The swift progression of rookie Andrew Luck and the courageous spirit of ailing coach Chuck Pagano have helped turn the Indianapolis Colts into a playoff contender.
Mired in a five-game skid, the Jacksonville Jaguars are simply trying to get a win.
Luck looks to lead the visiting Colts to a fourth consecutive victory Thursday night when they try to avenge an earlier loss to the Jaguars, who hope to avoid a franchise-record fifth straight home defeat.
Few knew what to expect with top overall pick Luck guiding Indianapolis (5-3) this season, but since dropping to 1-2 with a 22-17 loss to Jacksonville on Sept. 23, the Colts have surged into the thick of the playoff race.
Indianapolis last won four in a row when it closed the 2010 regular season with four victories.
Luck powered the latest win with a spectacular performance. He went 30 of 48 and broke Cam Newton's single-game rookie record with 433 yards Sunday, also throwing two touchdowns in a 23-20 win over Miami.
The Colts received an emotional and inspiring postgame speech from Pagano, whose leukemia has gone into remission. It was Pagano's first visit to Lucas Oil Stadium since being diagnosed with the disease Sept. 26.
"His presence is felt every day in the facility,'' Luck said. "But to see him in the flesh, in the locker room, to hear him speak I think gave all the guys a boost.''
So too, has Luck's presence.
Despite a 79.0 passer rating, his 2,404 yards passing match the total of predecessor Peyton Manning. Sunday's game was Luck's fourth with at least 300 passing yards, tying Manning's rookie record.
He's also thrown one pick over the last three games after being intercepted seven times in the first five.
The Colts rank fourth in the league with 390.9 yards per game, a huge improvement from last season when they were 30th at 286.8.
"The kid, he continues to amaze,'' said receiver Reggie Wayne, who has an NFL-leading 835 yards on 61 catches. "Hopefully I can help, you know, add on to his legacy that he's about to build.''
Luck remains focused on team success rather than personal glory.
"The victories are what I judge things on," said Luck, who gave himself a midseason grade of C.
Indianapolis wasn't able to get one in its first matchup with the Jaguars despite totaling 437 yards. The Colts appeared to be in control with a 14-3 halftime lead before getting dominated in the final two periods.
Luck threw for 313 yards, two TDs and an interception, but Maurice Jones-Drew ran for 177 yards and a score to lead Jacksonville to its third straight win in the series.
The season has since gone downhill for the Jaguars (1-7), who will be without Jones-Drew for a third straight game because of a foot injury. Jacksonville has not lost six in a row since a slide of that length spanning the 2002 and '03 seasons.
The Jaguars managed 279 yards and didn't score until the fourth quarter of a 31-14 home loss to Detroit on Sunday. They have been outscored 126-34 in going 0-4 in Jacksonville.
"I'm disappointed that we are where we're at,'' coach Mike Mularkey said. "I know the players are. I certainly know the fans are. I just want them to know how they feel, we feel the same way. We're mad, too, very disappointed we're in this position.
"But we have to get over that emotion and get ready for this next game and these next eight games and know that we are going to battle to try to get this thing right.''
That won't be easy for a team that's last in the NFL in total offense (254.4) and scoring (14.6). Second-year quarterback Blaine Gabbert had two interceptions and threw a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns against the Lions with the game all but decided.
Gabbert has a 78.4 passer rating in 2012, but he's 3-0 against the Colts despite completing 57.4 percent of his passes for an average of 121.7 yards. He threw a TD in each of those contests while being intercepted once overall.
Rashad Jennings has gained 148 yards on 50 carries in the last three games minus Jones-Drew.
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