JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) - Indianapolis and Jacksonville both started the season 3-4, falling well short of expectations but not quite reaching panic mode.
After all, there was plenty of time to turn things around.
Only one of them did, though.
The Colts stuck together, rallied around their leaders and focused on fixing their problems. The Jaguars benched their defensive leader, shuffled lockers around, quietly pointed fingers and questioned team chemistry.
Any doubt which team got back in the postseason picture?
Indianapolis (10-4) has won seven in a row since the rough start and can clinch a playoff spot Thursday night against Jacksonville (5-9).
h a lot together, and we rely on those past experiences,'' Colts coach Tony Dungy said. ``Because we've won so many games, we realize that what you did last week doesn't really have any bearing on what's going to happen next week, so we try to keep all that in perspective.
``At 3-4, we knew what the problems were. A lot of it was ourselves and our execution, and that's what we focused on more so than pointing the finger at someone or figuring out who's to blame,'' Dungy said.
Indianapolis' turnaround had a lot to do with winning close games. The Colts opened their current streak by winning five consecutive games by six points or less.
``They didn't start off great, but then they got on a little bit of a wave, a little bit of a roll,'' Jaguars quarterback David Garrard said.
The Jaguars, meanwhile, never really got going. They had numerous injuries along the offensive line, struggled early to get comfortable in defensive coordinator Gregg Williams' blitz-heavy scheme and went 3-5 in games decided by less than a touchdown.
The team was out of sync off the field, too.
Coach Jack Del Rio sent linebacker Mike Peterson home twice for insubordination in early November, fined him $10,000, benched him for a game and then relegated him to playing mostly on special teams.
and openly questioned team chemistry. Running back Fred Taylor, now on injured reserve, called this the worst ``team'' he's ever been on in his 11-year career.
The Jaguars snapped a four-game losing streak last week against Green Bay, but the victory brought even more questions when seldom-used receiver Dennis Northcutt stepped into a starting role for the first time all season and did something Matt Jones, Jerry Porter and Reggie Williams had failed to do in the previous 13 games - catch a pass longer than 35 yards.
Northcutt was in the lineup because Jones was suspended the final three games for violating the league's substance-abuse policy and Porter was sidelined with a groin injury.
Northcutt caught five passes for 127 yards and a touchdown, the Jaguars came from behind to win 20-16 and several players indicated Northcutt should have played more all season. But the team invested first-round draft picks in Jones and Williams and guaranteed $10 million to Porter when he signed in March.
``I knew it was going to be an issue before anybody,'' Northcutt said. ``I probably saw it before some coaches. I know this business. I knew it.''
ere.''
The Colts haven't had any similar problems. Their biggest concern has been health. Linebacker Gary Brackett will miss his third straight game since cracking a bone in his lower right leg.
Safety Bob Sanders (knee) and running back Joseph Addai (shoulder) also could be sidelined. Sanders missed the first meeting between the AFC South rivals, a game the Jaguars won 23-21 on Josh Scobee's 51-yard field goal with 4 seconds remaining.
The Colts remember it well.
``They came in averaging about 50 yards (rushing) per game and they ran for about 250,'' linebacker Freddy Keiaho said. ``Hopefully, we can rectify it and we can get a playoff spot, so there's a lot riding on this.''
The Colts also said the Jaguars talked smack throughout the game. Given the way things have unfolded since, Indy might able to get the last word in.
``They were talking trash the last game, and we're going down there with a chip on our shoulder,'' defensive end Raheem Brock said. ``You know, they always talk, so it's going to be fun.''

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