AFC South Road Game Against Jacksonville "An Imant Game"
INDIANAPOLIS – Any game in the NFL is important.
Peyton Manning, the Colts' 10-time Pro Bowl quarterback now in his 13th NFL season, will tell you that quickly, and said this week something else is equally true:
Games against division opponents are more important than that.
Manning, the NFL's Most Valuable Player the past two seasons, said this week the status of this Sunday's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars as the team's second game in the AFC South gives it an importance transcending record or date. He also said there's one added element.
The game is on the road.
And around the Colts, circumstances don't get much bigger than that.
"There's no question it's an important game because it's a division game," Manning said as the Colts (2-1) prepared to play the Jaguars (1-2) at EverBank Field in Jacksonville Sunday at 4:05 p.m.
"It's not that we don't emphasize the others, but we really stress the importance of these division games, especially the ones on the road.
"We know how important it is. It's important for both teams."
The game also is a match-up between teams with decidedly different seasons thus far.
The Colts, the defending AFC and AFC South champions, lost the season opener, but have won back-to-back games by double digits, beating the New York Giants, 38-14, at Lucas Oil Stadium two weeks ago before beating the Denver Broncos, 27-13, in Denver Sunday.
The Jaguars, who finished 7-9 last season, won their regular-season opener against Denver, 24-17, a game in which quarterback David Garrard threw three touchdown passes.
That put the Jaguars in a three-way tie with Houston and Tennessee after a week, but in the two weeks since they have lost at San Diego (38-13) and at home against Philadelphia (28-3). That's the first time in the franchise's 16-year history the Jaguars have lost consecutive games by 25 points.
"Whenever you're coming off of two tough losses you definitely have a different level of urgency," Garrard said. "Guys are definitely dialed in now. We have to make sure that we get things turned around. . . .
I can't back away from the last couple of games, but that's the toughness of this league. You're going to have tough ones, and you've got to be able to bounce back from it.
"I know I will. I know the guys on this team are confident in me, and I'm confident in myself. It's another opportunity this week to turn things around."
The Colts enter the game 2-1 and tied with Tennessee and Houston for first place, a game ahead of the Jaguars, and Colts players said this week a division game – even one four weeks into a 16-game season – carries with it critical importance.
The Colts since the 2002 inception of the South not only have won the division six of eight seasons, they have a 38-11 record in the division. They never have had a losing division record, and went unbeaten in the division in 2005 and 2009.
"Whenever you're playing a division opponent, no matter what it is, it kind of counts twice," Colts five-time Pro Bowl defensive end Dwight Freeney said. "Obviously, this is an AFC Game, and within the division, so you want to have some kind of tiebreaker come later on in the year.
"No matter what our records are, no matter what it is – we could be 3-0 and they could be 0-3 – we still treat this game the same way. We play hard and try to win this game."
That approach has turned Colts-Jaguars into a memorable series, and not only have the games been memorable in recent seasons, they have been hard-fought, often being decided in the final minutes. Indianapolis leads the series, 14-4, and it has won 12 of 16 meetings since 2002, but the Jaguars historically play the Colts tough, particularly in Jacksonville.
The Jaguars beat the Colts in 2003 and 2004, Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio's first two seasons with the team, then rushed for 375 yards in a 44-17 victory over Indianapolis in December 2006. The Colts have won five of six games in the series since, and they have won three consecutive games in Jacksonville, but five of the last six meetings have been decided by seven points or less.
The Colts rallied from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Jaguars, 31-24, in Jacksonville in 2008, then won a back-and-forth game in December of last season, 35-31.
"There are a lot of common players who have played against each other, who kind of know each other's tendencies," Manning said. "There's not a lot of trickery or anything of that going on. It's just solid execution. That's why I know it's going to be tough game."
"It makes it harder, especially when the familiarity is there. You're not going to get anything easy. Sometimes you play an uncommon opponent, they haven't seen a certain play you like to run and you may be able to get away with it a little easier. Against these division teams, everything's tough, it's a grind, it seems like the whole time.
"That's what you have to prepare for is a 60-minute grinder."
Said Colts middle linebacker Gary Brackett, "Anytime two teams are familiar with each other as we are, there's going to be a lot of pride out there, and things going on. It's going to be a four-quarter ballgame. It has been like that the last couple of years.
"These guys have been fighting us and it's going to be no different come Sunday."