INDIANAPOLIS—He was the old David Garrard; the one who rose to prominence last season with a performance that earned him a big contract in the offseason and designation as the Jaguars' quarterback for the long-term future.
Once again, Garrard is "The Man." He erased non-Garrard-like performances in the season's first two games by moving the Jaguars 47 yards in the final minute and seven seconds of Sunday's game at Lucas Oil Stadium, leaving Josh Scobee to kick a 51-yard field goal that beat the Colts, 23-21, and reversed the Jaguars' flagging hopes.
"I thought, just before the Colts scored, is this really going to happen to us again?" Garrard said of the Colts driving 77 yards to take a 21-20 lead.
At that point, it appeared the Jaguars were on their way to 0-3. Their defense was handed a 20-14 lead with 2:23 to play and couldn't protect it, in a repeat of what happened against Buffalo the previous week. That's the down side of the win.
The turning-point play occurred on fourth and two at the Colts' 31-yard line. The Jaguars were one incompletion away from winning when Peyton Manning reached into his magic bag and found old man Marvin Harrison running free down the right sideline. Somehow, some way the Colts caught the Jaguars in a defense that left seldom-used cornerback Will James in single coverage on Harrison.
The play covered 27 yards and from that point the Colts moved with ease. Seven plays later, running back Joseph Addai bulled into the end zone for the potential game-winning touchdown.
In retrospect, Colts coach Tony Dungy probably wishes he had used a little more of the clock during the drive.
Garrard took over at his 20-yard line, needing to move about 50 yards to put Scobee into reasonable field goal range. It was one of those moments in a young, ascending quarterback's career when he is put to the test.
"That's where we have to step up as an offense," Garrard said.
They did and he did as a quarterback, but not without a major stroke of good luck. On fourth and one at the Jags' 29, Garrard threw incomplete. A late flag flew, however, and Colts linebacker Freddie Keiaho was penalized for pass interference. Keiaho bumped into wide receiver Reggie Williams as Williams ran toward Keiaho.
Just as the fourth-down pass to Harrison energized the Colts, the fourth-down penalty pumped life into the Jags. Garrard threw three consecutive completions, the final one to wide receiver Mike Walker in the middle of the field at the Colts' 33. The Jags called time out with eight seconds to play and Scobee booted the 51-yarder right down Main St.
It left the Colts at 1-2 and having lost in their first two tries in their new home. Yeah, it's early in the season, but the question will be asked: Is this the end of the Colts?
"Tremendous AFC South battle. We were able to run the ball, possess the ball, convert third downs," coach Jack Del Rio said.
Those were the three ingredients missing from the Jaguars' performance in their first two games. In this game, the Jaguars were so dominant the Colts had the football for a mere four minutes and 59 seconds of the second half. The Jaguars won time of possession for the game by 23 minutes and 10 seconds. Only a quarterback of Manning's skill could overcome that kind of disadvantage, and he nearly did.
"In the end, they responded like they did against Minnesota," Del Rio said of the Colts. "Fortunately, we were able to get one of those performances ourselves.
"I think David's been pretty solid," Del Rio said of Garrard, even though the quarterback's passer rating had dipped nearly 40 points lower than the rating with which he ended last season. "That's a big moment for any quarterback to come back in a duel and answer the call like that. That was a great moment for David as a young quarterback in this league."
Garrard completed 16 of 22 passes for 167 yards, no touchdowns, one interception and a 75.4 rating. Statistically, it was not a good day for Garrard, but he was at his best on third down, repeatedly converting third and seven and third and eight with passes to wide receiver Matt Jones at the first-down marker. Jones caught four passes for 32 yards and has become the Jaguars' go-to possession receiver.
Manning was 15 of 29 for 216 yards and a touchdown, but he also threw two interceptions, one of which cornerback Rashean Mathis returned 61yards for a touchdown in the second quarter that staked the Jaguars to a 10-7 lead. The interceptions left Manning with a 59.0 passer rating and, clearly, he was not his old self, missing the mark on several tosses and looking fidgety behind an offensive line that isn't offering the protection to which Manning has been accustomed during his career.
It was a game the Jaguars should've won handily; at least that's what the statistics suggest. The Jaguars rushed for 236 yards and gained 403 total yards, but they had to settle for field goals far too often.
Nearing the two-minute warning, Del Rio decided to play it safe, ordering three consecutive runs in goal to go. The idea was to force the Colts to score a touchdown, instead of being able to send the game into overtime with a field goal, but the defense betrayed that strategy.
"We accomplished our game plan today; just to be physical and to hit the quarterback," Mathis said.
Garrard took care of the other half of the game plan by doing all the things he did last season. Did he feel like the Garrard of old?
"I did. I really did. I thought the coaches did a great job of calling plays. I felt like when my number was called to make a play, I could make it," Garrard said.