INDIANAPOLIS—On a day when the AFC South title may have slipped through their hands, the most bitter pill of all for the Jaguars to swallow was that they were beaten at their own game by a Colts team that almost never does what it did to the Jaguars: The Colts ran the ball and stopped the run.
The result was a 34-24 victory by the home team at Lucas Oil Stadium that leaves the Colts on the cusp of clinching, yet, another division title and a ninth consecutive postseason appearance. The Jaguars' flickering hopes now depend on the Colts losing either at Oakland next Sunday or at home to the Titans on the final Sunday of the season, while the Jaguars must win each of their remaining two games.
"Not the type of ending we were looking for," a somber Jack Del Rio said after the game. "We gave ourselves some opportunities. We've been strong at closing out ballgames. I really, truly believed we would get that onside kick and go on to find a way to win."
The Jaguars were left with that desperate strategy after failing at most of their other objectives. They were out-rushed, 155-67. They lost the turnover battle, 2-0, which is the exact opposite of the result in the previous meeting between the two teams.
Maybe even more importantly, the Jaguars twice faltered needing only to gain a yard. A first-and-goal at the one-yard line yielded a disappointing field goal four plays later, and a fourth-and-one at their 38-yard in the Jaguars' first possession of the second half was stopped and two plays later running back Donald Brown went 43 yards for a touchdown that staked the Colts to a 21-10 lead.
"We were aggressive throughout the day and made that work a couple of times and not so on another," Del Rio said. "I really expected to be in here with the division crown. They earned it. They heard all week how they couldn't stop our run. They got it done today. I've got to give them credit."
The Colts were ultra-aggressive right from the start. They drove 82 yards for a touchdown the first time they had the ball and appeared to be in full control of the game in the second quarter after they went 92 yards to take a 14-3 lead.
That's when Mike Thomas returned a punt 78 yards for a touchdown, despite the protests of the Colts and their fans that Thomas made a weak fair-catch signal that should've nullified his touchdown return. Down only by four points at halftime, the Jags couldn't complain that fate favored the Colts.
It was another attempt by Thomas to field a punt that turned the game solidly in the Colts' favor in the third quarter. Thomas made a fair-catch signal but was hit by a Colts defender while fielding the punt. Following a long officials conference, it was decided the Colts defender was pushed into Thomas by a Jags blocker and that the Colts had recovered the ensuing fumble.
"No, I didn't think they got it right. I think the guy clearly ran into our punt-returner," Del Rio said.
Quarterback David Garrard came to life in the second half, throwing two touchdown passes to Mike Sims-Walker, but a costly interception on a ball that "sailed on him," according to Del Rio, cost the Jaguars what might've become a game-tying touchdown drive.
With 1:54 to play and the Jags trailing by three points, Josh Scobee's onside kick was fielded cleanly by Tyjuan Hagler and returned 41 yards for an icing-on-the-cake touchdown.
"We get two more opportunities to play as a football team. We need help but it's not impossible that we'll get some," Del Rio said.