Colts survive encounter with Jaguars
Peyton Manning wouldn't mind a stress-free second half once in
But his Indianapolis Colts keep on winning ... and winning ... and winning.
The ninth and final lead change of the game — with 5 minutes, 23 seconds remaining — gave the Colts an NFL-record 23 consecutive regular-season victories and kept Indy unbeaten this season.
“That just means we're screwing up enough early to have to come back,” said Peyton Manning, who completed his first 13 passes and finished 23-of-30 for 308 yards and four touchdowns. It marked his 21st four-TD pass game as a pro, tying him for second with Dan Marino on the all-time NFL list.
"There is no panic. I will say that. Guys are saying, 'here's what we have to do ... let's go do it. But I don't like not being able to put the game away when we have the chance.”
Manning connected with Reggie Wayne for a 65-yard touchdown pass with less than six minutes to play, to beat the playoff-hungry Jacksonville Jaguars, 35-31. Colts coach Jim Caldwell called the game "an old-fashioned shootout at the OK Corral" in front of a season-high 63,753 at the Jacksonville Municipal Stadium.
There are still two regular-season games to be played in the Colts' (14-0) dual quest with the Saints (13-0) to match New England's 16-0 regular-season record of 2007, but the victory gave the Colts one NFL record: they've rallied seven times from fourth-quarter deficits to win.
The victory on a short week gives the Colts 10 days before playing the New York Jets at home Dec. 27. It’s also plenty of time for debate — about being unbeaten and the merits of resting players — to unfold, since the AFC South was clinched long ago.
"This is not a lobbying setup," Manning said. "We don't have one guy in the locker room who doesn't want to play. But whatever Coach Caldwell says, we will follow."
Immediately after the victory, Caldwell wasn’t ready to discuss a strategy for the Jets game.
"Right now, we're going to enjoy this victory," he said. "We've got three days off and we'll deal with next week, next week."
Said Manning: “It's disrespectful to the team you're playing next to be talking about anything but playing that game.”
Wayne, who caught five passes for 132 yards (his sixth 100-yard receiving game in his last seven meetings with the Jaguars), is less concerned with the process than the outcome.
"This is who we are," Wayne said. "We're built for 60 minutes. It won't be pretty all the time but we're getting it done."
It wasn't pretty at times against the Jaguars, and it certainly wasn't easy, as the home team pushed the Colts to the edge out of sheer desperation. Jacksonville needed to win the game to have a reasonable chance at an AFC wild-card berth, but now has to win out on the road against New England and Cleveland and hope for some help along the way to play January football.
After the Jaguars took an early 3-0 lead, and Manning followed with a 6-yard TD pass to Dallas Clark (seven receptions, 95 yards), the teams traded touchdowns.
The Jaguars had their usual problems in producing a pass rush that would muss a hair on Manning's head, but the Colts, with defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis seeing limited action, had their own problems against quarterback David Garrard (23-of-40 for 223 yards and three touchdowns) and RB Maurice Jones-Drew (110 yards rushing and a TD running and receiving).
"A whale of a football game," said Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio, who has lost two games to the Colts this season by a combined six points. "Both teams spent it all. They emptied their buckets out."
Garrard, maligned most of the season for his tendency to fumble and take needless sacks, didn't lay the ball on the ground and was nailed behind the line twice. He used nine receivers and for a time, the vocal fans who finally flocked to the stadium for the team's final home game, thought his 13-yard TD pass to Mike Sims-Walker early in the fourth quarter for a 31-28 lead might stand up.
But Manning connected with Wayne on the next possession, after Wayne slipped rookie cornerback Derek Cox and beat the lunging tackle attempt of safety Reggie Nelson, who arrived to help a step too late.
"It actually was pretty good coverage by the Jaguars," Manning said. "The corners were squatting a little and Reggie (Wayne) saw there was something downfield. He's a great team player. His presence dictates a lot of what the other team does. It opens stuff up for other guys. But he wants the ball because he thinks it will help us win."