A TOUGH CHALLENGE

When it comes to games within the AFC South, Colts quarterback Peyton Manning on Wednesday said games in recent weeks mean far less than past match-ups with the opponent.

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Whatever Their Record, Jaguars Remain Tough Challenge, Manning Says

INDIANAPOLIS – Now that they're done, the last two weeks mean little to Peyton Manning.

And that's not just true of the Colts' performance.

Manning, in his 13th season as the Colts' quarterback, said experience in division games has taught him there's little value in studying the recent past, so when preparing this week he said he doesn't much consider the opponent's recent results.

Yes, the Jacksonville Jaguars have lost two consecutive games.

And yes, the losses have come in one-sided fashion.

But as Manning sees it, those results aren't as imant to preparation as the Colts' recent match-ups with the Jaguars, and as historically has been the case when Colts have played their AFC South rivals from Jacksonville, those match-ups have been competitive.

Very, very competitive.

"A lot of times in these division games, I really think you get more out of the last time you played this team," Manning said Wednesday as the Colts (2-1) prepared to play the Jaguars (1-2) in an AFC South game at EverBank Field in Jacksonville Sunday at 4:15 p.m.

"The last two times we've played this team it has been very close games. It has gone down to the fourth quarter – a drive here, or a play there."

The Jaguars, after beating the Denver Broncos, 24-17, in Jacksonville in the regular-season opener, lost at San Diego 38-13 in Week 2 and the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 3.

But during a 7-9 season last season, a season in which the Colts won their first 14 games and played in the Super Bowl, Jacksonville lost to the Colts in Indianapolis, 14-12, in the regular season opener. The Colts then beat Jacksonville, 35-31, in a memorable, back-and-fourth Thursday night game in December.

"I think we had nine lead changes," Colts linebacker Gary Brackett said of last Decembers prime-time meeting. "That's the team we're looking to face, and that's the team we're preparing for."

Said tight end Dallas Clark, "It's a division game, so you know a lot about each other."

The Colts lead the all-time series with Jacksonville, 14-4, and have won five of the last six meetings, but since a 44-17 Jaguars victory in December 2006, five of the teams' six meetings have been decided by seven points or less.

"It doesn't matter in terms of the record, or where we play," Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said. "They are a tough team and we battle it out right to the end."

Caldwell called last December's game "a classic battle," and said what he sees when he looks at tape of the Jaguars this season "is a dangerous team."

Caldwell cited Pro Bowl running back Maurice Jones-Drew, "a game-breaker, not only as a ball-carrier but as a pass receiver," and quarterback David Garrard, as well as tight end Marcedes Lewis, wide receivers Mike Sims-Walker and Mike Thomas and a veteran offensive line.

"That's what I see – I see guys who can play," Caldwell said.

Sunday's game will have a somewhat different dynamic than recent Colts-Jaguars meetings in Jacksonville. The teams have played late in the season on Thursday night in Jacksonville each of the last two seasons. The teams exchanged leads nine times last season, with Manning passing 65 yards to four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Reggie Wayne for the game-winning points with 5:23 remaining.

Manning completed 23 of 30 passes for 308 yards and four touchdowns with one interception in that game, a year after he completed 29 of 34 passes for 364 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions in a 31-24 come-from-behind victory at Jacksonville.

"It's an October game, a day game, so we're expecting the weather to play more of a factor," Manning said. "I think it will be a tough challenge."

Manning said Wednesday he was surprised to learn of the Colts' edge in the series.

"It seems like every game down there has been tough," Manning said. "They rolled through us a couple of years ago. They beat us pretty soundly down there (in 2006). I think you kind of throw that (series record) out the window, just knowing it's a division game."

The Jaguars this off-season focused on improving the pass rush, and Manning said Wednesday they have done so. With the addition of defensive tackle Tyson Alualu – the No. 10 overall selection in the 2010 NFL Draft – and free-agent defensive end Aaron Kampman, Jacksonville has seven sacks through three games after registering a league-low 14 last season.

But Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said this week big plays in the passing game have hurt Jacksonville, which allowed touchdown passes for 61 and 45 yards last week to Eagles quarterback Michael Vick. The Jaguars are ranked 29th in the NFL in pass defense.

"Philadelphia, nobody knew quite what to expect," Manning said. "They kind of had a new offense, with Vick playing. That may have caught them off-guard. They're very familiar with us. It's always been a tough challenge. Their defensive line has really improved. Protection will be key and guys getting open on time. They've had some injuries this week and I think they're getting a little healthier this week. Therefore, I think it will be tough.

"That's kind of what we prepare for. You know when you get into a division game, that has a little something extra to it and you never quite know what you're going to see."

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