JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars are the future of the AFC South.
The Indianapolis Colts made certain that future didn't arrive on Sunday.
The Colts' 24-17 triumph at ALLTEL Stadium allowed them to retain their status as the team to beat in the division and the primary challenger to the New England Patriots in the AFC. But the Jaguars didn't embarrass themselves on a big-game stage. Their defense already has arrived, and their offense only will get better with second-year quarterback Byron Leftwich throwing to a group of receivers that includes rookie wideouts Reggie Williams and Ernest Wilford.
"That's a young football team out there, a team that's going to be here a long time," Leftwich said Sunday evening.
The Jaguars' progression toward being an AFC heavyweight was put on fast-forward when they won their first three games, all in dramatic fashion. They wondered what would happen if they would get a breakout game by Leftwich to jump-start an offense that totaled only 35 points in those three victories.
They got that game Sunday, as Leftwich had a career-best 29 completions (in 41 throws) for 318 yards, his second-best total in his 17 NFL starts. The Jaguars piled up 408 total yards and converted eight of 15 third-down chances but were undone by two failed fourth-down tries, a missed 35-yard field goal attempt and a lost fumble. They managed only three field goals and a single touchdown despite reaching Colts territory in each of their nine drives.
"I'm not looking for good statistical games," Leftwich said. "I'm looking for winning performances."
Said Jaguars Coach Jack Del Rio: "The bottom line is winning in this league. That's why Tom Brady is deserving of all the credit he gets: He wins Super Bowls. Winning is more important than lighting up the scoreboard. We're going to win a lot with our guy."
But they didn't win with Leftwich on Sunday, and that largely was because of the brilliance of Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. The league's reigning co-most valuable player didn't have the sort of eye-catching performance that he'd had a week before, when he threw for 393 yards and five touchdowns against the Green Bay Packers, but he took exactly what the Jaguars gave him.
The Jaguars hardly ever blitzed. They didn't leave themselves open to big plays, like the Packers had done. They played formations that included six defensive backs and one linebacker. They usually double-covered Indianapolis wideouts Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne. They forced the Colts to string together methodical drives.
And that's precisely what Manning did without forcing throws down the field to attempt to recreate his quick-strike exploits against the Packers. He knew the Jaguars' first three opponents -- the Bills, Broncos and Titans -- made costly mistakes when they tried to make things happen quickly against the Jacksonville defense.
"Teams have been greedy and made critical errors," Manning said. " . . . It was no trickery involved on either side, just execution."
The Jaguars failed to sack Manning, who completed 20 of 29 throws for 220 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception.
"I really don't know how tough he is because no one ever hits him," Jaguars defensive tackle Marcus Stroud said. "He does everything correctly. He can feel anybody coming close to him and gets rid of the ball. He knows his offense so well that he knows where everybody is going to be, and he can throw the ball to spots."
Manning directed a 74-yard touchdown drive after the Jaguars had rallied from a 17-6, fourth-quarter deficit to tie the game with 101/2 minutes to play. The Jaguars couldn't pull it out this time, but the mood in their postgame locker room was far from despondent.
"I'm disappointed it didn't end with a 'W,' but we battled a very good football team," Del Rio said. " . . . We finish up the first quarter of the season 3-1 and tied with the Colts in the division. We'll see them again in three weeks [for an Oct. 24 rematch in Indianapolis]. We have a lot of good things going on, just not enough to beat a good a very good football team [Sunday]."
Said Stroud: "The last time I checked, 12-4 will get you in the playoffs. There's still a lot of ball to be played. We need to capitalize on our opportunities and minimize our mistakes. That's what we'd been doing, but we didn't do it [Sunday]. I think we'll be exciting to watch this season.'' . . . The Jaguars believed they lost left tackle Mike Pearson to a season-ending knee injury. He was replaced by veteran Ephraim Salaam, a former starter for Atlanta and Denver. Jacksonville also had to play without right tackle Maurice Williams after he exited with what the team called leg cramps. Mike Compton filled in. "I really believe losing the two tackles hurt our ability to run the ball effectively," Del Rio said. ". . . We weren't able to convert a couple short-yardage situations you have to convert if you're going to be a good football team . . . . We just didn't block well at the point of attack.'' . . .
Jaguars offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave made a bold call during a timeout by ordering up a deep pass to wide receiver Jimmy Smith on fourth-and-one from the Indianapolis 40-yard line in the fourth quarter. Smith beat cornerback Nick Harper along the left sideline and Leftwich put his throw on target for a touchdown, and the two-point conversion that followed tied the game at 17.
"We talked about it," Del Rio said. "Ultimately that's Bill's call.'' . . . The tying touchdown was preceded by a successful instant-replay challenge by Del Rio, reinstating a juggling interception by rookie linebacker Daryl Smith. The officials ruled on the field, as Smith was running toward the Indianapolis goal line on his would-be return, that the ball had hit the ground, and Del Rio tossed the red challenge flag onto the field even before Smith was done running.
