A SPECIAL FEELING

Although Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy has felt the feeling often - more consecutive times than any head coach in NFL history, in fact - the feeling of qualifying for the NFL's postseason is still a pleasurable one. The Colts clinched a playoff appearance with a 31-24 victory in Jacksonville Thursday.

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A Day Later, Dungy Says Seventh Consecutive Playoff Appearance a Good Feeling
INDIANAPOLIS – A day later, the feeling was the same.

And make no mistake:

Although Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy has felt the feeling often – more consecutive times than any head coach in NFL history, in fact – the feeling of qualifying for the NFL's postseason is still a pleasurable one. Very, very pleasurable.

"It feels very good to win," Dungy said Friday, a day after the Colts beat the Jacksonville Jaguars, 31-24, at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium for their eighth consecutive victory in a game televised nationally on the NFL Network.

"It still feels good this morning. I thought we had great effort coming back in that fourth quarter with some of the things we had to do to win."

With the victory, the Colts (11-4) secured not only a seventh consecutive playoff appearance, but also of the No. 5 seed in the AFC playoffs.

The victory also gave the Colts 11 or more victories for a sixth consecutive season, which ties the NFL record. The 1976-1981 Dallas Cowboys also accomplished the feat.

Dungy, who coached the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the postseason in 1997 and from 1999-2001, now has coached teams to the postseason in 10 consecutive seasons, an NFL record.

Dungy had been tied with former Dallas Cowboys Head Coach Tom Landry for the NFL record with nine consecutive playoff seasons.

"It means I've been in two really good organizations with a lot of really good players who had the ability to focus," Dungy said. "I've been with some great coaches, some who have been with me all the way through. I've just really been blessed by the Lord to be in those situations, to have talented guys who are able to focus week in and week out.

"It is a little bit thrilling to me when you see the names of people who are in that area – Landry, and (former Pittsburgh Steelers) Coach (Chuck) Noll and (former San Francisco 49ers coach Bill) Walsh. It's hard to do.

"I really feel fortunate to be around two groups of guys who have allowed me to do it."

The Colts trailed by 14 points in the first half against Jacksonville, then trailed by 10 twice in the second half – 17-7 and 24-14 – before rallying with 17 fourth-quarter points. It was the fourth time this season they have rallied from a double-digit road deficit to win.

The Colts also rallied from a 15-point deficit to win at Minnesota, a 17-point deficit to win at Houston and a 10-point deficit to win at Pittsburgh. All of the deficits except the one against Pittsburgh were in the fourth quarter.

The Colts' four double-digit road rallies for victories ties them with the 1983 Dallas Cowboys for the most in NFL history. They also have rallied three times to win after trailing by 14 points or more on the road, the most in NFL history.

"I wish we wouldn't test that out so much," Dungy said. "It's amazing to do it on the road the way we have. Sometimes, with your home crowd some things roll right, but to go down two scores on the road is generally very tough. We've bounced back in some tough places to play."

Dungy said while Thursday's rally was again impressive given the circumstance, he also said, "the disappointing thing was how we put ourselves in that position, especially on defense."

The Colts, who entered the game ranked 11th in the NFL defensively, allowed the Jaguars 409 yards and 28 first downs. The Jaguars scored touchdowns on their first two possessions to take a 14-0 lead, and twice in the game – once in the first half and once in the second – they scored touchdowns on drives of more than seven and a half minutes.

The Jaguars' second touchdown – a 2-yard run by quarterback David Garrard – came on a drive of 17 plays, 93 yard and 9:35; their final touchdown –a 2-yard run by Montell Owens – capped a 14-play, 76-yard drive that consumed 7:58.

Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew rushed for 91 yards on 20 carries, and also caught seven passes for 71 yards.

"Maurice Jones-Drew is a great back and we play a lot of defenses where one guy's going to be free to tackle him," Dungy said. "Sometimes, you can't get him down, but we did some things that really were hard to explain on defense in terms of just lining up properly and being where we're supposed to be and doing the right things.

"It was hard to imagine how it happened and why, but we'll get to work on those things and see if we can get that straightened out. The thing I was happy with was hanging in there and continuing to play and work even when we got down and not panicking, especially on offense.

"Sometimes you have a tendency to try to score to quick and we didn't do that. We stuck with our game plan and played well."

That was particularly true of Colts quarterback Peyton Manning.

Manning, who has thrown 16 touchdown passes and three interceptions in the Colts' eight-game, playoff-clinching winning streak, completed his first 17 passes against the Jaguars. Combined with six consecutive completions at the end of the Colts' victory over Detroit last week, he completed 23 consecutive passes.

That left him one shy of the NFL record held by Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb.

For the game, he completed 29 of 34 passes for 364 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions and a season-high passer rating of 140.7, and for the season, he has 3,907 yards passing with 26 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

"It's pretty fun to watch," Dungy said of Manning. "It does surprise you at times. I was kind of amazed last night because of the situation. You get down 14 and you're running game's not going well – usually the other team's teeing off, and they're able to mix their pass coverages. It generally becomes tough to throw in those situations.

"To be as accurate as he was, and find guys, and keep the ball moving, and to not take any sacks and not have any turnovers in that environment – that was really a great performance."

Manning's performance kept the Colts in position throughout, and early in the fourth quarter, his 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dallas Clark pulled Indianapolis to within three, 24-21.

On the Colts' next series, a 45-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri tied it at 24-24, and with the Jaguars facing 3rd-and-4 from the 28 on the ensuing series, Jaguars quarterback David Garrard threw to his right toward wide receiver Reggie Williams.

Colts cornerback Keiwan Ratliff intercepted and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown. The Colts secured the victory by stopping the Jaguars on their next two possessions, with defensive end Raheem Brock forcing a punt with a sack with just under four minutes remaining and defensive end Dwight Freeney sacking Garrard on 2nd-and-goal from the 7 on the game's final play.

The sack set off a celebration that continued into the Colts' locker room, and produced a feeling Dungy said was still strong a day later.

"Making the playoffs is hard to do," Dungy said. "People can say, 'Oh, you've made the playoffs seven straight times, but they're all special. I commended our group. We had to do it the hard way this year and sometimes things just don't go right for you, but to fight your way through and get there – everyone is special.

"I don't take it for granted and definitely appreciate the opunity we're going to have."

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