One day after being assured a playoff spot, the Colts played uninspired football but managed to post a 20-13 victory over the Jaguars, who could have been playing their final game under the only coach they ever have had.
Peyton Manning found tight end Marcus Pollard with an 11-yard scoring strike with 2:26 left as the Colts (10-6) beat the Jaguars for the fourth time in as many meetings. Indianapolis will be the fifth seed and travel to New York to play the Jets - its former division rival - in the wild card round.
“There are no bad teams in the playoffs,” Manning said. “All teams are going to be good. We’re very pleased we won 10 games, that we’ve done enough to give ourselves a chance in the playoffs.”
“I haven’t seen them play all year,” Indianapolis’ Tarik Glenn said. “I know they have a great defensive end in (John) Abraham. I played against him twice last year. We’ll come in on Wednesday and check them out.”
The Colts clinched their third playoff berth in five years on Saturday when the Kansas City Chiefs lost to the Oakland Raiders. Indianapolis also rebounded from a woeful effort last week against the New York Giants.
The game could have been the finale for Jacksonville’s Tom Coughlin - the only coach the team has had since joining the league in 1995. The third-longest tenured coach in the league, Coughlin has posted a 72-64 record, including playoffs, leading the Jaguars to two AFC championship games.
But the Jaguars (6-10) have endured three straight losing seasons, leading to speculation about Coughlin’s job security.
Indianapolis played its starters most of the way and Manning completed 20-of-28 passes for 146 yards. Edgerrin James carried 15 times for 86 yards but was pulled late in the contest and fell 11 yards shy of reaching an incentive reportedly worth $1.5 million.
“I knew how close I was,” James said. “I thought man, I probably need to get out of here, cause I don’t want to blow this game.”
“We’re still a work in progress, but you can say that about everybody we’ve watched coming through the playoffs,” Colts coach Tony Dungy said. “There haven’t been a lot of dominating performances.”
Wide receiver Marvin Harrison completed his milestone season with six receptions for just 28 yards but finished with 143 catches and 1,722 yards. He did fall 72 yards shy of tying Michael Irvin’s record of 11 100-yard receiving games in a single season.
Jaguars running back Fred Taylor capped a solid comeback season with 73 yards on 15 carries. After battling injuries most of the last three seasons, Taylor finished with 1,314 yards.
Jacksonville broke on top 3-0 with just under two minutes left in the opening quarter as Danny Boyd capped a 38-yard drive with a 32-yard field goal. Mike Vanderjagt got Indianapolis even with a 19-yard field goal early in the second quarter.
Manning will be going up against Jets starter Chad Pennington.
“I have a lot of respect for their players,” Manning said. “I have a lot of respect for herman Edwards and I’m really proud of the year Chad Pennington has had.”
Freeney forced a fumble with 61 seconds left and teammate Idrees Bashir recovered at the Jacksonville 23. Manning found James for 17 yards and two plays later James Mungro plunged over from the 1 to knot the contest, 10-10, with 21 seconds left in the half.
Jacksonville forged ahead, 13-10, 65 seconds into the fourth quarter. Boyd capped a 16-play, 67-yard drive with a 23-yard field goal.
Again Vanderjagt got the Colts even, capping a 16-play, 68-yard drive with a 27-yard field goal. Jacksonville took the ensuing kickoff and went three-and-out and a 16-yard return by Troy Walters gave the Colts good field position.
Manning completed a 14-yard pass to James and Jacksonville rookie John Henderson was hit with a personal foul on 3rd-and-1. After two runs by Mungro went nowhere, Manning hit Pollard in the back of the end zone for the decisive score.
Garrard ran the two-minute offense effectively and got the Jaguars to the Indianapolis 38 but three straight pass attempts to Smith fell incomplete - the final one as time expired.