The Indianapolis Colts hope to come back from their bye week with an improved offense—if that’s even possible.
With a half-game lead over the Jaguars in the division and road victories over Tennessee and Jacksonville, Indianapolis has a chance to strengthen its hold on the division with a win Sunday—but could find itself in second place if it doesn’t play well following the week off.
“It still comes down to execution,” Manning said. “The real key is balance. We’re playing pretty good, executing in the run game and we’ve been pretty solid so far. Some of the things we are doing, we can do better.”
Perfect execution describes how Manning played against Jacksonville three weeks ago.
He finished 20-of-29 for 220 yards with two TD passes, and went 14-for-14 for 149 yards on three scoring drives as the Colts handed the Jags their first loss, 24-17 on Oct. 3.
Manning, running back Edgerrin James and receivers Marvin Harrison, Brandon Stokley and Reggie Wayne give the Colts the NFL’s most prolific offense. Indianapolis averages 389.4 yards per game and a league-best scoring average of 31.8.
Manning leads the AFC with a 114.1 passer rating, and James has piled up 547 rushing yards and five touchdowns in regaining the form that won him rushing titles in 1999 and 2000.
Harrison, Stokley and Wayne are each on pace for 1,000 receiving yards and comprise the only trio in the NFL with 25 or more receptions each.
“We’ve been able to play all types of games and we’re playing with patience,” coach Tony Dungy said. “Even though we’re playing with more patience, we’re scoring more points. This is probably the best we’ve played (on offense) since I’ve been here.”
The Colts haven’t scored less than 24 points in a game and have topped the 30-point mark twice and 40 once.
With the Colts’ high-powered offense clicking, a shaky defense needs to continue improving after enjoying its best game of the season in a 35-14 victory over Oakland on Oct. 10.
Indianapolis, allowing 385.4 yards per game, gave up just 269 and recorded four sacks and three interceptions, returning one for a touchdown.
The Colts have allowed 17 points or fewer three times this season and have allowed just five red-zone touchdowns in 11 possessions.
Manning was 16-of-26 for 198 yards and three touchdowns against the Raiders, and James rushed for 136 yards and a TD as the Colts improved to 2-0 at home, where they play three of their next four games.
“As a whole, I think we’re doing extremely well,” Harrison said. “I’m happy to be in the situation we’re in.”
The Jags have dropped two straight after a 3-0 start, losing 34-21 at San Diego after falling to the Colts, but bounced back with a 22-16 home win over Kansas City on Sunday.
Byron Leftwich played through a sprained right ankle and capped a 67-yard scoring drive with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Cortez Hankton with 45 seconds to play, giving the Jags another victory in the final minute.
“Clearly he has some of the ‘it’ intangibles that make a great quarterback,” Jags coach Jack Del Rio said. “He showed it in college and brought it with him here.”
The second-year player completed 24 of 36 passes for 298 yards and two touchdowns, and also ran for another score despite the ankle problem and a hurt shoulder he suffered on the team’s second series.
“I knew all I needed was about 30 seconds to get my pain tolerance to kick in and I would be all right,” said Leftwich, who plans to start Sunday.
Leftwich has thrown a touchdown pass in 11 straight games, and his fourth-quarter rating is higher than Manning’s (95.3 to 84.0). The Colts, though, have scored twice as many points as their opponents in the fourth quarter (59 to 25).