INDIANAPOLIS –What started on September 8 ends Sunday, that being the home regular season schedule for the Colts in 2013.
The Colts have earned a 10-5 record and their eighth AFC South title, and this season ends like the first one of divisional existence started in 2002 – with Indianapolis battling Jacksonville, 4-11.
Indianapolis took a 28-25 victory over the Jaguars in 2002 in the first divisional contest between the clubs and owns a 15-8 series edge as AFC South combatants, 17-8 overall.
These teams met on September 29, with the Colts taking a 37-3 victory over the Jaguars. The Colts were in possession of the AFC South lead that day and have not relinquished it since. Jacksonville has surged in the season's second half with four wins in its last seven games, including a sweep of divisional foe Houston.
Indianapolis reaches Week 17 after a 23-7 victory last Sunday at Kansas City. Jacksonville dropped a 20-16 home decision to Tennessee, but the Jaguars will be trying to win a third straight road game.
The Colts played one of their most complete games at Kansas City. The defense forced four turnovers and had four sacks. Indianapolis converted two takeaways into 14 points and shutout the Chiefs over the final 56 minutes.
Donald Brown scored on a 33-yard pass and a 51-yard run, while the team had 135 rushing yards. Andrew Luck threw for 241 yards, while nine players had receptions.
Jerrell Freeman had one interception, one sack, one forced fumble, one fumble recovered and seven tackles, and Indianapolis controlled the ball for more than nine minutes in each quarter.
"They are obviously gaining momentum and confidence," said Chuck Pagano. "Every outing you have like this, you can just see them feeding off of each other. As the game went along, they got stronger.
"They are doing a great job right now in all three phases. We have one more game, a division game at home against Jacksonville, so we'll focus, go back to work and try to get better."
Sunday's game carries tremendous importance for the Colts, who hold the AFC's fourth playoff seed. With a victory over Jacksonville, the Colts can move to the third seed if either Cincinnati or New England loses.
The Colts can climb to the second seed and earn a bye week into the Divisional Playoffs with a win plus losses by both New England and Cincinnati.
The Patriots host Buffalo Sunday, while Cincinnati hosts Baltimore.
"We got a single focus and that's on Jacksonville," said Pagano. "We got a team coming in here that's won four out of their last seven ball games. Coach (Gus) Bradley's done a great job with those guys since the bye week. You just turn the tape on and the tape speaks for itself.
"They've done nothing but get better and better, and they're coming here to win a football game. Certainly we'd better be prepared for that."
Sunday's game marks the 95th straight sellout in Indianapolis, and the 119th sellout in the last 120 games, a fact not lost on Colts players.
"The fans are very instrumental in our success," said Robert Mathis. "We can't win without them giving us that crazy energy. They're as much a part of our success as any player on the team. I give them my special thanks because they've done it every year since I've been here. They've been better every year."
"What I've learned is our fans are the best in the NFL," said Pat McAfee. "It's easy to say that when you're winning but when we went 2-14 (2011), they stuck behind us. The way they got behind Chuck Pagano, backed ChuckStrong and supported a new cast of characters, it's been wonderful to be a part of.
"Fans not only display a great amount of class and dignity, they can get wild, too. It's all you can ask for, and they're difference-makers for us. You can look at Robert Mathis' and Dwight Freeney's success, they (fans) can take some credit for it. They distract opponents for our playmakers."
Said Adam Vinatieri, "We have some great fans. They always fill our stadium. They do a fantastic job of helping our defense when it's time to get loud. They're engaged in the action, and they're supportive. At the same time, they're respectful and sportsmanlike when it matters. You don't see that everywhere, but you always see it here. It's part of our fabric."
The Colts were 7-1 last year at home in Pagano's first year at the helm, and they will be trying to push their mark to 6-2 this year.
COLTS HOME RECORDS SINCE 1999
Controlling the home atmosphere and keeping a success level that has seen the home record swell to 87-32 since 1999 is a priority for Colts players and coaches.
"Our fans are great. They come in the stadium and root for us," said Cory Redding. "In tough situations, they're really loud and they rally behind us as far as making it crazy for our opponents. Our fans have done a great job of keeping Lucas Oil Stadium rocking and loud, and they're getting ready for the playoffs."
Redding and his buddies are preparing for work at home after the regular season concludes. The Colts will be hosting a playoff game for the first time since the end of the 2010 season.
Redding was not with the Colts then, nor were 42 of his current teammates, and he wants the regular season atmosphere trumped up further.
"We're getting ready for the playoffs with our play on the field," said Redding. "They need to be tuning up to continue to scream and make this stadium as crazy as we can for a home game.
"The level of play is higher in the playoffs, and they're part of the team. They affect our opponents in more ways they can imagine. The 12th Man has to stand up and scream, and I'm talking the whole time – first down, stand up. Every play we're out there, they need to be loud."