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INDIANAPOLIS – Five months removed from the dog days of training camp at Anderson University, the Indianapolis Colts will wrap up the 2011 season on Sunday when they meet Jacksonville.
The ups and downs of the season have the Colts trending positively heading into the New Year. The Colts have posted back-to-back wins over AFC South teams the past two weeks.
Trying to complete the late-season sweep against the division, the Jaguars await the Colts in the finale.
The NFL's leading rusher Maurice Jones-Drew once again has been the catalyst for the Jaguars, and he was named to a third consecutive Pro Bowl this past week.
"He has had a great year this year," safety Antoine Bethea said. "He is a tough runner and we face him twice a year, so we know we are going to get a good dose of MJD (Maurice Jones-Drew). We just (have to) play ball, run to the ball, tackle and hit, (because) it is going to be a physical game. We will be all right."
With rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert having started 13 games in 2011, Jones-Drew has received a bulk of the offensive work. His 360 touches are the most in the NFL, and he also leads the league with 86 first downs in 15 games.
Jones-Drew continues to work his way up the franchise ranks. He needs 136 rushing yards to pass Fred Taylor for the most in a single season. He also needs one rushing touchdown to give him 63 for his career. That would establish the Jaguars' club mark on the ground, and Jones-Drew already holds the team's overall touchdown record at 74.
This marks the fourth straight week the Colts will face a marquee running back with Jones-Drew perhaps having the best resume of all. Recently, the Colts have faced Baltimore's Ray Rice, Tennessee's Chris Johnson and Houston's Arian Foster. Jones-Drew has rushed for at least 80 yards in 14 of 15 games in 2011, including a 114-yard effort against the Colts in week 10.
"Maurice (Jones-Drew) is a monster," said defensive end Dwight Freeney. "To me, he is one of the best running backs, if not the best running back, in the league, because the thing is that he does it and everybody knows (the Jaguars) are going to run the ball. Everyone knows and he still is able to get as many yards as he does. He hits (the hole), and it's not a scheme thing. It's not like the Denver Broncos full-zone blocking (where) whoever you plug in is going to get 1,000 yards, at least. Not with him. He is a guy where he is running guys over, he is finding the hole, he is cutting it back, he's doing this, he's doing that and they get him the ball on screens. The ball is in his hands 80 percent of the time, and he is making plays all over the field. Everybody knows it and still has a problem stopping him."
Stopping Jones-Drew will be the number one item on the Colts' minds on Sunday. On the other side of the ball, the Jaguars also boast one of the league's best defenses.
The unit allows the fifth-fewest yards per game in the NFL and is second in the league with the most three-and-outs (55). Jacksonville trails only Cincinnati (58).
Head coach Mel Tucker took over for Jack Del Rio four weeks ago. Tucker has led Jacksonville to a 1-3 mark, winning at home against Tampa Bay, 41-14.
Even though the teams played seven weeks ago, both will look much different on Sunday. Quarterback Dan Orlovsky once again will take the reins of the Colts offense. It will be his fifth straight start for Indianapolis.
The Colts are coming off two wins in five days last week and the chance to even their divisional record in closing out the season would go a long way to a successful off-season for Indianapolis.
"It will be a good feeling just to go into next year right," running back Joseph Addai said. "Knowing that we are going to have a season next year that is going to happen, so to win out your last three games that builds momentum going into the next season. Even though that is a long time from now, it is always good to win games. We won the Tennessee game and everybody was happy after the game, and it is always good to go home happy. You want to come back, get on that plane, be happy and kind of go into next season with a positive attitude."
Jaguars 17, Colts 3 – November 13, 2011
A late third-quarter touchdown and a ball-controlled fourth quarter made the difference for the Jaguars as they beat the Colts 17-3 at Lucas Oil Stadium. The teams traded interceptions on the game's first two possessions and both teams took a while to get into a rhythm offensively. Both Jaguars kicker Josh Scobee and Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri kicked first- half field goals as the teams headed into halftime tied at three. Breaking the tie was the Jaguars grinding out a 16-play, 86-yard drive as quarterback Blaine Gabbert hit wide receiver Jarrett Dillard for an 11-yard touchdown. The drive ate up 9:40 off the clock and proved to be the game-winning touchdown. Quarterback Curtis Painter was intercepted in Jaguars territory on the next possession and Dan Orlovsky relieved him to end the game. Trying to make a comeback attempt late in the fourth quarter, the Jaguars forced an Orlovsky fumble and running back Maurice Jones-Drew scored three plays later on a three-yard run to complete the scoring at 17-3.
Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew against the Colts defense: For the fourth straight week, the Colts defense will face one of the premier running backs in the NFL. Jones-Drew carries the load for an offense led by a rookie quarterback. Earlier this season, the UCLA product ran for 114 yards against the Colts, including a late fourth-quarter touchdown that put the game out of reach. The Colts were successful in stopping Titans running back Chris Johnson two weeks ago and neutralizing Jones-Drew would go a long way toward securing a third straight victory to end the season.
Colts quarterback Dan Orlovsky against the Jaguars defense: In making his fifth straight start for the Colts, Orlovsky will be seeing the Jaguars for the second time this season. In week 10, Orlovsky relieved Curtis Painter and was 7-of-10 for 70 yards in the fourth quarter. The final 15 minutes is where Orlovsky has thrived this season. He has a 91.6 passer rating during the fourth quarter. In his last outing, Orlovsky directed a 78-yard game-winning drive in the final 1:50 as the Colts beat Houston, 19-16. He capped the drive with a one-yard touchdown pass. It will be another stiff test for the Colts offense as the Jaguars allow the fifth-fewest yards in the NFL and have the seventh-best pass defense in the league.
-Colts are 7-3 all-time on the road against the Jaguars.
-Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne needs 113 reception yards to reach 1,000 for the eighth consecutive season. Doing so would tie him with Marvin Harrison (1999-06) for the franchise record, and he would be the sixth NFL player ever to achieve the feat.
-Colts quarterback Dan Orlovsky has a 91.6 passer rating in the fourth quarter this season. It ranks 12th in the NFL.
-Colts wide receiver Pierre Garcon needs 75 reception yards to reach 1,000 for the first time ever in his career.
-Center Jeff Saturday has participated in 132 career victories with the Colts. He is tied with Hall-of-Famer John Unitas for second-most in team history, behind Peyton Manning (141).
-Colts running back Donald Brown is averaging 7.3 yards per rushing attempt in the last two games.
-Safety Antoine Bethea and linebacker Pat Angerer are the only Colts defensive players to start every game.
-At 4.3 yards per rush this season, Indianapolis is on pace for its first 4.0 seasonal average since 2006.
-The Indianapolis defense has allowed only seven conversions in the last 26 third-down attempts.
-Jaguars tight end Mercedes Lewis has the most reception yards (2,651) and touchdown receptions (17) by a tight end in Jaguars history.
-Jaguars linebacker Paul Posluszny leads the team with 186 tackles and had an interception against the Colts in week 10. It is his fourth straight season with 100 tackles.
-The Jaguars are fourth in the AFC with a plus-three turnover differential.
-The Jaguars have outrushed their opponents in 10 of 15 games this season.
-The Jaguars are 16-8 when running back Maurice Jones-Drew rushes for more than 100 yards in a game. The Jaguars are 18-12 in games when he tops 20 rushing attempts.
Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell (on the play of the defense over the past few weeks):
"They've been doing a better job of playing with a bit more cohesion. They've certainly been playing fast. Things are a bit simpler for them. They don't have to think about a whole lot. You let them sort of use their God-given ability to get to the ball. Speed and simplicity, I think are very, very important in terms of the way in which we play defense. They've been doing that very, very well here over the last few weeks. They've been tackling well, and I think that has helped us. We aren't perfect, but we've got a lot of guys playing with a lot of effort and enthusiasm."
Colts quarterback Dan Orlovsky(on why the offense has clicked over the past few games
"It usually starts with the guys up front. I think those guys are really playing at a high level right now in the pass game and the run game. We're running the ball maybe not at a six-yards-a-clip (pace), but we're running it. We're persistent with it. The guys are running hard. We're not abandoning it, and guys on the outside are making plays. I think that's important. We're doing a good job of getting ourselves into manageable third downs. It usually helps. We're making plays in critical situations. It usually boils down to us critical situations and making plays. A lot of games are decided (by) seven points or less. We're not really turning the ball over a ton. I think we've won the turnover battle the past couple of weeks. It's weird. Football really boils down to a lot of simplicity – who has the ball longer, who doesn't turn it over as much, who converts more on third down and who scores more points. It's simple. Sometimes we get in the way of that. We've been doing a good job of protecting the football, staying on some drives and making plays when we have to. (I) give a lot of credit to the guys up front."
Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney(on whether making the Pro Bowl ever gets old):
"It never does (get old). It is a tremendous honor to be picked by your peers and by the fans. This is not just something that is just for you either. It is for the city and for your teammates, (because) you didn't get there by yourself. So this is definitely a special feeling."
Colts quarterback Dan Orlovsky(on what the game against Jacksonville means to the guys in the locker room fighting for jobs next season):
"This is a pretty special league. Very rarely do you get guys who say, 'This game is not really that important.' You guys have heard me say it's a week-to-week league. We have to continually go out and prove ourselves, not only for our team but teams that are out there also. You always want to have good film. That's how you play for a long time. We've also won two in a row. We've never been swept in our division (since Tennessee in 2002). That's important for this organization. It's a huge game for us because we're playing it this week. We'll be ready to play. We know Jacksonville will. It's a game. We're going out and competing, so it's important."
Colts offensive lineman Ryan Diem(on the team never giving up this season):
"That is one thing I love about this team is that we kept fighting. Thirteen losses and we are still coming to work ready to go every week, preparing and trying to get that monkey off of our back. A lot of teams probably could have given up, folded up the table and got out. It is just a testament to the kind of team that we have around here. (We have) guys that come to work every day ready to practice and ready to win."
Jaguars Head Coach Mel Tucker(on a key to the game that he is trying to focus on and the team's effort on Sunday):
"I don't have any question about our effort or our toughness. The guys will be ready to play, and they will play hard for 60 minutes, there is no doubt about that. What we have to do is we have to improve our execution on both sides of the ball and on special teams. That is where our focus is right now, control what we can control and focus on executing our offense, our defense and doing what we have to do on special teams to give us a chance. That is where the rubber meets the road. The 'want to' is there, but on Sunday we've got to be able to execute for 60 minutes. That is what we are concentrating on this week."
Jaguars Head Coach Mel Tucker (on Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew and his importance to the team)
"He is a relentless competitor. He's the heart and soul of our team and he's a leader on and off the field. He brings toughness to the table, mental and physical toughness, and he is a high- character guy. He is one of those types of guys that you want to have in your locker room, and he is an extension of your coaching staff relative to the message that we are trying to promote. He is a guy that you know exactly what you're going to get every week. Every game he is very consistent, and he is a guy that makes people around him better. So it is not often that you get a chance to work with a player like that in coaching. They don't come around very often, so it is definitely an honor and a pleasure to work with him on a daily basis."
Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew(on the importance of winning the rushing title and finishing the season with a win)
"The deal about the rushing title is that it is something that we've been consistent, even in the hard times throughout the year, we've been consistent with the run game, averaging almost 100 yards per game. You can watch tape of us and since week one we've been facing eight or nine-man boxes. So teams are loading the box trying to stop us, and we're still being physical and we are finding ways to gain these yards. Even when it is tough, uphill (running), we are finding a way. So that is what is satisfying about it. But let's be real, winning this game is not going to cure everything that has gone on around here, but it is going to give you a better feeling going into the offseason."
Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew(on all of the running backs that made the AFC Pro Bowl team respecting one another)
"There are other running backs as well in the AFC that deserved to make the Pro Bowl, so just making it is an honor. Obviously, you want to be the best, which is the starter. Last year I kind of went on a run late in the year and lot of people saw that. But then I ended up getting hurt, and I didn't think it was fair to (Texans running back) Arian Foster who the whole year was consistent and doing everything the right way. So I felt like he should have been the starter, and he was eventually, because I didn't play. Once again, (Ravens running back) Ray Rice, it is tough to stop him. He can beat you in the air, he can beat you running and his team has a better record. Like I said, he has earned (the start) and he deserves it."
Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew(on not worrying about anything outside of playing football and winning ballgames):
"Put it this way, if you start worrying about other things, that is when players get hurt. You really have to focus, especially against (the Colts) defense. They have given up some running yards, but they are flying around and in the last couple of games, they have been playing lights out. So they are playing with a new intensity. I don't know what happened up there, but something clicked and they're playing fast. I know people have probably heard me say that (Dan) Orlovsky is the new (Tim) Tebow. (He is) finding ways to win games, which is big."