INDIANAPOLIS (AP)—Indianapolis spent all offseason trying to fix the defense. Mission accomplished—maybe.
On a day Peyton Manning(notes) tied the franchise record for victories and Jim Caldwell won his NFL debut as a head coach, the game came down to two fourth-quarter defensive stops. The Colts made both of them to preserve Indy’s 14-12 victory over Jacksonville.
“Obviously, the defense played well and came up big at the end,” Caldwell said. “We thought it would be a grind, and it was. I think our team certainly played tough, played hard, played with a lot of energy.”
Now the defense must prove it can continue playing this way.
Caldwell has instilled a tougher attitude and new defensive coordinator Larry Coyer has implemented a more aggressive scheme to take advantage of the Colts’ speed. The changes paid dividends, especially late when pressure forced David Garrard(notes) into poor throws, bad decisions, and finally a four-and-out to end it.
The bulkier defensive line also held up better against an old nemesis, Maurice Jones-Drew(notes), who rushed 21 times for 97 yards and scored Jacksonville’s only touchdown Sunday. He had averaged 6.3 yards per carry in six previous games against the Colts
And it gave Manning win No. 118 as a Colt, tying John Unitas’ franchise record.
“I’ve never felt comfortable with comparisons with him. I think he’s kind of in his own category,” Manning said. “But I am proud of those wins.”
Manning, the three-time MVP, was 28 of 38 for 301 yards and one TD with an interception in the end zone that cost Indy one scoring chance. Joseph Addai’s(notes) fumble deep in Jags territory ended another drive, though he made up for it later in the first half with a 3-yard TD run.
Not exactly picture perfect.
Worse, receiver Anthony Gonzalez(notes) left late in the first quarter with a right knee injury. He ran across the line of scrimmage on a running play, didn’t hit anyone and crumpled to the ground. He did not return, and Caldwell had no update on the injury. Reggie Wayne(notes) made up for it by catching 10 passes for 162 yards, including a 35-yard TD in the third quarter.
“I asked (Rashean) Mathis what happened and he said, ‘I didn’t even touch him (Gonzalez),”’ Manning said. “He has worked so hard in the offseason, I just hope it’s not a season-ending injury.”
Defensively, things went smoother.
The Colts forced Jacksonville to settle for field goals until Jones-Drew finally took a pitch, made a nifty move in the backfield to avoid tacklers and then jogged in for a 7-yard TD run early in the fourth quarter. When Jones-Drew tried to tie it on a 2-point conversion out of the wildcat formation with 11:07 left, the Colts stuffed the middle.
“They just did a great job in the red zone stifling our offense,” Jones-Drew said. “My hat’s off to them. But we have to learn how to finish.”
Otherwise, it was a solid effort.
But the Colts never gave Scobee a chance to get on the field this time.
Garrard started with a 2-yard pass to Jones-Drew, who dropped a pass on second down. Indy then pressured Garrard into back-to-back incompletions, including a desperation fourth-down flip, while being surrounded by Colts.
“I thought, ‘Here we go again, we have a great chance,”’ Garrard said. “You love to be in that situation. We were trying to get the ball to Maurice, but you’ve got to slow those pass rushers down. We did what we could do.”
The Colts’ defense was just better.
NOTES: Jags coach Jack Del Rio said defensive end Reggie Hayward(notes) bruised his shin or thigh late in the game. … Rookie cornerback Derek Cox(notes) had an interesting NFL debut: intercepting Manning, recovering Addai’s fumble and giving up Wayne’s TD. … The Colts played without safety Bob Sanders(notes) (knee) and defensive tackle Ed Johnson(notes), who served a league-imposed one-game suspension. … Garrard was 14 of 28 for 122 yards and Torry Holt(notes) caught five passes for 47 yards in his Jags debut.