Fred Taylor had written the script earlier in the week. All he had to do was act it out, and he did just that when he made Indianapolis rookie safety Mike Doss the final road-kill on the way to a 32-yard, game-winning touchdown run.
"Storybook ending; I couldn't have (written it any better)," Taylor told reporters following the Jaguars' 28-23, come-from-behind win over the Colts at Alltel Stadium today.
It marked the "new era's" first quality win, which is to say a victory over one of the elite teams in the NFL. At 7-1 and atop the AFC South Division heading into today's game, the Colts owned the second-best record in the AFC and their quarterback, Peyton Manning, was having the best season of his career.
Meanwhile, the Jaguars were tied for the worst record in the league --still are -- and struggling through the growing pains of an embattled rookie quarterback. It was the worst start to a season in Jaguars history -- still is -- but all of a sudden there's optimism. That's what this victory -- the Jaguars' first-ever AFC South win at home -- has done for this team.
"Fred was a stud out there. He spoke out this week; challenged the safety. (His teammates) helped him back it up," Del Rio said.
Taylor had spoken out earlier in the week against Doss, who Taylor claimed had pushed the running back's head to the ground following a play in Indianapolis in week three when Taylor fumbled the ball. Doss had allegedly said, "Hey, Fred, you forgot something," and Taylor told reporters in mid-week: "I'm going to bust his (butt). I'm going to punish him."
And that's just what Taylor did on his game-winning touchdown jaunt. Doss was the last player between Taylor and the goal line and Taylor ran Doss over without breaking stride.
"I know one guy who played well was number 28. I can tell you that," Del Rio said of Taylor.
Del Rio was in a charged mood when he spoke to reporters following the game. This was clearly his finest hour as a head coach.
"This is what I've been talking about with the team. Keep working hard and we'll have a breakout moment," he said.
This was his team's breakout game, but it could so easily have been the opposite. All of a sudden, the sins of this season were forgiven. It is that way with winning.
But when punter/holder Mark Royals fumbled the snap from center on what was supposed to be a 28-yard, potential game-winning field goal attempt by Seth Marler, Del Rio and the Jaguars were haunted by their ghosts. Immediately, visions of Chris Hanson and the infamous locker room ax came to mind.
What followed were the most important two minutes and nine seconds in this "new era's" young history. Trailing 23-21, Del Rio needed a stop from his defense and a play each from his punt-return unit and offense. That's exactly what Del Rio got.
"They looked me right in the eye and said, 'Coach, don't worry, we're going to get the ball right back,'" Del Rio said of his defense.
Three plays later, the Colts were punting, and David Allen returned that punt 27 yards to the Colts 31-yard line. Two plays later, Taylor smeared Doss en route to his 32-yard game-winner. All of a sudden, the 1-7 Jaguars had beaten the 7-1 Colts.
How had this happened, everyone asked? How had the Jaguars done this?
The answer is so simple: The Jaguars ran the ball and stopped the run. Taylor rushed for 152 yards in 28 rushing attempts, to Edgerrin James' 44 yards in 15 carries. It's how you win in this league.
"I think it's the key in the NFL, period," Del Rio said of stopping the run.
The Colts seemed to concede that victory to the Jaguars from the very beginning. Run the ball? How about screen the ball? The Colts threw screen passes as though they included bonus points. In the end, Manning had completed 25 of 48 passes for 347 yards, but he hadn't scored enough points.
"They were trying to nickel and dime us. As long as we didn't break, it was OK," rookie cornerback Rashean Mathis said.
When Manning got his team into the red zone, he repeatedly threw the ball away through the back of the end zone. At times, the Colts appeared to be treating the game as a practice.
"I say to this day he's the best quarterback in the league," Jaguars cornerback Fernando Bryant said of Manning. "He's the best. He got his. We made more plays in this game than we had this season."
Bryant cited a play in the Jags' touchdown drive early in the fourth quarter, which produced a 21-20 lead, as the turning point in the game. Quarterback Byron Leftwich's pass was tipped a couple of times and into the hands of rookie tight end George Wrighster for a 28-yard gain. The pass was forced into coverage and should've been intercepted.
"All year, nothing good has happened. When that ball tipped in the air to Wrighster, it made us start believing. It's such a big win. You can start building on it," Bryant added.
Del Rio talked about the difference between 7-1 and 1-7 being such a fine line, of which there is evidence on a weekly basis in the NFL. "It's close enough that you can be in games if you believe. Without doing those things, even having all of the talent, it won't come," Del Rio said.
The Jaguars trailed 20-7 at halftime. The 13-point lead the Colts squandered could come back to haunt them, since it caused them to fall into a first-place tie with the Titans. The Colts will probably have to win in Tennessee on Dec. 7 to have any chance of winning the division title.
Unless, of course, the Jaguars should score an upset win in Nashville next Sunday.
Del Rio gushed at the spirit in what was the smallest crowd (45,037) to attend a home game in Jaguars history. Temperatures hovered near the 60-degree mark and Alltel Stadium was wind-swept, causing most of the kickoff-time crowd to depart at halftime. But those who stayed were into the action.
"I don't know how many fans were out there, but the fans who were out there, I love them. I loved the way they rose up and were a factor. Peyton (Manning) was unable to make changes at the line, and that was huge," Del Rio said.