INDIANAPOLIS -- Sunday’s 34-24 win over Jacksonville put the Colts back in control.
Win at Oakland and against Tennessee, and the Colts will be AFC South champs.
Though both teams are 8-6 and they split the season series, Jacksonville would lose a common-opponents tiebreaker if they both finish 10-6. The Jaguars could win a division-record tiebreaker if the two teams knot at 9-7 with the Colts' loss coming to Tennessee and the Jaguars' win coming at Houston.
Five things I learned while watching the big AFC South showdown unfold:
The Colts can stop a physical run game, and Donald Brown can be an effective running back.
I believe even the Colts expected they’d give up more than 67 rushing yards. In honest moments, they would have expressed doubts about cranking out 155 yards on just 24 carries -- a good share starting up the middle against a physical Jags' front.
Joseph Addai and Mike Hart have been out hurt, but Brown had been tentative as their replacement. In the win at Tennessee, Brown pirouetted more than once in the backfield, costing himself valuable time and faking out no one.
He was much more efficient this time, particularly on his fluid 43-yard touchdown run.
“[The Colts] heard all week how they couldn’t stop our run game and they did a pretty good job,” Jags coach Jack Del Rio said. “...They’ve had issues stopping the run against us and against others. They got it done [Sunday], you’ve got to give them credit.”
Brown praised his blocking: “When you are in the secondary and it is the first time you are getting touched, that makes for a great day.”
Jags tailback Maurice Jones-Drew said it was the best run-stopping work he could remember from the Colts against his team. He rushed 15 times for 46 yards, ending his streak of consecutive 100-yard games at six with his worst game ever against Indy.
“They were at their gaps all the time and they tackled well,” he said.
Austin Collie is an absolute difference-maker.
The Jaguars had no answer for the Colts receiver while he was in the game. Peyton Manning found him eight times for 87 yards and two touchdowns before a hit by Daryl Smith left Collie with another concussion in the second quarter.
If Dallas Clark or Addai was around, Collie might be less vital. But without either of them available, Collie simply gives Manning a prime target who is reliable and has great instincts. That's a quality otherwise missing.
“He was good in the first half, I don’t know if we stopped him,” Del Rio said. “He certainly gave them a life and they were excited to have him back, I think. He must have something going there. He came back slowly over a long period of time and there was a good shot and he’s down again. That’s usually not good for a guy.”
The Colts need two wins to assure themselves of the division title. They’ll have a harder time getting them without Collie.
“He said it wasn’t as bad as the last one, so that’s good news,” Reggie Wayne said. “But they are all bad.”
The Jaguars' issues at safety are too difficult to overcome until they get to add new talent.
At least they’d built some continuity with six games of Don Carey and Courtney Greene side-by-side. But Greene sprained a shoulder at Tennessee. Indy took advantage of Greene replacement Sean Considine’s relative lack of speed and tackling abilities.
Both Carey and Considine were unable to get to the middle of the field on Collie’s second touchdown, when he ran away from Smith. Carey couldn’t catch up to the receiver and Considine didn’t arrive in time from the other side of the field.
“There were a few times, yeah, where we had shots in the middle of the field,” Colts tight end Jacob Tamme said. “That second touchdown to Austin, they were taking away certain things and the middle of the field was there, it was a great call, a really nice throw by Peyton.”
Jags cornerback Rashean Mathis said not to point too much at Considine, who let Brown hold him off with a hand-to-hand stiff arm and got beat by Collie on the first touchdown -- to point to just a couple plays.
“I actually felt Sean had a very good game,” Mathis said. “We all could have made more plays. I don’t think he actually gave anything up. What looked like his fault it probably wasn’t. I know it’s a busted coverage and he was the main guy that was back there, but it wasn’t his fault.”
David Garrard was one big mistake away from a potentially fantastic game.
He made some very good throws and really did well to pick up for what the run game could not do.
He averaged 12.3 yards per completion, compared to 7.9 for Manning.
But then came the game's crucial moment. Garrard drove Jacksonville to the touchdown that closed Indy’s lead to 24-17 with 3 minutes, 54 seconds left in the third period. The Jags' defense forced a Colts' punt about two minutes later. But from the Colts' 38, Garrard overthrew Jason Hill and got picked off by Antoine Bethea. The Colts drove for a Adam Vinatieri field goal and had a 10-point cushion with 9:57 to play.
“It was a little high,” Garrard said of the throw, after which he got crushed by Dwight Freeney. “Pressure or no pressure, I still have to be able to make that throw. I have to be able to stand in there and deliver.”
Given a chance to clarify things, referee Mike Carey didn’t, did he?
It was not a good day for Carey and his officiating crew. The non-fair catch call on the Jags' Mike Thomas prior to his 78-yard punt return for a touchdown was a judgment call. The Colts thought it was a signal, Thomas said it wasn’t and the officiating crew agreed with him.
But other stuff took too long to sort out and was not sufficiently explained.
On a Jacksonville third-and-3 from the Indy 40-yard line in the first quarter, the Jaguars ran a play and Rashad Jennings got stuffed. There was a flag, Carey announced there was no foul and Jacksonville was allowed to replay third down.
“I blew it dead for a false start and we picked up that flag,” Carey told a pool reporter. “That means there was no play. So I shut it down, a dead ball foul.”
Was it an inadvertent whistle?
“No,” he said. “It was just a foul that wasn’t there."
If you follow that, you’re doing better than I am.
The muffed punt call where the Colts recovered it was ultimately hashed out correctly. The Colts didn’t technically interfere with a fair catch as Taj Smith was blocked in the back by the Jags' Derek Cox and that pushed him into Thomas. The Jags' returner failed to make the catch as a result of a penalty against his own team. The Colts’ Kavell Conner had recovered, so they declined the penalty. But the play helped put the Colts into position to expand their lead to 24-10 with a field goal in the third period.
Carey and crew got it right, which is most important. But it took entirely too long to sort it out. (More on officiating here.)