Colts rally past Jags, remain unbeaten
Peyton Manning completed every pass early and one big one late,
exactly what the Indianapolis Colts needed to stay unbeaten.
Manning threw for 308 yards and four touchdowns, including a 65-yarder to Reggie Wayne to go ahead for good, and the Colts beat the Jacksonville Jaguars 35-31 Thursday night to improve to 14-0 for the first time in franchise history.
The wild game on a cool night included 714 yards, 43 first downs, 10 lead changes, five punts, several big plays and just two turnovers.
"I thought today was a great test against a good team," Manning said. "Feel real good about the win."
The Jaguars (7-7) had a chance to win it in the closing minutes, but David Garrard overthrew Mike Thomas on a third-and-10 play with about a minute to play. Jacob Lacey intercepted the ball, and the Colts ran out the clock.
Indianapolis extended its NFL-record winning streak in the regular season to 23 and became the third 14-0 team in league history, joining the 1972 Miami Dolphins and 2007 New England Patriots. New Orleans can join the list with a victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Saturday night.
Jacksonville lost for the third time in the four games and no longer controls its fate in the AFC wild-card race.
They have Manning to thank for this one.
He completed his first 13 passes and was nearly as efficient as he was in last year's game in Jacksonville, when he completed 17 in a row.
Manning finished 23 of 30, picking apart Jacksonville's secondary early and often. Wayne caught five passes for 132 yards. Dallas Clark had seven receptions for 95 yards and two scores.
The Jaguars, who have lost eight of 10 in the series, got in a shootout with Manning & Co., which turned out to be a huge mistake.
Garrard was 23 of 40 for 223 yards with three touchdowns. Maurice Jones-Drew ran 27 times for 110 yards and a score. But once the Jaguars got behind and abandoned the running game, they had trouble sustaining drives.
All that talk about Indy resting some of its key players turned out to be pretty just speculation. Sure, defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis played sparingly, but Manning, Wayne, Clark and the other stars played the entire game.
And did most of the damage.
The dagger came with 5:23 remaining, when Manning found Wayne streaking down the sideline for the 65-yarder. Safety Reggie Nelson seemed to bite on a pump fake, allowing Wayne to get behind the coverage. It was the biggest play in a second half that didn't quite live up to the opening 30 minutes.
"Reggie just used his speed," Manning said. "What a great job once he caught the ball to get into the end zone."
The first half was a back-and-forth affair that included 336 yards, 57 plays, 38 points, 23 first downs, one penalty, no turnovers and not a single punt. The half took a little more than an hour to play, so fast that the league's broadcast representative spent the final few minutes scrambling to plug in all the TV timeouts.
Manning was perfect, completing 12 of 12 passes for 116 yards and had touchdown passes to Clark and Austin Collie. Clark made a sliding grab in the back of the end zone for a 6-yard score and a 7-3 lead early in the second quarter. Collie's catch, a 23-yarder on a seam route that he briefly bobbled at the goal line, put Indy ahead 21-17 with 35 seconds remaining.
The Jaguars got in field-goal range just before halftime, but Josh Scobee came up well short on a 57-yard attempt.
Jacksonville played a near perfect half on offense. Garrard completed 12 of 16 passes for 97 yards, and one of his best plays of the season resulted in a touchdown.
He faked a handoff, rolled left on a bootleg, then spun around and headed across the field. Maurice Jones-Drew, who had been blocking on the play, released toward the end zone and Garrard lofted a perfect pass for the score.
Jones-Drew, who averaged 69 yards rushing the last four games, ran 14 times for 73 yards in the first half. There had been rumors that 5-foot-7 dynamo was slowed by a sore knee. He looked fully healthy against Indy.