JACKSONVILLE – Since their earliest days in the same division, the Jaguars have chased the Indianapolis Colts.
Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, in the prime years of his Hall of Fame career, was the primary reason the Jaguars always looked up at their AFC South rival in the division's early days. But a talented collection of players including Manning's fellow Hall of Famer receiver Marvin Harrison and running back Edgerrin James – plus wide receiver Reggie Wayne and tight end Dallas Clark – made for a juggernaut.
The Colts were 10-2 in early December 2006 – their Super Bowl year – when they arrived in Jacksonville to face a 7-5 Jaguars squad that believed it could capture an AFC Wild Card berth with a late-season run.
There was reason to believe the Jaguars were up for the challenge that sunny Sunday afternoon. They narrowly lost to the Colts in Indy in Week 3 that season when their talented defense frustrated Manning; the difference in that game was an 82-yard punt return for a touchdown.
Still, Manning spent most of 2006 carving up defenses coast to coast – and the Colts were considered the class of the AFC.
Manning hit Harrison for 42 yards on the opening play of the game, and you could sense the unease at Alltel Stadium. Was he going to carve this defense up also?
The Colts lost six yards on the next three plays, however – and a punt pinned the Jaguars at their six-yard line.
The next play was a statement by the Jaguars. Running back Fred Taylor raced into the middle of the Colts defense, coming out on the other side for a 76-yard run to the Colts 18. Taylor's rookie protégé, running back Maurice Jones-Drew, took the next carry into the same hole in the line for a 7-0 lead.
The energy on the Jaguars sideline was visible; they knew how critical this game was for a playoff spot.
Jacksonville's defense did a solid job against the NFL's most explosive offense, pressuring Manning into quicker throws than he was used to, containing running back Joseph Addai and generally outplaying the Colts.
But when the Jaguars blocked a punt deep in Colts territory at the end of the first quarter and quarterback David Garrard handed it right back with an interception it seemed like old times.
Manning marched the Colts methodically with crisp passes to Harrison and Wayne offset by elusive runs by Addai and powerful runs by Dominic Rhodes, who gave the visitors a 10-7 lead and took a lot of the air out of the building.
Had the Jaguars blown their chance to beat the Colts?
Jones-Drew took back-to-back handoffs for 17-yard runs and the Jaguars were near midfield. Then Taylor took back-to-back handoffs for 19 yards and a 21-yard touchdown – and the Jaguars had a 14-10 lead they never relinquished.
Safety Gerald Sensabaugh intercepted Manning in the Jaguars red zone on the next drive and it was Taylor and Jones-Drew back on center stage. The two alternated carries – and on the drive's fifth play, Jones-Drew ran straight up the middle for a 48-yard touchdown run. The Jaguars not only had an 11-point lead, they looked unstoppable.
Kicker Josh Scobee's field goal on the final play of the first half gave the Jaguars a 24-10 lead, but the most impressive number was the 251 yards the Jaguars amassed – running over the Colts for a 14.8-yards-per-carry average.
Still, that was Manning on the other sideline. No lead felt safe against him.
Jones-Drew let it be known this was the Jaguars' day when he returned the second-half kickoff 93-yards for a touchdown and a 31-10 lead. It felt like their day when the Jaguars' defense rose to the challenge and tossed a three and out at Manning.
The final score was 44-17, but it was over at 31-10. Jacksonville didn't need to throw in the second half, doing so four times against 25 second-half rushing attempts.
The Jaguars set a franchise record with 375 rushing yards, an 8.9-yards per carry average, and four rushing touchdowns in their signature win against the most powerful team in the division. It turned out to be the high-water mark for the Jaguars that season; they lost their next three games and miss the playoffs. They would wait until 2007 for a playoff run.
It was, however, the lowlight for the Colts – who would rebound spectacularly and go on to a Super Bowl victory.