Indianapolis tops Jacksonville 28-25 thanks to defense and opportunism in the second half.
By DARRELL FRY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 9, 2002
JACKSONVILLE -- His team almost lost in the second half, but coach Tony Dungy wasn't complaining after a 28-25 win Sunday over the Jaguars in his Colts debut. After all, it took him five games longer to get his first win as Bucs coach in 1996.
Dungy's Colts survived two second-half turnovers that helped Jacksonville briefly take the lead. Then they got a crucial turnover to regain the lead, which they maintained in typical Dungy fashion with a late defensive stand.
"It was good to win," said Dungy, who had a cheering section of about 200 friends, family and church members who made the trip from Tampa. "Playing in a new division, going on the road, coming here and getting a win is a great feeling. And doing it with guys that you've been together with for six months, and you've got expectations and feelings for each other and to hang together and get it done is great."
The opening win at least temporarily silenced critics who wondered if Dungy's conservative, defense-oriented approach would drain some of the explosiveness out of one of the league's best offenses.
Even with star running back Edgerrin James seeing his first action of 2002 (he missed the preseason with injuries), the Colts showed plenty of firepower. If not for some mistakes, they might have scored a lot more.
As it was, the Colts had 307 total yards, 96 on their opening drive, and scored a touchdown in each quarter to slip past the pesky Jaguars, who showed remarkable resolve in pushing the Colts to the brink. James finished with 99 yards on 26 carries and quarterback Peyton Manning was 19-for-31 for 211 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Defensively, Dungy has work to do if he is to build the kind of stellar unit in Indianapolis he did with Tampa Bay. The defense held the Jaguars to 15 points if you take away 10 set up by turnovers, but it gave up 325 yards and 19 first downs.
"We didn't tackle and knock people back the way I like to see us," said Dungy, whose defense took an early loss when starting tackle James Cannida, a former Buc, injured his knee. "And when we had them down we just needed to make one play somewhere along the line, a sack at the right time, a fourth-down stop. We let them fight their way back, but I think it was good the way the game turned out."
He meant "good" that the defense held when the Jaguars took over with 1:02 left and failed to score after quarterback Mark Brunell's desperation pass to the end zone went incomplete on the game's final play.
The game, though, might not have come down to that had the Colts, leading 14-7 early in the third quarter, not fumbled on consecutive possessions. James caught a swing pass for 9 yards, then fumbled. The Jaguars recovered on the Colts 14, then kicked a field goal four plays later to close within 14-10.
Then, on the second play of the Colts' next possession, tight end Marcus Pollard coughed it up after a 5-yard catch near the Colts 25 (the play was reviewed but ruled inconclusive). Three plays later, Brunell hit receiver Patrick Johnson for an 18-yard touchdown and a 17-14 lead.
The Jaguars, who had the home crowd of 56,595 fired up, stopped the Colts on their next series. But on the ensuing punt, Jaguars return man Damon Gibson twice failed to pick up the low, lined kick and Indianapolis' Clifton Crosby recovered it near the Jaguars 20.
The Colts needed three plays to score. Manning hit an open Qadry Ismail in the left corner to take a 21-17 lead. Manning added another touchdown pass early in the fourth. The Jaguars countered with a Fred Taylor touchdown run and a two-point conversion to make it 28-25, setting the stage for the Colts' late defensive stand.
"That's what we planned," Dungy said. "Let the defensive win it if we had to."