INDIANAPOLIS (Sept. 18, 2005) -- The Indianapolis Colts have a new winning combination: patience and defense.
With Peyton Manning's wide-open passing game mostly grounded, the Colts pounded away at Jacksonville, breaking through in the final nine minutes with a 6-yard TD run from Ran Carthon and letting their suddenly stifling defense preserve a 10-3 victory against the Jaguars.
"We need to be able to win games like this," coach Tony Dungy said. "Good teams, if you don't win the championship, you have to win games that go any kind of way."
It wasn't pretty for the Colts (2-0), but it was effective.
Manning, the two-time MVP, was off the mark, overthrowing receivers much of the day and looking out of sync as the Jaguars pressured him. He finished 13-for-28 for 122 yards with one interception and a passer rating of 44.0 -- his worst regular-season rating since December 2001.
The NFL records some expected to fall this week for most yards passing and touchdowns by a quarterback-receiver tandem never materialized. Manning connected with Marvin Harrison three times for 36 yards, leaving the duo 24 yards and three touchdowns short of their claim to the league's best tandem ever.
Instead, the Colts relied on a persistent running game. Edgerrin James ran 27 times for 128 yards, and Indianapolis used a 17-play drive that consumed nearly nine minutes before Carthon's late TD run finally gave the Colts the lead with 8:27 left.
Still, Indianapolis took the early edge in the AFC South title chase -- protecting its home field against the only team to beat it at home last season -- and got more help when Carolina beat two-time defending Super Bowl champion New England. That result brought a roar from the stragglers still left inside the dome.
"Every week it seems it's a different test," James said. "We show the fans what we can do."
The Jaguars (1-1) might have lost more than a game.
Byron Leftwich hobbled up the field during the final two minutes, rekindling images from his senior year at Marshall, as he nearly rallied Jacksonville. He got the Jaguars to the Colts 22 before a pass to Jimmy Smith in the end zone was broken up by Bob Sanders on the final play.
Leftwich was injured on the next-to-last series when Raheem Brock sacked him from behind and he was bent him over awkwardly. Leftwich lay on the ground reaching for his knee before limping off the field. He was X-rayed after the game.
"I don't want to say what it is right now, but it wasn't the knee," said Leftwich, who was in obvious pain on the final drive. "I'm happy the knee is OK."
Leftwich finished 16-for-29 for 198 yards, was sacked six times -- three times by Montae Reagor -- and continually took big hits. Smith caught three passes for 49 yards to become the 12th member of the 800-reception club midway through the second quarter. He now has 802 career receptions. Fred Taylor carried 16 times for 81 yards.
The Jaguars also lost safety Donovin Darius with a sprained left knee in the second quarter. He did not return.
But the game was dictated by two defenses that hardly budged. Indianapolis had 268 yards in offense, while the Jaguars managed 303.
"They held us to three and Baltimore to seven," Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio said. "I think he (Dungy) is getting his guys to play pretty good."
The Colts took control by grinding it out.
With Manning struggling, Dungy relied on the run and Carthon scooted up the middle and barely sneaked the ball over the goal line to make it 7-3 with 8:27 to go.
The Colts then burned 3:51 on their next series when Mike Vanderjagt's 41-yard field goal made it 10-3 with 1:50 left.
Indianapolis' defense took care of the rest.
As Leftwich tried valiantly to rally the Jaguars, he was constantly under pressure. His throwing arm was once hit just as he released the ball and he limped badly from play to play.
He did get the Jags in position to force overtime, taking them to the Indianapolis 22, and throwing to the front corner of the end zone, where Sanders batted down the ball to end the game.
"We were fortunate today, the defense could carry the offense for a while," Colts cornerback Nick Harper said. "We showed everyone we're for real."
- The fourth-quarter comeback was the 23rd of Manning's career. * The Jaguars won't play another division game until Nov. 6. * This game marked the first time in James' career he rushed for 100 yards against the Jaguars. * Harrison's three catches gave him 854 in his career, breaking a tie for sixth all-time with Irving Fryar, who had 851.
AP NEWS The Associated Press News Service
Copyright 2005, The Associated Press, All Rights Reserved