Colts Out-rush Jacksonville Jaguars 155-67 to Take AFC South Race Lead With 34-24 Victory
INDIANAPOLIS – As Peyton Manning saw it, it was pretty simple.
Manning, now in his 13th season as the Colts' quarterback, said no matter how big the game, when a team stops the run and runs pretty well in the NFL, there's a pretty good chance the team will win.
On Sunday, in a very big game, the Colts did both.
And the result was a crucial victory.
With second-year running back Donald Brown rushing for a career-high 129 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries, and with the defense holding Maurice Jones-Drew to 46 yards on 15 carries, the Colts took an early lead and held off a late rally for a 34-24 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars in front of 67,147 at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis.
"When you run the ball and stop the run, no matter who's in there, it's going to give you a chance," said Manning, who completed 29 of 39 passes for 229 yards and two touchdowns – with each touchdown coming in the first half two second-year wide receiver Austin Collie.
"It's a combination of both," Manning added. "Those were our two challenges. (Colts Head) Coach (Jim) Caldwell made that challenge to us on Monday. He challenged both the interior fronts on both sides of the ball, for us to run the ball and for our defense to stop the run.
"Both answered the bell. Both answered the challenge."
The Jaguars, after trailing 14-10 at halftime and 24-10 in the second half, cut the lead to 27-24 with a 1-yard touchdown pass from quarterback David Garrard to wide receiver Mike Sims-Walker. That was the second time the duo connected for a touchdown in the second half.
But on the ensuing play, Colts linebacker Tyjuan Hagler returned an onside kick 41 yards for a touchdown to secure the victory.
The Colts (8-6), who have won six of the past seven AFC South titles, won for the second time in as many weeks, and although they are tied with the Jaguars (8-6) atop the AFC South, they control their post-season destiny.
"We knew our backs were against the wall for a couple of weeks now," Caldwell said. "It's just one of those things where you have to play well or you're not going to have an opunity to do anything further. We're still just giving ourselves another opportunity here. We have another game just like this game – the same thing at stake."
The Colts, who have made an NFL-high eight consecutive playoff appearances, will win the division if they beat the Oakland Raiders at Oakland next week and Tennessee at home in the regular-season finale.
The Colts beat the Titans last week to snap a three-game losing streak.
"It's all about Oakland this week," Manning said. "If you take a step back, then you feel like these last two wins don't mean as much. Hopefully, we can feed off a little momentum from two wins in a row and play well on the road. We know we'll have our hands full going out there."
Jones-Drew, a Pro Bowl selection who entered the game as the NFL's second-leading rusher, had rushed for 100 yards in six consecutive games, with the Jaguars winning five of those games to take the AFC South lead in December for the first time in franchise history.
Jones-Drew had rushed for more than 100 yards in five of eight career games against the Colts.
"They heard all week how they couldn't stop our running game," Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said. "I thought they did a pretty good job. They held us to less than 70 yards rushing. You have to give them some credit. They've had issues stopping the run against us and against others.
"They got it done today."
The Colts, who entered the game ranked 32nd in the NFL in rushing, out-rushed the Jaguars 155-67, averaging 6.5 yards per carry.
"We ran the ball well, which is big for us, and we stopped the run, which made a huge difference," Caldwell said.
The Colts took a quick lead, and controlled momentum much of the first half.
They did so not just with Manning peppering the Jaguars' defensive with quick passes to Collie, but by controlling the running game on each side of the ball.
The Colts moved quickly on their first possession, taking a 7-0 lead when Manning throwing seven yards to Collie in the left side of the end zone. The play capped an eight-play, 82-yard drive that used 3:39, and came one play after Brown's 49-yard run.
The Colts held the Jaguars scoreless the rest of the first quarter, but Jacksonville drove to the Colts 1 with just over a minute remaining.
On 1st-and-goal from the 1, the Colts stopped Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew for no gain and a three-yard loss, and on 3rd-and-goal from the 4, Jaguars offensive tackle Eugene Monroe was called for a false start. A pass from Garrard to Rashad Jennings gained five yards and Jaguars kicker Josh Scobee's 22-yard field goal made it 7-3, Colts.
The Colts immediately drove 92 yards on 11 plays, with Manning's 27-yard pass to Collie capping a drive that consumed 4:22.
That made it 14-3, Colts, and the Jaguars cut into the lead just before halftime with a controversial Jaguars punt return for a touchdown.
On the play, Jaguars wide receiver Mike Thomas appeared to raise his left hand just before catching the ball, but officials ruled he did not raise it high enough to be a fair-catch signal. He returned the punt 78 yards for a touchdown that cut the Colts' lead to 14-10 with 3:51 remaining.
Collie, who missed three consecutive games – and four of the last five – with a concussion sustained another concussion on a drive late in the first half. He did not return.
The Colts quickly extended the lead in the second half, with Brown breaking off his second long run of the game – this one a 43-yarder around the left side of the line that gave the Colts a 21-10 lead with 12:19 remaining in the third quarter.
Colts rookie linebacker Kavell Conner recovered a fumbled punt with just under 10:00 minutes remaining in the third quarter, and after a 34-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri, Indianapolis led, 24-10.
Jacksonville cut the lead to seven, 24-17, with 3:54 remaining with a six-yard pass from Garrard to wide receiver Sims-Walker. That was the Jaguars' first offensive touchdown of the game.
The Colts pushed the lead back 10 points, 27-17, with a 37-yard field goal by Vinatieri. That was set up when safety Antoine Bethea returned an interception on the final play of the third quarter 31 yards to the Colts 44.
The Colts forced a punt on the ensuing possession, but after the Jaguars also forced a punt, they drove quickly for the Garrard-to-Sims-Walker one-yarder that made it a three-point game. When Hagler caught the ensuing onside kick and returned it 41 yards for a score, the Colts had a crucial victory – albeit not one that clinches anything.
"It's not like anything has changed for us," Caldwell said. "We still have to band together. I'm certainly proud of the way the guys hung in there."
Said Manning, "We realize it is a good win. Since that Cowboys game (the last loss of a three-game losing streak), we really knew we had four games, four must-win games, and we have won two of them.
"It's a good win, but certainly it is just one game and we have to be able to do it again next week."