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NFL Preview - Indianapolis (5-3) at Jacksonville (1-7)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning was 3-13 during his first season in Indianapolis.
All that stands between Andrew Luck and doubling that win total in just his ninth game as a professional is the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars, who are mired in a five-game losing streak since recording their only win of the season, a 22-17 triumph at Indianapolis back in Week 3.
The surprising Colts, who will visit the Jags in an AFC South matchup on Thursday night, improved to 5-3 last Sunday when Luck set an NFL single-game rookie record with 433 passing yards as Indianapolis recorded a 23-20 triumph over the Miami Dolphins and their own impressive rookie signal-caller, Ryan Tannehill.
Colts head coach Chuck Pagano provided plenty of inspiration returning to Lucas Oil Stadium for the first time since being diagnosed with leukemia in late September. He addressed his team before the game and watched it from the coaches' box before speaking to the Colts again after the emotional win.
"I've got circumstances. You guys understand it, I understand it," Pagano told his players. "It's already beat. It's already beat. My vision that I'm living is to see two more daughters get married, dance at their weddings and then lift the Lombardi Trophy several times. I'm dancing at two more weddings and we're hoisting that trophy together, men. Congratulations, I love all of you."
Luck, who now has four 300-yard passing games, matching Manning for the most ever by a rookie, was spectacular against the Fish, completing 30-of-48 passes with two touchdowns and no interceptions for a 105.6 passer rating.
It was a simple 2-yard shovel pass to tight end Dwayne Allen with 6:52 remaining in the fourth quarter which broke Cam Newton's record of 432 yards, set last season.
"That's why he was the first player taken in the NFL Draft," said Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne, who leads the NFL with 835 receiving yards. "He's special."
Indianapolis racked up 516 yards of total offense and dominated a Miami team that entered the contest with the best third-down defense in the NFL. The Colts were 13-of-19 on third down, including Vick Ballard's 19-yard run on a 3rd-and-7 which ended the contest.
"Chuck was good enough to speak to the team before the game, and obviously we had a great locker room moment with him," Colts interim head coach Bruce Arians said after the win.
Indianapolis, which has gone 4-1 with Arians in command, also got some good news off the field when Pagano was informed that his cancer is currently in remission.
Pagano's oncologist, Dr. Larry Cripe, stated on Monday that the first-year head coach has passed the standard test administered to patients diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia. Cripe said that Pagano's white blood cell count is presently normal and there was no indication of the disease in his bone marrow at this time.
The 52-year-old Pagano still must undergo another two rounds of chemotherapy, however, followed by a maintenance program for approximately two more years before being declared cured.
"We need to keep going and we will not be able to use the word 'cure' for four or five years," Cripe told the Indianapolis Star.
A dismal Jacksonville season, meanwhile, continued last Sunday when a stifling Detroit defense combined with a career game from Mikel Leshoure led the Lions to a 31-14 win over the Jaguars in the Sunshine State.
Leshoure found the end zone three times in the second quarter and finished the contest with 70 yards on 16 carries while the Detroit defense limited Jacksonville to just one first down in the first half and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter with a sack and two interceptions.
Second-year quarterback Blaine Gabbert passed for 220 yards as he went 27- for-38 with two touchdowns and two interceptions for the 1-7 Jaguars.
"It was just a lack of execution on our part," said Gabbert. "We ran 12 plays in the first half without a first down and that was the fault of all 11 guys on the unit. We were shooting ourselves in the foot and hanging our defense out to dry. That's no way to win a football game."
Appearing on "Jaguars All Access," Jacksonville owner Shad Khan ripped into his own organization.
"It's embarrassing but there are better days ahead," Khan said. "I'm deeply grateful to the fans for supporting us. They've done their part. Now we have to do our part."
Khan, who made his money in the auto parts business, doesn't plan to stick his toes into the water when it comes to the football side of the business but he put his front office, specifically general manager Gene Smith, on notice.
"I'm not a talent evaluator so I'll let you guys be the judge of that. My job is to get the people who evaluate the talent," Khan said. "Whether it's a football team or an auto parts company, you need three things: Right people in the right spots, processing and decision making that's right and you need support from fans, sponsors or owners."
The Colts lead their all-time series with Jacksonville 15-8 but the Jags have won three straight, including their lone win of this season back on Sept. 23. Maurice Jones-Drew, who will miss his third straight game this week with a sprained left foot, ran for a 177 rushing yards and a touchdown in that one while Gabbert threw a game-winning 80-yard TD pass to Cecil Shorts. Luck threw for 313 yards in the setback.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Clearly, this is a pass-happy era and some of the all-time greats weren't operating under these rules but Luck has more than lived up to his billing as the best pure quarterback prospect since Manning or perhaps John Elway. His 5-3 record as a starter is the best a No. 1 overall pick has ever put together through eight games.
The Colts are now fourth in the NFL in offense, averaging 390.9 yards per game while Jacksonville has been allowing 392.9 per contest. Last season with Manning on the sidelines and Luck still at Stanford, Indianapolis was 30th in the league with 286.8 ypg.
Luck has also really settled down over the past three games, throwing just one interception after being picked off seven times in his first five contests.
"The kid, he continues to amaze," said Wayne. "Hopefully I can help add on to his legacy that he's about to build."
It's hard to imagine a Jacksonville secondary featuring Rashean Mathis and Derek Cox on the corners holding down Wayne and Co, outside.
Conversely, Gabbert pilots an offense which is missing its top threat, Jones- Drew, and is dead last in both ypg at 254.4 and scoring (14.6).
Rashad Jennings has gained just 148 yards on 50 carries since replacing Jones- Drew, making it even tougher for Gabbert to get the ball outside the numbers since the opposition linebackers and safeties aren't going to bite as hard on play action with MJD on the sideline. Meanwhile, rookie wide receiver Justin Blackmon has struggled mightily adjusting to the NFL game.
Gabbert hasn't lived up to his billing since being taken with the No. 10 overall pick in the 2011 draft but he is 3-0 in his young career against the Colts. That might be a statistical anomaly, however, since Gabbert hasn't played all that well against Indy, averaging less than 122 passing yards per game and completing a little over 57 percent of his passes.
It's hard to imagine Jacksonville avoiding a franchise-record fifth straight home defeat and stopping its first six-game skid since in nearly a decade against a Colts club thinking playoffs thanks to the rapid development of Luck.
The scary thing for the Jags and the rest of the AFC South is that Luck has barely scratched the surface when it comes to his amazing skills.
"I'm disappointed that we are where we're at," Jags coach Mike Mularkey said. "I know the players are. I certainly know the fans are. I just want them to know how they feel, we feel the same way. We're mad, too, very disappointed we're in this position. But we have to get over that emotion and get ready for this next game and these next eight games."
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Colts 23, Jaguars 14
11/08 09:03:00 ET