JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- On Sept. 26, from a doubtlessly plush couch in his Jacksonville home, Gerald Alexander was like most area residents: alarmed by the Jacksonville Jaguars’ play in a steamrolling by the Philadelphia Eagles.
“I was here in Jacksonville, right over the bridge, on the couch,” said the safety who was released after the preseason on Sept. 4, nodding in the direction of his home. “I saw the same game everybody else did from the couch. And it didn’t look good.”
On Sept. 27, the team re-signed Alexander, hoping he could help a banged-up secondary that had done its part for the Jaguars to qualify as the NFL’s 30th-ranked pass defense. Against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, he was in the lineup in place of Sean Considine, a scratch with a hamstring injury.
Don’t think for a second that Alexander cast himself as a savior. Peyton Manning certainly found plays where he beat Alexander and strong safety Anthony Smith. But in a shocking 31-28, last-second Jaguars win, the safeties teamed up on two huge plays that had a big bearing.
Alexander popped Brody Eldridge, who coughed up a 19-yard pass at the Jaguars’ 4-yard line. Smith plucked the ball off his ankle and returned 47 yards in the third quarter. And when Reggie Wayne fumbled in the fourth quarter as he reached for extra yards following a 13-yard gain to the Jaguars’ 10, Alexander scooped it and returned it 43 yards.
“Turnovers in the red zone?” Alexander said. “That’s huge. That team is going to drive up and down the field on some people. Their offense is like clockwork.
“We didn’t give up too many deep shots, which they live off of. That’s when things get out of hand with the Indianapolis Colts, when you give up deep balls. Tackle the guy in front of you, keep everything in front of you and get turnovers. That’s the key to victory.”
Defensive end Aaron Kampman called it “an urgent win.” The Jaguars are 2-2 and tied with the Colts and Tennessee Titans for second in the AFC South. That's a lot better than being 1-3 and alone in the division's basement.
Manning hit Wayne for gains of 42, 26 and 21 yards. Everything else the Colts got came in chunks smaller than 20 yards.
“We weren’t as efficient as we should have been.” Manning said.
Another Jaguars defensive back, corner David Jones, was a close-range witness to Colts history. He lined up against Wayne as the receiver pulled in 15 catches, more than Raymond Berry or Marvin Harrison ever had in a Colts game. Those catches produced 196 yards, the best total the four-time Pro Bowler had ever accumulated.
Jones was credited with forcing Wayne’s fumble, and he could have done a lot to ice an easier win if he didn’t drop an interception on Indy’s final drive.
“I tasted the ball it was so close,” he said.
But the Jaguars withstood that dropped pick. They withstood all those catches and all those yards by Wayne. They withstood a fierce pass rush that can create all sorts of problems for all sorts of offenses, holding the Colts without a sack of David Garrard by giving ample help to young tackles Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton. They withstood three lost leads, finally beating the visitors thanks to Josh Scobee's final-play 59-yard field goal.
They showed a fortitude that was severely lacking in whippings suffered at San Diego and to Philadelphia. And, according to Maurice Jones-Drew, they put an emphasis on moving on from bad plays, not feeling stressed out and just having some fun.
The Jaguars didn’t force the Colts to kick field goals or conquer them in time of possession, which are usually part of the formula for beating them.
Other elements of the blueprint did, however, fall in line. Jacksonville ran 13 more times than it passed, averaging 5 yards a carry. The Jaguars didn’t turn it over while they had those two red-zone takeaways.
“We wanted to pound the rock and use the pass to supplement the run, really,” Britton said. “We had a great game plan and I think we executed it really well and kept David upright.
“To put all that work in that whole game and not come out with a W, that would have been heartbreaking. We needed to win that game. We needed it as a team. We needed it to validate all the hard work we put in.”
As he spoke, tight end Marcedes Lewis stopped by for a fist bump.
“I’m proud of you,” Lewis said.
Britton said he was proud of Lewis, too.
Does a win over the long-time division rulers change things for the Jaguars? Does it do anything to wash away a 38-13 loss to the Chargers or 28-3 pounding by Philadelphia? Does it help get Jacksonville ready for a Week 5 trip to Buffalo?
“That remains to be seen.” Alexander said. “We’ve just got to go out there and get back to work. We can’t live off this victory.”
I have a strong feeling that Alexander soon was back on his couch, thinking entirely different things than he was seven days before.