INDIANAPOLIS – No excuses, no explanations.
While Indianapolis continued to find ways to win, Jacksonville was left making excuses and offering explanations. Therein lies the difference between a Colts team that is 10-2 and cruising to a division title – not to mention the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs – and Jacksonville (8-4), which is still trying to figure out how to win.
How else can one explain a game which Indianapolis won despite being without star wide receiver Marvin Harrison and star defensive end Dwight Freeney, and while giving up more than 400 yards of offense?
"That's how we've always been around here, the motto is, 'No excuses, no explanations,'" said Indianapolis tight end Dallas Clark, who caught two touchdowns among his seven receptions. "It's always, 'Next man in.' Whoever it is is expected to play well, perform and do whatever it takes to get the job done. We don't do a lot of explaining to guys around here about what it takes to do your job."
Enter wide receiver Reggie Wayne, who took the absence of bookend Harrison and turned it into an opportunity. Of his eight catches for 158 yards, four came on third downs, as Indianapolis was a stunning 10 of 13 in those situations. Among the four catches was a 48-yard touchdown in the first half where Wayne dusted Jacksonville cornerback Brian Williams on a post pattern despite never even giving the slightest fake of any other route.
The fact is that with the exception of a silly interception by quarterback Peyton Manning in the third quarter, the Colts offense didn't look too far from normal. Sure, the running game (63 yards) was suspect, but that's not altogether unusual for the Colts.
"You try to be realistic," Manning said. "You certainly have high expectations and you never accept mediocrity in practice or whatever. You always expect 100 percent effort and execution, but there is no question when you don't have all of your starting players it's probably not going to look like it usually looks like.
"(But) I thought the guys that were in there today did an excellent job of executing and making plays and what we did on third down was special. It really was kind of, probably, the difference in the game. Sort of a resiliency to stay on the field and some young guys stepped up and made some plays."
By contrast, Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio spent part of his postgame press conference making passive-aggressive complaints about the officiating. The Jaguars still have control of a wild-card bid, but they squandered a great chance to break Indianapolis' control of the division.
"It seemed as if every questionable play that could've gone either way went their way," said Del Rio, also using the "if I say anything else I'll get fined by the league" line. Moreover, Del Rio's disgust with the officiating was palpable during the game. At one point, he threw a challenge flag before the result of a play had been decided.
While there were the usual set of close calls and debatable penalties most tough games have, the reality is that the officials played their usual role. There was no egregious call that cost Jacksonville anything.
Beyond that, Del Rio conveniently ignored that his team's first touchdown drive furnished a pass that should have been called incomplete (a six-yarder to Ernest Wilford on second-and-13 that hit the ground first), not to mention the costly unnecessary roughness penalty committed by Reggie Williams in the fourth quarter.
But here's the bottom line as it pertains to Jacksonville: If the Jaguars couldn't beat Indianapolis on Sunday when the Colts were without Harrison – who has missed six consecutive games with a sore knee – and Freeney, when exactly do they plan on doing it?
The fact is that Jacksonville is pretty good but doesn't know how to win on this type of stage. The examples were plentiful, such as when Indianapolis twice hustled to the line to get plays off against a confused Jacksonville defense. Or how the Colts used a gadget play – a shovel pass for a one-yard touchdown to little-used fullback Luke Lawson – for the score that iced the game.
Or how the Colts used a two-tight end alignment of Clark and Ben Utecht more than usual, even flexing Utecht into the slot the way Clark is normally used. The result was a total of 10 catches and 107 yards (and the aforementioned two touchdowns) combined for the pair of tight ends.
While the division title is still up for grabs, the Colts already are looking at a much bigger picture. Indianapolis goes on the road for games at Baltimore and Oakland before returning to face Houston and Tennessee to finish the season. That's only one game remaining against a team that currently has a winning record.
That means that there could be more rest coming for Harrison, among others.
"It will help us in a lot of ways," Dungy said, referring to the banged up players on his roster and the options his team has at this point. "We have to stay ahead of Pittsburgh. That is our goal right now, and to continue to win and get this division locked up. But certainly it's going to give us the chance to do that more so than had we lost the game and really would've felt like we had to win all four."
In short, Indianapolis is looking at what's up next.
Jacksonville was pondering what could have been.