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Sunday, December 2, 2007
Jags remain second banana to Colts

By Len Pasquarelli
ESPN.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- They are big into woofing and, for the most part, big into winning as well. But what the Jacksonville Jaguars can't ever brag about, it seems, is winning the AFC South championship.

Certainly, this season appears to be another one in which coach Jack Del Rio's talented team will be no better than a wild-card playoff entry.

In the NFL, as Bill Parcells was fond of pointing out, you are what you are. And the Jags, unfortunately, continue to be stepsisters, bridesmaids, second bananas. A team sufficiently talented to win most weeks (as evidenced by its 8-4 record), but which manages to come up short in too many statement games.

"We shot ourselves in the feet a couple times today," tailback Fred Taylor said following Jacksonville's 28-25 loss to the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday afternoon. "We played hard, man. We played hard the entire game. No one backed down. No one quit. In a perfect world, we'll get an opportunity to see them again."

Problem is, when the Jaguars meet the Colts, every single imperfection comes back to haunt them. And in Sunday's defeat, their ninth loss to the Colts in 12 divisional matchups since the 2002 realignment created the AFC South, the Jaguars were deficient on their third-down defense and, just as glaringly, displayed a lack of discipline and troublesome failure to come up with big plays in crucial situations.

David Garrard
David Garrard and the Jags were crunched in crunch time.

Case in point: After Jags tailback Maurice Jones-Drew converted a third-and-1 from the Colts' 8-yard line in the fourth quarter, wide receiver Reggie Williams was called for a personal foul penalty when he unnecessarily shoved a Colts defender long after the whistle. On the following snap, left offensive tackle Khalif Barnes was flagged for a false start, one of four pre-snap penalties against the Jaguars.

Three plays later, on a rare blitz call by Indianapolis defensive coordinator Ron Meeks, quarterback David Garrard was dumped for an 11-yard loss.

So instead of the potential tying touchdown, the Jaguars settled for a Josh Scobee field goal and a 21-17 deficit.

That botched series might have been just a Kodak moment in a contest in which the Jags characteristically played hard and without fear of the usually daunting din from the throaty Indianapolis crowd. But it also was a microcosm of how Jacksonville too often comes up short against the Colts and, at times, even against inferior competition. There is a basic inconsistency to the Jaguars, and it shows up at the most inopportune times.

"I'm sure, if you're them, it's got to be a little bit frustrating," Indianapolis free safety Bob Sanders said. "Because, truthfully, they are a heck of a team. They play us hard every time out. It's always a dogfight against them. So I'm sure it's hard. But, hey, I'll let them worry about it, right?"

Whether the Jaguars' players and coaches do worry about it is open to interpretation. The Jags, as was the case Sunday afternoon, often seem satisfied with playing Indianapolis close. In a league in which there are no moral victories, Jacksonville players frequently cite the fact that they typically give the Colts all they can handle, but they rarely focus on the final score.

Or on the fact that, in their fifth season under Del Rio, they have yet to claim a playoff win.

If they do it this year, it'll probably have to be as a wild-card team, since Sunday's loss puts the Jags two games behind the Colts in the division. Indy, by sweeping the season series, also owns the tiebreaker against the Jags.

The truth is, Jacksonville probably won't win its first division title since 1999 (in the old AFC Central) until it learns to beat the Colts on a consistent basis. After it dominated statistically Sunday and still came up three points short, one has to wonder when that will be.

"They're the standard in the division," said Garrard, who suffered his first interception of the season on a tipped pass. "We can play with them, but we've got to play better than them, and that's just how it is."

Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com.