Eben Britton began his professional football career staring across the line of scrimmage at Colts defensive end Robert Mathis, one of the game's most feared pass-rushers. That day, in a season-opening 14-12 loss to the Colts, Britton kept Mathis sack-less and was judged to have more than held his own.
"It feels like it was years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday," Britton said as he prepared this week for a return match with Mathis that now appears as though it won't happen. Mathis is expected to be held out of Thursday night's game with a quad injury.
Britton wanted to use Thursday's rematch with Mathis as a measuring stick. He wanted to see how far he had come after 12 pro starts.
"I didn't exactly know what I was doing. He's so explosive; nothing I had ever seen before. These guys never take a play off. These guys are coming hard on every single play and you've got to be sharp on every snap," Britton said.
Britton and Eugene Monroe, the Jags' second and first-round draft picks respectively, promise to be the team's bookend tackles for the long-term future. Monroe had a tough day against Dwight Freeney in that season-opener and was also looking forward to a rematch, but Freeney is also expected not to play tonight.
The hope is the Jaguars will enjoy an advantage up front that'll allow them to run the ball, dominate time of possession and, thus, keep the ball out of Colts quarterback Peyton Manning's hands. This is a must-win game for the Jaguars, in their pursuit of a wild-card playoff berth.
"This is a huge game for us. Everybody on this team feels like we let them off the hook in that first game and we didn't even play that well," Britton said. "It's a tremendous game for us to establish ourselves as an offensive line.
"I was watching the film this morning and there's a ton of stuff I do so much better now. I'm so excited for this game," Britton added.
It's the biggest game of the season for Jacksonville; the only game this season that won't have been blacked out to local television. The game will be telecast nationally by NFL Network and the national interest in this game will be for the Colts' quest to take another step toward an undefeated season. The Colts will close the season with a game at home against the Jets and one at Buffalo.
Colts rookie head coach Jim Caldwell isn't saying what he'll do in terms of playing or not playing his starters in the final two games, but he's said he'll play his starters as though this one was a meaningful regular-season game. In other words, the starters will play, other than for those that are nursing injuries, such as Mathis and Freeney, who've been held out of practice this week.
"We've been in a good rhythm and there's no reason to break it at this point. We took a look at where we are and our guys are feeling good and eager to play so we're going to turn it loose," Caldwell said.
The Jaguars, of course, control their own destiny in their pursuit of the playoffs. If they win their remaining three games, they'll earn a wild-card berth. Winning out, however, will be a tall task against a Colts team that hasn't lost and is also trying to win out, and on the road the final two weeks in New England and in Cleveland.
What we know is this: One of these two teams isn't going to win out.