JACKSONVILLE, Fla., Oct. 3 -- The Jacksonville Jaguars had turned the miraculous into the routine in the first three weeks of the season, becoming one of the NFL's most surprising success stories. When they erased an 11-point deficit early in the fourth quarter on a steamy Sunday afternoon to draw even with the Indianapolis Colts and whip a sellout crowd at Alltel stadium into hysterics, they were convinced they were on their way to a fourth straight gut-wrenching win.
"I was really confident there at the end we were going to get the job done,'' quarterback Byron Leftwich said.
Colts' Edgerrin James darts away from Jaguars linebacker Mike Peterson during the first quarter. James's three-yard touchdown run turned into the deciding score in 4th.
(Phil Coale -- AP)
But Leftwich and his Jaguars teammates finally ran out of fourth-quarter magic. The Colts had too much Peyton Manning, too much Edgerrin James and too much good fortune down the stretch and escaped with a 24-17 win that pulled them into a first-place tie with Jacksonville in the AFC South.
"Any time we're in striking distance, we think we can pull it out,'' Jaguars defensive tackle Marcus Stroud said. "We play until the clock is all zeroes, and you can build something off that. But this shows us we're not as good as we think we are. We need to get back on the field and correct our mistakes.''
The Jaguars (3-1) failed to cash in on their offensive opportunities, getting into the end zone only once despite reaching Colts territory on each of their nine possessions. Of course, their offense hadn't been a juggernaut in their three victories. They totaled 35 points in those games, but won on last-minute touchdowns at Buffalo and Tennessee and at home on a late fumble by Denver tailback Quentin Griffin.
The script looked familiar Sunday when the Jaguars, trailing 17-6 entering the fourth quarter, got even on a 22-yard field goal by rookie Josh Scobee, a 40-yard touchdown pass from Leftwich to wide receiver Jimmy Smith on a fourth-and-one play and a two-point conversion on a juggling catch by fourth-string tight end Brian Jones.
But Manning, a week after winning a duel with Green Bay's Brett Favre in Indianapolis, steadied the Colts (3-1) and took them on a 74-yard drive that ended with a three-yard touchdown run by James with 3 1/2 minutes to play. The Jaguars tried to respond, but their final drive fizzled when tailback Fred Taylor was stopped shy of a first down on a fourth-and-one plunge into the line at the Colts 45 with less than two minutes left. The Jaguars thought they'd gotten a bad spot, but the call was reviewed by instant replay and upheld.
"I thought it was a first down,'' Leftwich said. "When I saw the spot, I was shocked. . . . I just knew we were going to go score. There was no doubt in anyone's mind in our huddle. I was so shocked by the spot.''
The Jaguars also were upset about a defensive-holding call on cornerback Dewayne Washington that kept the Colts' winning drive going after Manning had thrown a third-down incompletion. Coach Jack Del Rio called it an "exceptionally late call,'' and said: "I'll be looking closely at that on the films. That was a very, very big flag to come out of his pocket.''
Leftwich, a D.C. native who attended H.D. Woodson High, had his second 300-yard passing performance in his 17th NFL start. He had a career-best 29 completions among his 41 throws and passed for 318 yards and a touchdown. Manning completed 20 of 29 passes for 220 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception. The Colts jumped to a 10-0 lead on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Manning to wide receiver Marvin Harrison in the first quarter and a 46-yard field goal by Mike Vanderjagt early in the second quarter. The frustrations quickly began to mount for the Jaguars. They were stopped on fourth and one from the Colts 24 on their opening drive. Taylor lost a first-quarter fumble in Indianapolis territory, and Scobee missed a 35-yard field goal attempt early in the second quarter.
The Jaguars pulled within 10-6 on field goals of 48 and 42 yards by Scobee, but Manning connected with tight end Marcus Pollard for a 16-yard touchdown late in the third quarter. Scobee provided a 22-yard field goal, and an instant-replay challenge by Del Rio reinstated a juggling interception by Jacksonville linebacker Daryl Smith to set up Leftwich's fourth-down strike to Smith and tying two-point pass.
But the Jaguars couldn't apply the finishing touches this time. They were left to lament a knee injury that likely ended the season of left tackle Mike Pearson and ponder their squandered chances.
"We didn't score touchdowns,'' Leftwich said. "We got field goals. It's about touchdowns in this league.''