The Colts and the Jaguars face off tonight in an AFC South showdown has many emerging story lines: a freshly bald group of players (more on this later), a new owner struggling to keep his team in town, a young rookie quarterback breaking records each game, and a team on a losing streak that manages to bring their ‘A’ game against their division rival, and one that needs a win in order to get another step closer to a postseason. The 1-7 Jaguars’ sole win was against the Colts in Week 3, while Andrew Luck and the Colts have won three in a row. With Indy heading into its first prime time game under Luck, who would have thought the Colts would be sitting on a 5-3 record heading into Week 10? Last Sunday’s record-breaking performance against the Dolphins included a 433-yard passing game, bypassing Cam Newton’s rookie record. It was also the fourth game that Luck threw for more than 300 yards, which tied Peyton Manning’s rookie record. Wednesday Luck was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week. Even Reggie Wayne is having a breakout season and rookie Vick Ballard has stepped up to inject some life into the Colts sputtering running game.
Meanwhile, the Jaguars are struggling, having dropped five straight games. They defeated the Colts with in their first meeting with a last minute touchdown from Blaine Gabbert to Cecil Shorts III and a stellar performance by Maurice Jones-Drew rushing for 177 yards and a touchdown. Tonight the Jags will have to do it without powerhouse MJD and even Gabbert is listed as questionable, battling a shoulder injury. First round pick wide receiver Justin Blackmon has been a disappointment so far. New head coach Mike Mularkey and new owner Shahid Khan have had tough first season, to put it mildly.
Despite a surprising winning record and a breakout rookie year from Andrew Luck, the Colts still have their own ongoing struggles. The Colts have a ton of injuries affecting them this week and the short week to travel certainly will add its own layer of challenges. The Colts will have to play without starting corners Vontae Davis (knee) and Jerraud Powers (toe). Cassius Vaughn and Darrius Butler have been named the starters in their place. The offensive line is still struggling to stay healthy and protect Luck. Outside linebackers Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney have been battling injuries all year and last week was no different as Mathis had to leave the game with a back injury. Mathis is listed as questionable for the matchup against Jacksonville. Overshadowing every story though is the Colts’ head coach Chuck Pagano’s battle with cancer. Pagano is battling leukemia and undergoing chemotherapy during this season. In solidarity, two dozen players as well as staff personnel for the Colts shaved their heads, including Andrew Luck. The Colts have gained strength from their coach’s fight with cancer. Inspiring words from Pagano in the Colts locker room has set the stage for a young team, determined to play hard and not let their critics and struggles deter them from playing their best football.
Related: Chuck Pagano, The Visionary
With a win against Jacksonville, the Colts could move even closer to a wild card spot in the playoffs. Only two teams in the AFC have a better record, the Houston Texans at 7-1 and the Baltimore Ravens at 6-2. New England, Pittsburgh, and Denver are all tied with the Colts at 5-3, with the Pats and Broncos leading their divisions. Playoffs today would have Pittsburgh and Indianapolis as the wild cards in a playoff scenario. Could the Colts do it? Could they become 6-3 under interim coach Bruce Arians and rookie Andrew Luck? Could they make a play for the wildcard spot? Anything is possible. As Chuck Pagano said in his powerful post-game speech Sunday, “I’ve got circumstances — you guys understand it, and I understand it. It’s already beat.” An attitude like that will take a team far, on and off the field.
OUT: CB Vontae Davis (knee), TE Coby Fleener (shoulder), CB Jerraud Powers (toe). QUESTIONABLE: WR Donnie Avery (hip), RB Donald Brown (knee), T Winston Justice (knee), LB Robert Mathis (back), C Samson Satele (back). PROBABLE: LB Pat Angerer (foot), LB Dwight Freeney (ankle).
OUT: RB Maurice Jones-Drew (foot), RB Greg Jones (hip), S Dwight Lowery (ankle). QUESTIONABLE: CB Rashean Mathis (groin). PROBABLE: CB Derek Cox (back), QB Blaine Gabbert (left shoulder), C Brad Meester (foot), RB Montell Owens (shoulder).