Colts clear first hurdle with win

KEN FIDLIN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:16 PM ET

TORONTO - The Indianapolis Colts are working without a net these days. For the final three games, including Sunday’s win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Colts have no margin for error if they want to make the playoffs for the ninth consecutive year.

The 34-24 win over the Jaguars was a huge hurdle. Now Peyton Manning & Co., have control of their own destiny, as daunting as it may seem for a team that has been hammered by injuries all season long.

By beating the Jags, Indianapolis has pulled even at 8-6 in the AFC South and simply needs to win its last two games — Oakland on the road, Tennessee at home — to clinch a spot in the Super Bowl tournament.

If they are able to keep this playoff streak alive, the Colts will probably have to do it without receiver Austin Collie. Collie came back after missing five games because of a concussion and made a big splash by making eight catches, two of them for TDs in the first 25 minutes. Late in the second quarter he went over the middle to try to make his ninth catch and was hit in the head by the forearm of Jags’ Darryl Smith, suffering another concussion, his third in less than two months.

“It’s right smack in your face,” Pro Bowl receiver Reggie Wayne said. “We don’t have to worry about needing any help, needing this or hoping for this, maybe that.”

There have been times this season when the Colts looked anything like the defending AFC Champions they are. If Manning wasn’t running for his life, he was missing receivers and throwing uncharacteristic interceptions.

In back-to-back losses against the Chargers and Cowboys, he threw four interceptions. The last two weeks, both wins, Manning has not thrown even one pick.

Almost as important, the Colts have rediscovered a running game with Donald Brown carrying the bulk of the work in that area. He ran for 129 yards and one TD, giving the Jags defence something other than Manning’s arm to consider.

“Since that Cowboys game, we knew we really had four must-win games and we’ve won two of them,” Manning said. “It’s a good win, but it’s just one game and we’ve got to be able to do that again next week.”

The Jaguars had come to Indianapolis in first place in the division, hoping to deliver the knockout blow to the perennial champion Colts. A Jacksonville win would have clinched the title with two weeks to go.

Now the Colts have the first tie-break on their side. The Jaguars fought back from a 10-point deficit to get within three late in the game, but an on-side kick attempt went right to Colts linebacker Yyjuan Hagler who ran it back untouched for the killing TD.

“Really, for us, it’s disappointing that we didn’t close the deal here,” Jags coach Jack Del Rio said. “We really expected right now to be in here with a division crown captured. It didn’t happen.”

This was also Manning’s 209th consecutive start, longest in the NFL since Brett Favre missed last weekend’s game for the Vikings, ending his iron man streak at 297 games. It is a record that many believe will never be broken, but if anyone can do it, Manning can.

Now, Manning must start 93 more games to pass Favre and that would mean he would have to keep his record intact until he is 41 years old. That’s unlikely but not impossible.

Manning has never had any major structural injuries, unlike Favre. Also unlike Favre, Manning plays smart. He’s no part of a gambler and avoids a lot of contact by getting rid of the ball quickly and, usually, on target.

The Colts have always had a solid offensive line, though this year injuries have made things more difficult for Manning. Still, the guy is at the peak of his powers. And he is not unaware of what it would take.

“I’ve always had tremendous appreciation for that record,” Manning said. “I do think everybody took time to realize how amazing and impressive it was. You see other sports streaks and all that’s happened since 1992, it’s one of those things, to just say it or write it doesn’t do it justice.”


Videos

Photos