The Jaguars won't be facing the same Colts on Thursday night that the Jaguars beat in Indianapolis on Sept. 21. Those Colts were struggling to find a new identity, while their quarterback was battling back from a knee injury that forced him to miss training camp.
These Colts are on a seven-game winning streak that has them on the verge of making it into the postseason for the seventh consecutive year. These Colts may not have the big-play, league-leading offense they've always seemed to have, but they've made up for their decline in offense with a new-found surge on defense.
Say hello to the new Indianapolis Colts. These Colts are 18th in total offense and 11th in total defense.
What? The Colts are better on defense than they are on offense? Hey, that's what "The Man" says.
These Colts still throw the ball well – they're sixth in pass-offense – but they defend against the pass just as well; the Colts are seventh in the league in pass-defense and second in opponents completions of 20 or more yards, 29.
Coach Tony Dungy has retooled his team and brought it back to life following a 3-4 start. The 10-4 Colts won't win a sixth consecutive AFC South title this season, but they'll clinch a wild-card playoffs berth in Jacksonville on Thursday night if they beat the Jaguars.
"That's the NFL and a lot of times you have to fight your way through adversity. I think we were 3-4 maybe five of my years in Tampa, so it wasn't foreign territory and I just explained to (the players) that November and December is when you get into the playoffs and when you win championships. We just stayed the course and didn't make many major changes," Dungy said.
Manning recovered from his slow start and is back in the top third of the league's passer rankings. His 23 touchdown passes, however, are a far cry from his record-setting pace of a few years ago.
The running game is the Colts' great lament. Joseph Addai leads the Colts with a mere 540 yards rushing and the Colts are a lowly 30th in the league in rush-offense.
"We have alternated some young offensive linemen in there and we haven't done as consistent a job as we need to in the running game. Hopefully, we can work on that in these next couple of weeks and get that better," Dungy said.
Run-defense remains a Colts weakness, but it tends to rise and fall with the health of safety Bob Sanders. When Sanders is healthy and playing, which he didn't the first time the two teams played and the Jaguars mowed down the Colts on the ground, the Colts are a lot better than their number 25 ranking.
"The bottom line is winning games and when we're not turning the ball over and not getting penalties and not giving up big plays, we feel like we can play with anybody," Dungy said.
Jack Del Rio's team was expected to be one of the NFL's elite teams this season and this game was scheduled with the idea that it might be for the AFC South title. Injuries and poor performance, however, turned the Jaguars into also-rans by midseason.
Fred Taylor, Rashean Mathis, Daryl Smith and Jerry Porter are all on injured reserve. Porter was signed in expensive free agency to be the big-play receiver the team lacked, but he sustained a hamstring injury in the spring and that led to surgery in July.
What kind of year has it been for Porter? "Well, he began the season on PUP (physically unable to perform) and he's ending it on injured reserve," Del Rio said.
"I think the guys are excited about the opportunity," Del Rio said of playing against the Colts, a game that'll be shown on NFL Network. "We both started the year by hanging around .500 and they were able to put a run together. We were not able to do that."