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Colts-Jaguars: What we learned

The SportsXchange

INDIANAPOLIS -- A month ago, the Indianapolis Colts bore little resemblance to a contender.

By sticking to coach Chuck Pagano's vision, their confidence is restored, and the team no longer looks like a one-and-done candidate.

The Colts carry momentum into the postseason thanks to their 30-10 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.

With three straight wins and four in their last five games, the suddenly dangerous Colts righted the ship before hosting a first-round contest next weekend.

"We got hot," Pagano said. "Offense is rolling at the right time. Defense is playing lights out. We had some really bad defeats. It's resiliency. Faith is believing in something you can't see. They've never wavered. It's gratifying."

Emerging wide receiver T.Y. Hilton torched the Jacksonville secondary, setting career highs with 11 catches for 155 yards, and the Colts' defense forced two turnovers and easily shut down the league's 31st-ranked offense.

Indianapolis (11-5) is in the playoffs for the 11th time in 12 seasons. The fourth-seeded Colts play host to the fifth-seeded Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) on Saturday.

Indianapolis' final dress rehearsal could not have gone better.

Quarterback Andrew Luck did not turn the ball over and was 26-of-37 passing for 282 yards, including a 7-yard scoring pass to wide receiver Griff Whalen. Pagano pulled Luck after three quarters with the game well in hand.

"He fit the ball into some tight windows," Pagano said. "The quarterback's done a great job managing the game. We know how special a player and leader Andrew is."

Jacksonville (4-12) concluded its sixth straight non-winning season. A young, rebuilding team is left with more questions than answers after its first year under coach Gus Bradley.

"We'll take this season, grow from it and add to it," Bradley said. "If you look at wins and losses, you say, 'Is that what you're looking for?' We learned to handle adversity."

Quarterback Chad Henne threw for 331 yards with a touchdown and an interception for Jacksonville, while running back Maurice Jones-Drew was held to 39 yards on 13 carries. He did catch five passes for 51 yards, but the Jaguars did not do much of anything well.

"We missed reads, tackles, assignments," Bradley said. "It wasn't up to our standards. (Indianapolis) is a very good team."

What the Colts said

"I remember talking to Reggie (Wayne) about what it takes to go through the playoffs, and we'll make sure we revisit those conversations. You don't change a lot because certain things have gotten you this far. There is a little bit of intensity and focus that ratchets up. I'm thankful we got a game at home. We'll lean on Robert Mathis and Antoine Bethea because they've won the Super Bowl." -- Quarterback Andrew Luck.

"It's a really fun team to be a part of. I think the environment that Coach Pagano has created is a great one. Eleven wins is great. To be in the playoffs is great, but we know that's not our end goal. We want to keep going." -- Luck.

"We talked all week about coming back to start building momentum and gain a spark. Proud that this team found a way. This was something very positive for our football team moving forward into the playoffs." -- Coach Chuck Pagano.

"Extremely proud of all coaches and players. We took this thing over a couple years ago. They had left us for dead. From 2-14, everybody talked about having a rookie coach, rookie GM, rookie quarterback. We made a decision we weren't going to live in circumstances. Our journey continues." -- Pagano

What the Jaguars said

"Adversity striked (sic) and we just needed to adjust. Gus (Bradley) always says the 'Murphy.' It came at us and how do we react? I think three three-and-outs on the first three possessions." -- Quarterback Chad Henne.

"The last game of the year, you want to finish on a high note. That definitely wasn't our best game. We played a great opponent. I think they are going to go a long way. But for us, that wasn't getting better from last week, or previous weeks, in our eyes. That's what's disappointing." -- Henne.

What we learned about the Colts

1. Short-yardage problems led the Colts to use a fullback this season for the first time in ages, but the team improved at grinding out yards in a variety of ways when necessary. Halfback Donald Brown had no lead blocker when he scored on second-and-goal from the 1. Defensive lineman Ricardo Mathews substituted on offense, lined up as a fullback and pulled left to set a seam on tailback Trent Richardson's 2-yard touchdown run. Plus, quarterback Andrew Luck sneaked behind fill-in left guard Hugh Thornton to convert a third-and-1 in the second quarter.

Being successful in critical rushing situations is a key to coordinator Pep Hamilton's offense.

"Huge," Luck said. "Statistically, it may not jump out and pop out at you, but when you can run to pick up some first downs, it keeps the defense on their heels. A lot of credit goes to Donald and Trent and the line for grinding away at it."

2. Receiver T.Y. Hilton might be the most important variable in Indianapolis' playoff run. With star wideout Reggie Wayne lost for the season due to a serious knee injury, Hilton is the Colts' best pass-catcher. Hilton displayed an all-around game Sunday on his way to career highs of 11 catches and 155 yards. He beat tight coverage from Jaguars cornerback Mike Harris on a deep post route and also broke tackles to stretch short throws into first downs.

After Hilton played poorly at Cincinnati, catching just two passes for 7 yards, the second-year player was steadily strong for three weeks. That consistency must carry over for the Colts to go far.

"We know how dynamic he is and how much of a playmaker he is," Luck said. "If we get the ball in his hands, good things happen. When he's dry, per se, it can be tough."

What we learned about the Jaguars

1. The upcoming offseason serves as a crossroads for the franchise.

Quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who threw for a combined 21 touchdown passes over his first two seasons, was phased out. Chad Henne, who became the first Jaguar since 2009 to surpass 3,000 yards passing, is not considered a long-term solution.

After eight seasons in Jacksonville, tailback Maurice Jones-Drew is scheduled for free agency. Center Brad Meester, a mainstay for 14 seasons, plans to retire. And receiver Justin Blackmon, taken fifth in the 2012 draft, is suspended indefinitely for multiple violations of the NFL's substance-abuse policy.

It's a lot to take in.

"Whatever happens, this team is moving forward," said linebacker Paul Posluszny, one of the few cornerstones in place. "There are going to be changes, like every NFL team. But regardless, we have confidence that our general manager and coach are going to bring in the right people. When we step on the field next season, we'll be going in the right direction."

Jones-Drew, a Jaguar for all eight of his NFL seasons, said he is unsure whether he will stay.

"It's about the best situation for me and my family," Jones-Drew said. "That's what I'm looking for."

2. First-time coach Gus Bradley coordinated unique defenses in Seattle and brought that system to the Jaguars, with mixed results. Clearly, the defense needs more talent above all, but Jacksonville entered Sunday with bottom-third rankings in most key defensive categories.

Bradley's "Leo" position and press-coverage tendencies are still taking hold as the Jaguars adapt to his style.

"We need to continue to learn it," Posluszny said. "We started to in the second half of the season when defensively we started to play a little better."
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