Caldwell Opens with Historical Victory for Colts QB Peyton Manning
INDIANAPOLIS – Jim Caldwell doesn't much like discussing personal achievements, and Peyton Manning doesn't much like comparisons to John Unitas.
Each ended Sunday afternoon a bit uncomfortable.
But neither would have had it any differently.
Manning, in his 12th season as the Colts' quarterback, tied Unitas' franchise record for career victories by a quarterback in the 2009 regular-season opener – a 14-12 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars in front of 65,757 at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis Sunday afternoon.
The outcome gave the Colts a victory in Caldwell's first game as head coach.
"I certainly think our team played well, and did a great job," Caldwell said after the Colts (1-0) held the Jaguars (0-1) on downs on a late fourth-quarter drive to secure their 13th victory over the Jaguars in 17 meetings between the teams.
"I think that one win . . . all it tells you is we won't go 0-16 this year."
Manning, a three-time Associated Press National Football League Most Valuable Player and nine-time Pro Bowl selection, won his 118th career game as a starter. That tied him with Unitas, who played for the Baltimore Colts from 1956-1972.
"There have been so many people responsible for all of those wins – different coaches and great teammates," said Manning, who completed 28 of 38 passes for 301 yards and an interception with a 35-yard third-quarter touchdown pass to three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Reggie Wayne.
Manning called Unitas, "A winner."
"I know how good of a player he was, because my dad (former NFL quarterback Archie Manning) always said his favorite players growing up were Mickey Mantle and Johnny Unitas," Manning said. "That sort of puts it in perspective for me what kind of player Unitas was. I've never felt comfortable with the comparisons to him. I know he played for this franchise, but I think he's kind of in his own place.
"But I am proud of those wins, because I know a lot of people have put a lot of hard work into those wins, so it's very humbling."
Wayne's touchdown gave the Colts a brief cushion in what otherwise was a close game throughout. The Colts committed two first-half, red-zone turnovers – including an end-zone interception by Manning on the game's opening drive – then took a 7-6 halftime lead, with running back Joseph Addai scoring on a 3-yard run with 3:39 remaining before halftime.
Jaguars kicker Josh Scobee kicked first half field goals of 24 and 46 yards, with his second field goal cutting Indianapolis' lead to one with :59 remaining in the second quarter.
Wayne's touchdown pushed the Colts' lead to eight before Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew (97 yards, 21 carries) scored on a fourth-quarter seven-yard run around the left end to make it, 14-12. The Colts then stopped a direct-snap run by Jones-Drew on the two-point conversion.
The Colts had a chance to secure the victory offensively, but rookie Donald Brown was stopped for no gain on 3rd- and 4th-and-1 from the Jaguars 35 just before the two-minute warning. The defense then secured the victory by holding Jacksonville without a first down on the ensuing possession.
"You always want to let everyone know that we're here, too," Colts defensive end Robert Mathis said. "We play defense in Indianapolis. It was just a good morale victory and we'll take it."
Blitzes by middle linebacker Gary Brackett helped force incomplete passes by Jaguars quarterback David Garrard on third- and fourth-and-8 from the Jaguars 37, and the Colts ran out the clock thereafter.
"The defense picked up the slack for the offense right there," Manning said.
The Colts, a playoff team the past seven seasons, now have won 10 consecutive regular-season games dating to last season. It's their sixth winning streak of 10 games or more in franchise history, with four coming since 1999.
The Colts also have won seven consecutive home games, and Caldwell became the eighth head coach in franchise history to win his first game as head coach of the team.
"I saw a coach that was very happy," Wayne said. "Whether we won by 30 or one, a W is a W. I am sure if we win by 30 it looks a lot better, but for him to get his first W as a head coach, everybody was excited for him. He was excited. Mr. (Colts Owner and Chief Executive Officer Jim) Irsay was excited.
"We just wanted to go out there and do everything we could for him to be a successful coach and today was a step in the right direction."
Caldwell said he didn't change his pre-game routine from that which he followed during seven years as a Colts' assistant coach. He said he ran four miles, and received far more text messages than normal, one of which contained a scripture from the Book of Esther he recalled afterward: Such a time is this . . .
"He (the sender) was referring to the opunity I have now, to take advantage of it," Caldwell said.
The aftermath of the game? That was a bit more memorable for Caldwell, who received a game ball from Irsay.
"That was significant – better than the alternative, that's for certain," he said, laughing. "It was appreciated from the owner and the team. Like I said before, I'm not certain how significant it (the victory) is other than it just tells us we won't lose them all this year."
Caldwell said he didn't like everything he saw, but some things he did:
• The defense. The Colts allowed 228 total yards, and pressured Jaguars quarterback David Garrard into incomplete passes on the last two Jaguars offensive plays.
• Wayne. With starting wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez out early in the first quarter with a knee injury, Wayne – a Pro Bowl selection the past three seasons – caught 10 passes for 162 yards and a touchdown. "He doesn't surprise us in that sense," Caldwell said. "He's always been able to step up, play well and play well consistently."
• Punter Pat McAfee. The rookie from West Virginia punted twice for a 44.0-yard average, with each punt downed inside the 10. His 43-yarder in the fourth quarter was downed on the 1, and put Jacksonville in a difficult situation trailing by two. "Our kicking game was solid," Caldwell said.
"We have a long way to go, in terms of being where we'd like to be," Caldwell said. "I'm pleased with our effort, but we certainly aren't satisfied with our overall performance. We played well enough to win. That's the key. . . ."
The Colts will visit defending AFC East champion Miami next Monday.
"It was a tough battle," Caldwell said. "We thought it would be a grind, and it indeed was. Every time we face Jacksonville, it's a tough, hard-nosed battle. Our team played tough, hard and played with a lot of energy. We had some good things happen out there. That's a hard team to battle and stop, and our team did a good job doing that. . . .
"We have a lot of work to do, when you start looking at the stats and overall where we are. There are going to be a lot of things we have to work on if we want to be ready for Miami next week."