JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP)—Peyton Manning asked his coaches at halftime if they had any suggestions for him. All he got was, “You haven’t thrown any incompletions. Just try to keep doing what you’re doing.”
Manning completed his first 17 passes, picked apart Jacksonville’s secondary and led the Colts to their eighth consecutive win and seventh straight playoff berth. He finished 29-for-34 and threw for 364 yards and three touchdowns, and the Colts secured the No. 5 seed in the AFC playoffs with a 31-24 victory over the Jaguars on Thursday night.
“Peyton Manning is unbelievable,” coach Tony Dungy said. “He put a lot of it on his shoulders and kept us in it. He played unbelievably under the circumstances.
“All in all, with everything that was riding on it … it was a great performance. It was an MVP performance for sure.”
Manning led the Colts back from deficits of 14-0 and 24-14, and Adam Vinatieri’s 45-yard field goal tied the game at 24-all late in the fourth.
“One of those plays I was in the right place at the right time,” Ratliff said. “He threw the ball and I just caught it and tried to get to the end zone.”
The Jaguars had two chances to tie it, but both drives ended with sacks. Garrard drove Jacksonville to the 7-yard line with 29 seconds remaining, but Maurice Jones-Drew sprained his knee on a reception, and since the Jaguars had no timeouts, there was a 10-second runoff.
Garrard misfired on first down, then got sacked by Dwight Freeney to end the game.
“Just can’t take a sack right there,” Garrard said. “I really didn’t see it and have an opportunity to elude that guy. I thought I had guys coming open.”
The Colts won without receiver Marvin Harrison (hamstring), running back Joseph Addai (shoulder) and linebacker Gary Brackett (leg). Dungy said the victory would allow him to rest many starters next week against Tennessee, giving some players as many as 17 days of rest before opening the postseason.
The Jaguars (5-10) lost for the seventh time in the past nine games and fell to 2-6 at home this season. This one may have been more emotionally draining than any of the others.
Collier, a 6-foot-7 offensive linemen paralyzed from the waist down following a shooting in early September, returned to the field for the first time and was recognized during pregame ceremonies. He drove onto the field, sat next to his teammates during the national anthem and then headed to midfield as an honorary team captain for the coin toss.
He answered a few questions afterward, then went to a luxury suite with family members to watch the game. He must have liked Jacksonville’s fast start. The Jaguars scored touchdowns on their first two possessions and led 14-0 early in the second quarter.
Manning spoiled it for Jacksonville. He hurt the Jaguars on nearly every drive, spreading the ball around and throwing pinpoint passes all over the field.
“It’s a funny game,” Manning said. “We were completing some passes, but we were down 14-0. That dominated our thoughts. We knew it would be tough, but we didn’t think we’d be down 14-0 out of the gate.”
Dallas Clark finished with eight catches for 105 yards and a touchdown. Reggie Wayne had seven receptions for 108 yards and a score. Dominic Rhodes, held to 27 yards rushing, was much more dangerous out of the backfield. He caught six passes for 62 yards and a touchdown.
Manning completed his final six passes last week against Detroit and his first 17 against Jacksonville, giving him 23 in a row—the second-longest streak in NFL history. Donovan McNabb set the record of 24 straight in 2004.
“The best thing we did tonight, which was a point of interest, was to finish touchdowns in the red zone,” Manning said. “We got touchdowns and didn’t have to settle for too many field goals.”
Garrard wasn’t nearly as accurate, especially in the second half.
He finished 28-for-41 for 329 yards and a score. He added a rushing touchdown. Jones-Drew ran 20 times for 91 yards and caught seven passes for 71 yards.
Dennis Northcutt, starting for the second straight week in place of Jerry Porter (groin) and Matt Jones (suspension), has another strong game. He caught eight passes for 101 yards and a touchdown—his second consecutive 100-yard game after going nearly four years without one.
It wasn’t enough, especially against Manning and the Colts.
“Peyton Manning is a good quarterback,” Jaguars safety Reggie Nelson said. “He has always been good. That’s what he does.”
Vinatieri missed a 30-yard field goal in the first half. … Jaguars LB Mike Peterson, who probably played his last game in Jacksonville, kissed the field during pregame introductions. … Tight ends for both teams combined to catch 22 passes for 270 yards and one score.