The Jaguars will make another attempt at wresting control of the AFC South Division from the Indianapolis Colts. Will it ever happen?
"We've kind of been in pursuit mode since we last played them and we've been able to take care of business and hang with them. Now we get a shot to play them for a part of the division lead at this point in the year," Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio said.
The Jaguars have been in pursuit of the Colts since 2003. The Colts are on a four-year run as division champions and will be on the verge of clinching a fifth consecutive title if they beat the Jaguars on Sunday at the RCA Dome.
"I think we have to treat it as a must-win situation. I'm sure that's how they are and we have to match that energy and that emotion and that effort. It's going to be a big game and we want to see if we can get a sweep and give ourselves some breathing room," Colts head coach Tony Dungy said.
The 9-2 Colts own a one-game lead over the 8-3 Jaguars, but it's actually more than that because the Colts would maintain their tie-breaking advantage even if they lost to the Jaguars. The Colts can clinch a better record in the division with home wins over the Texans and Titans in the final two games of the season.
This game is about more than chasing a division title for the Jaguars, who currently have a one-game lead in the wild-card race. The Jaguars are on a three-game winning streak.
"We're getting ready to go up there and put forward a good effort and find a way to scratch out a victory," Del Rio said.
The Colts were sailing along undefeated until a fourth-quarter collapse against New England at midseason. They lost their next game, in San Diego, then narrowly defeated visiting Kansas City. Marvin Harrison was lost to a hamstring injury and then the Colts lost Dwight Freeney for the season with a foot injury.
Peyton Manning ended the Colts' slump on Thanksgiving night by torching the Falcons. Now the question is: Are the Colts back?
Sunday's game will answer that question. The Jaguars are somewhat depleted on defense but they've always been a tough foe for the Colts, especially in the RCA Dome.
"He had one game where he threw six interceptions against San Diego," Dungy said of Manning. "Other than that, he's played really, really well. We just haven't had those 400-yard days that people are maybe used to seeing because people aren't playing us that way," he added, referring to the fact that teams are defensing the Colts not to give up the big play and that's forced Manning to throw short and lean harder on his running game.
"They're playing to make us run the ball a little bit and because our defense is playing better we haven't been behind and haven't gotten involved in some of these shootouts. A lot of times in the fourth quarter we're running the ball and protecting the lead," Dungy said.
The Colts' offensive ranking is still high. They're fourth in the league overall but they're ninth in passing and that represents a drop from past years. Defensively, they're number two in the league and that's a meteoric rise that began in last season's playoffs.
Dungy said he'd welcome the blitz because "we think we have some guys that can beat that." Harrison has always been one of those "guys" but he hasn't played since Oct. 22. He's been out of action with a knee injury.
The loss of Freeney hasn't hurt the Colts, yet.
"You sent most of your protection that way. It allows you to free yourself up more and just go play ball. When they lose a guy like that, it helps you out; get more guys out in the routes," Jaguars quarterback David Garrard said.
The Jaguars will be without middle linebacker Mike Peterson (broken hand) for the second consecutive week. Daryl Smith has moved into the middle and rookie Justin Durant is playing weakside linebacker in place of Smith. Defensive tackle Marcus Stroud will serve the fourth and final game of his suspension for violation of the league's steroids policy.