an interception. Indianapolis took the lead for good when quarterback Peyton Manning connected with wide receiver Reggie Wayne on a 65-yard touchdown with 5:23 remaining in the fourth quarter, Manning's fourth touchdown pass of the game.
"I thought today was a great test against a good team," Manning said. "We got their best effort. We knew it would be a close game, and it came down to the wire. It felt good to get the win."
The win would not have come without the help from a rejuvenated defense, which battled with a physical Jacksonville attack all night, and rallied to put forth its best effort when the Colts needed it most.
After allowing the Jaguars to score on every drive through three quarters with the exception of a 35-second possession at the end of the first half, the Colts defense settled down in the fourth quarter.
The Colts started the quarter right, forcing Jacksonville to punt less than three minutes in for the first time all game.
Trailing 31-28, Indianapolis was unable to get anything going on offense, giving the Jaguars the ball back. But the Colts defense forced another punt, and the offense was not going to waste a second opportunity.
On 3rd-and-5 from the Colts 35, Manning bought time in the pocket before airing out a 65-yard touchdown to Wayne down the left side of the field.
But with more than five minutes remaining on the clock, the game was not over. The two teams exchanged punts before Jacksonville got the ball back with 2:06 remaining.
Their offense – which already scored four touchdowns – was driving and slowly moving the ball down the field. After reaching Indy's 33, Jacksonville quarterback David Garrard threw two incomplete passes before facing 3rd-and-10 with just over a minute remaining.
On the next play, Garrard's pass intended for wide receiver Mike Thomas sailed high and Colts rookie cornerback Jacob Lacey came up with the interception, his third on the season, cementing the Colts' victory and a 14-0 start, the best in franchise history.
"At the beginning of the game they were running the ball on us, pounding it on us and getting some open lanes in the passing game," Lacey said. "But we never gave up or lost our focus or slouched at any point. When we had our backs against the wall, we needed to step up, and we did that."
Linebacker Philip Wheeler led the Colts with 10 tackles and fellow linebacker Gary Brackett and safety Antoine Bethea each had nine.
Defensive tackle Eric Foster finished with a career-high two sacks, including a forced fumble and a quarterback takedown that led to a fourth-quarter punt.
"When we needed a stop," Foster said, "we came up with a big stop."
Foster said the defense was aided by leaders stepping up and showing the way.
"Like always, (Defensive Coordinator Larry) Coyer makes adjustments and we've got a leader on defense, Gary Brackett, lining us up telling us what to do," Foster said.
The defense's biggest task Thursday night was containing Jacksonville's dynamic running back, Maurice Jones-Drew. Jones-Drew rushed for 110 yards, but was held to 4.1 yards per carry and a long of 14.
"He never gives up," Foster said of Jones-Drew. "Seeing him twice a year, it's a real challenge. We get to see where we are at when we play against his team."
Coming into Thursday's game, the Colts' defense was allowing 16.7 points per game, the second-fewest in the NFL. The Jaguars' 31 points were the second-most any team has scored against Indianapolis this season, but the Colts shut their AFC South rival out when they needed to most – in the fourth quarter.
"This is a 60-minute fight," Bethea said. "They had us on the heels a little bit in the first half when they were clicking on offense, but we came in and made some adjustments and got big stops in the second half."
The Colts can now look forward to a little rest before taking on the New York Jets at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 27.
"These past couple of days have been tough, playing on Sunday and coming back on Thursday," Foster said. "Now we can really enjoy the weekend."
• The Colts continued their prowess inside the red zone Thursday night, scoring touchdowns on two red zone possessions. Coming into the Jacksonville game, Indianapolis already ranked second in the NFL in red zone efficiency, scoring touchdowns on 61.4 percent of their possessions inside the 20.
• With two touchdowns Thursday, tight end Dallas Clark now has five scores in his last two games. His 41 career TD catches are the most by a tight end in team history.
• Manning's 308 passing yards give him his 10th career 4,000-plus-yard passing season, extending his NFL record. The quarterback's four touchdown passes Thursday mark the fifth 30 -touchdown season of his career and his 21st 4 -touchdown game, tying Dan Marino for the second-most in NFL history (22, Brett Favre is record).
• In addition, Manning led the Colts on a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime for the 43rd time in his career and the seventh time this season.
• In need of 69 receiving yards coming into the game to pass Colts legend Raymond Berry, wide receiver Reggie Wayne totaled 132 Thursday night, moving him into second place in Colts history for career receiving yards.
• The Colts' offensive line did not surrender a single sack against the Jaguars Thursday night. Heading into the game, Colts were allowing a sack every 51.4 pass attempts (now one sack for every 54.4 attempts), the best average of any line in the league. Indianapolis has allowed one sack or less in 11 of 14 games this season.
• Colts running back Chad Simpson returned a Jacksonville kickoff 93 yards in the second quarter for a touchdown. It was the first Colts score on a kickoff since 2004.
• Kicker Matt Stover did not kick a field goal Thursday, but his five extra points helped him pass 2,000 points for his career (2,003). The veteran kicked passed legend George Blanda for the fifth-most points scored in NFL history. "That's a tremendous accomplishment," Caldwell said. "I'm happy for him. He's a guy who joined us in the middle of this year and has done an absolutely tremendous job coming in and fitting in. He's a true professional."