"I was a little quick on that one," said Del Rio, a longtime NFL linebacker. "I saw it as clear as day. We didn't have the replay system when I was a player. I caught a few of those. You can go back and look at the archives.'' . . . The Colts had some success running the ball with 117 rushing yards, 83 of them by tailback Edgerrin James. Mostly, the Colts ran to the perimeter of the Jacksonville defense, avoiding tackles Stroud and John Henderson . . . .
Manning, 28, made his 100th NFL start. "I feel like an old man now," he said. "That's something I'm proud of.'' . . . The Colts went 3-1 during a demanding opening stretch that included games against the Patriots, Titans, Packers and Jaguars.
"When the schedule came out, we saw what it was -- three teams that had been to the playoffs last year plus Jacksonville, who we knew was going to be good," Colts Coach Tony Dungy said. ". . . I think it got our players' attention in the offseason and in training camp. What we talked about in the locker room [after the game] was that we can't let down now. We can't say we're coming home for a couple games and everything is going to be fine. We have to have the same type of effort and energy. But I was pleased with the first month."
Packers Trade McKenzie
The Green Bay Packers today traded cornerback Mike McKenzie and a conditional draft choice to the New Orleans Saints for quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan and a second-round pick next year, the Packers announced.
Packers Coach Mike Sherman was left with little choice but to trade the talented but burdensome McKenzie. The situation remained problematic even after McKenzie, tired of missing his $161,000 weekly paycheck, ended his holdout and reported to the club following a season-opening win over the Carolina Panthers. He and agent Drew Rosenhaus met with Sherman before McKenzie rejoined the team but, from the looks of how things went since then, didn't emerge with a consensus about how matters would proceed.
McKenzie was on the Packers' inactive list for a second straight game Sunday with what was described as a hamstring injury. There were growing suspicions in and around the organization that McKenzie wasn't hurt badly and didn't want to risk re-injuring himself or looking bad by playing because that might damage his chances of being traded.
Rosenhaus informed the Packers when McKenzie ended his holdout that the cornerback still wanted to be traded, and the Saints remained interested all along. They didn't want to meet the Packers' original asking price of a first-round draft selection and perhaps more. But they parted with O'Sullivan, a decent prospect who played well in NFL Europe last season. He gives the Packers a young quarterback to try to groom behind Brett Favre -- the young quarterback they didn't get when they cut Tim Couch before the season. The McKenzie deal comes well before the NFL's Oct. 19 trading deadline. The Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders also had been viewed by some in the league as possible trade partners for the Packers.
The Packers look like a team in disarray after Sunday's 14-7 loss to the New York Giants at Lambeau Field. They are mired in their first three-game losing streak under Sherman, their fifth-year coach. They have begun a season 0-2 at Lambeau for the first time since 1988. Counting playoff games, they're 6-6 at home since winning 22 of their first 25 games at Lambeau under Sherman.
Favre was knocked from Sunday's game with a concussion after extending his string of consecutive regular season starts to 193, an NFL record for a quarterback, despite a nasty bruise on his leg suffered the previous week against the Colts, forcing him out of that game in the late stages. Favre seems to get a little bit more banged up and a little bit closer to retirement every day, and the Packers aren't getting any closer to giving him another Super Bowl appearance as a send-off. They're 1-3 after opening with their spectacularly impressive win at Carolina in the season's first Monday night game.
Bennett Has Knee Surgery
Minnesota tailback Michael Bennett underwent arthroscopic knee surgery today to repair a torn meniscus. The Vikings had hoped to have Bennett, who has been sidelined since hurting his knee in the preseason, back in the lineup this week, but he'll miss two more games. His replacement, Onterrio Smith, is scheduled to have his appeal of his four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy heard this week. Smith has been playing while his appeal is pending. . . . The 49ers will be without cornerback Mike Rumph, who broke his arm Sunday night, for six to 12 weeks.
Martz Does Flip-Flop
After ordering up 54 passing plays and only 15 rushing attempts in a loss to the Saints eight days ago, St. Louis Rams Coach Mike Martz said last Monday that the critics of his pass-first approach had better learn to live with it because he wasn't changing any time soon. So Martz promptly went out and had the Rams run the ball 36 times (while quarterback Marc Bulger threw a modest 25 passes) in Sunday night's 24-14 triumph at San Francisco. . . .
Tailback Emmitt Smith had his first 100-yard rushing performance for the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, running for 127 yards as the club beat the Saints, 34-10, for its first win under Coach Dennis Green. Smith's last 100-yard rushing game came on Nov. 28, 2002 for the Cowboys against the Washington Redskins. . . .
Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski had connected on 37 consecutive field goal attempts of 45 yards or shorter before missing from 35 yards Sunday. . . .
New York Jets center Kevin Mawae made his 158th straight start Sunday, playing with a broken bone in his right hand suffered 15 days ago (the team had its bye week after that). The right-handed Mawae played with his right hand heavily bandaged and snapped left-handed. He switched positions with left guard Pete Kendall on a couple plays, and provided the lead block for tailback Curtis Martin on a one-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. There was one botched exchange between Mawae and quarterback Chad Pennington, but things went smoothly otherwise as the Jets improved to 3-0 by beating the Miami Dolphins, 17-9.