The Jaguars, in first place in the AFC South, look to improve to 4-0 for the second time in team history when they host the defending AFC South champion Colts.
The Jags, who opened the 1998 season 5-0, won their third straight close game last week as Fred Taylor scored on a 1-yard run with nine seconds left for a 15-12 win over Tennessee.
Jacksonville opened the season by beating Buffalo 13-10 on a touchdown pass with no time left, then recovered a fumble on its own 23-yard line to seal a 7-6 victory over Denver on Sept. 19.
“Hopefully, we opened up some eyes,” Jaguars defensive tackle Marcus Stroud said.
“If not, that’s good for us, too. Let us continue to sneak in under the radar. Right now, we’re playing good ball, and I think people are taking notice.”
Jacksonville’s defense has been the key, allowing just 28 points to compensate for an offense that has scored only 35. The Jags, averaging an NFL-low 218 offensive yards per game, hope to break out against a Colts defense that’s allowing an NFL-high 416.7 yards per game.
The Jaguars defense, however, faces a major challenge against Indianapolis, which leads the NFL with 424 yards and 33.3 points per game.
The Colts are coming off a 45-31 win over Green Bay in which they piled up 453 yards, despite getting only 62 rushing yards from a banged-up Edgerrin James.
“We’ve been fortunate to get off to a fast start,” Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said. “We’ve had a strong commitment to team. Guys understand what it means to be selfless. “This is a blue-collar group. We’re going to be steady. We’ve got to be better this week than last week.”
Jacksonville shut down Steve McNair on Sunday, holding him to 143 passing yards, sacking him three times and intercepting him once. They even sent him to the hospital for the night with a bruised sternum after he was hit on a scramble late in the fourth quarter.
“Our defense is outstanding,” Taylor said. “They keep us in it and give us a chance to win. I don’t want to say we have the luxury of starting slow, because that just isn’t how you want to play.”
The only failure for the Jaguars defense was Titans rookie Chris Brown running for 101 yards, which snapped Jacksonville’s NFL-best streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher at 17 games. Brown’s 26-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter was the first rushing TD the Jags have allowed in 2004.
Manning was nearly perfect again for the Colts last week, throwing 22 times in a row to start and producing 247 yards in the first quarter and five TDs in the first half. He became the first quarterback in 18 years to throw five touchdowns in a half, and finished 28-of-40 for 393 yards.
Through three games, Manning has passed for 903 yards, nine touchdowns and one interception for a passer rating of 119.9. He has three regular-season games since Sept. 28, 2003 with at least five TD passes.
“He’s such a competitor,” wide receiver Brandon Stokley said. “Whether it’s a game or practice on Saturday, he wants to get the ball in the end zone. He wants everything to be perfect.”
With the Colts giving James limited carries to rest his hamstring, receivers Reggie Wayne and Stokley had career games. Wayne caught 11 passes for 184 yards, both career highs, and one TD while Stokley had eight catches for a career-high 110 yards and two TDs.
“We’re very versatile and we’ve got a lot of guys in a lot of areas who can do most things,” All-Pro receiver Marvin Harrison said.