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Sunday, September 21, 2008
Keep-away the key to Jags' win in Indy

By Paul Kuharsky
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

INDIANAPOLIS -- In winning locker rooms around the league, after Sunday game plans unfold just as they were drawn up in meeting rooms, after kickers chase down the ball that sailed through the uprights for the winning points, smiling players often reach for the cliché about it all being a kids' game.

If football feels that way, how about keep-away?

 
 Matthew Emmons/US Presswire
 Jaguars running back Fred Taylor ran for 121 yards in a win over Indianapolis Sunday.

Like anyone facing the Colts and Peyton Manning, the Jacksonville Jaguars wanted very much to allow him on the field as little as possible.

How's 18 minutes 25 seconds sound? How's 3:59 in the second half sound?

The formula best suited for the Jaguars happens, not coincidentally, to be the formula best suited to beat the Colts, 23-21. And that's just what we saw tonight at Lucas Oil Stadium, where Jacksonville converted eight of 14 third downs, ran 48 times for 236 yards and watched Josh Scobee's 51-yard, last-second field goal sail straight into the net.

A team that had struggled in the first two weeks and dropped games at Tennessee and against Buffalo hadn't produced enough first downs, coach Jack Del Rio said. Against the Colts his offense found ways to stay on the field. In the second half, when it needed five yards it got six, when it needed seven, it got eight (twice).

"When we sit on the sideline and our defense is out there and it's third-and-6 and a team gets six-and-a-half or seven, you're like, 'Shoot,' " Fred Taylor said, putting himself in Indianapolis' place. "You're getting ready to go and then ssssssssss, you're deflated."

Manning lamented an interception and a three-and-out that killed the first two of his team's second-half possessions.

Said Colts safety Melvin Bullitt, who started in the spot of injured Bob Sanders: "They just outplayed us, especially on third down. For some reason we just could not get off the field, we were always an inch short... It just doesn't make sense that we didn't stop them on third down. We have plenty of guys capable of that."

Taylor, who accounted for 121 of the rushing yards, spoke Saturday night at a team meeting. He now claims a 3-0 record in games before which he has delivered a pep talk.

"He's going to have to keep talking," Maurice Jones-Drew said.

Taylor, the been-there, done-that veteran, said he delivered only a simple message: "Just move the boulder."

On the team plane, perky defenders might be playing spirited card games. I wouldn't be surprised at all if the offense, tuckered out from following their leader's instruction, is getting a head start on a good night's sleep.

Other things I saw, thought, heard or found out as this tense classic unfolded:

This game was doing much to change my mind. Manning looked to him a couple times on big chances and Harrison wasn't able to kick into fifth gear to go get balls that, if not perfectly placed, sure seemed gettable.

On the CBS broadcast, Randy Cross suggested that the Colts look elsewhere during their last-chance drive. (I orginally wrote that it was Dan Fouts. Apologies.)

But when Rashean Mathis was covering Reggie Wayne out of the slot leaving William James, in for the injured Scott Starks, covering Harrison, the Colts went right at the matchup. And on a fourth-and-2 from the Indianapolis 31-yard line with the game on the line, there it was: a perfect Manning-to-Harrison strike for 27 yards up the right side. It sure looked like 2002.

Jacksonville didn't have a reception by a receiver in the first half, which sounds dramatic until you consider that David Garrard completed only four passes before intermission, all to Jones-Drew. It would have been easy at that point to talk about their lack of play-makers on the outside and the missing guys, Jerry Porter and Troy Williamson, who were brought in to aid the cause but are out recuperating from injuries.

But when the Jags needed those catches in the second half they got them -- Matt Jones converted four third downs, Reggie Williams produced a first down and Mike Walker's eight-yard catch put the Jags at the Indy 33-yard line, from where Scobee hit the game-winning 51-yarder.

Manning looks a bit more shy when he's under pressure, which is understandable considering the protection he's used to compared to the protection
he's getting from a patchwork line, which underwent another in-game adjustment when Dan Federkeil was knocked out and replaced by Jamey Richard. And Manning is still only nine weeks removed from the knee surgery.

Also, the Jaguars were hell bent on running up the middle or right. Seventeen of Jones-Drew's 19 carries went up the middle or to the right as did 25 of Taylor's 26 carries.

He started right, benefited from a block in the pack that kept Marlin Jackson from getting his hands on him, bounced backwards and headed left. As he turned the corner, he unsuccessfully tried to set up a block by Garrard, then just flew past him and found room up the left sideline where you would have expected there was none.

"That's how long it was?" he said when asked about it. "It felt like it was about 150. Foremost, they slanted that way. Naturally if I see a lot of the different color going that way, I've got to go opposite.

"Fortunately the linemen kept pushing, I was able to hop out of an ankle tackle, went around. David was trying to lead me, that didn't work, and then I just put my foot down and went North and teammates, they just kept coming, showing great effort. Next thing you know I am 34 yards down the field."

Simple, see?

Yes, I thought the game was over when, with 29 seconds left, Garrard's fourth-down pass for Reggie Williams hit the turf. It was clear on replay, however, that Freddy Keiaho had bumped into him or held him up and was worthy of a flag. On a fourth-and-1 there, though, the Jaguars may have been best off handing off to Jones-Drew or Taylor, getting the first down and using one of their two remaining timeouts.