In Jaguars' statement game, it's Colts who have last word

ON THE NFL

September 25, 2006|By KEN MURRAY

The Jacksonville Jaguars had the right idea, but faulty execution kept them from delivering a statement game in Indianapolis yesterday.

Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio's game plan was to pound the Colts' defense where it was most susceptible - on the ground - with a running back tag-team of veteran Fred Taylor and 5-foot-7 rookie Maurice Jones-Drew.

Jones-Drew, a second-round pick from UCLA, gashed the Colts for 87 yards in the first half, when the Jaguars ran the ball 29 times and passed only eight.

The plan worked so well that the Colts had just nine offensive plays in the game's first 27 minutes. But Jacksonville quarterback Byron Leftwich threw a costly interception at the Indianapolis' 9 and kicker Josh Scobee bounced a 24-yard field-goal attempt off the left upright in a 7-7 first half.

And again, the Jaguars learned that you only get so many chances to beat the Colts, who have won the AFC South three of the four years since realignment and are off to a 3-0 start.

Instead of taking control of the division, the Jaguars (2-1) were left to contemplate squandered opportunities. They controlled the ball for nearly 19 minutes more than the Colts, rushed for 191 yards and sacked Peyton Manning twice (a good afternoon anytime).

Yet they lost to the Colts for the fourth time in five meetings because they gave up an 82-yard punt return (to Terrence Wilkins) and because Leftwich (16 for 28 for 107 yards) threw two interceptions.

Turnovers turn the tide

Likewise, the Pittsburgh Steelers missed their chance to alter the balance of power in the AFC North. They had the defending division champion Cincinnati Bengals propped up for a knockout punch in Pittsburgh, but couldn't deliver.

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger played like someone who had been in a serious offseason motorcyle accident and then had an appendicitis attack at the start of the season. He looked out of rhythm and threw three interceptions. None was more critical than the first red-zone pick of his career early in the second quarter with the Steelers threatening to go up 14-0.

Turnovers were the story of this game. Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer had three, including a fumble, and the Steelers had five. Cincinnati (3-0) cashed in two fourth-quarter fumbles for next-play touchdowns to turn a 17-14 deficit into a 28-17 lead.

Fittingly, the Steelers' last gasp was a Roethlisberger interception on the Bengals' goal line.

Bucs' hole gets deeper

Since 1990, only three teams have recovered from an 0-3 start to reach the playoffs - the 1998 Buffalo Bills, the 1995 Detroit Lions and the 1992 San Diego Chargers. Of those three, only the Chargers were able to win their wild-card game (and they started 0-4).

That's the bad news for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who staggered to an 0-3 start with a 26-24 home loss to the Carolina Panthers, who were trying to avoid the same 0-3 start.

At least the Bucs got their first touchdown of the season, an 8-yard pass from Chris Simms to Joey Galloway, in the second quarter. That ended a touchdown drought of nine quarters or 143 minutes. After falling behind 17-0, the Bucs came back to get a 24-23 lead before falling.

K. Johnson's revenge

As if the loss wasn't bad enough for Bucs coach Jon Gruden, Keyshawn Johnson added insult to injury. Johnson was the temperamental wide receiver Gruden sat down for the final six weeks of the 2003 season for disruptive behavior a year after winning the Super Bowl.

Johnson scored two touchdowns against the Bucs - on a 31-yard reception and a 4-yard run on an end-around play - and had a 19-yard catch to help set up John Kasay's 46-yard winning field goal.

He finished with seven catches for 97 yards. It was the first time the Panthers had both Johnson and Steve Smith, returning from a hamstring injury, on the field this year. Smith had seven catches for 112 yards.

Fumbles follow Warner

Fumbles have hampered Kurt Warner's career, even back to his glory days with the St. Louis Rams. They continue to haunt the former Most Valuable Player in Arizona.

Warner's fumbled snap in the final two minutes yesterday sentenced the Cardinals to a 16-14 loss against his old team, the Rams. What appeared to be a bad snap - and not Warner's fault - was nevertheless his fourth turnover of the game.

Through three games, Warner has fumbled eight times and lost three. The countdown to Matt Leinart has begun.

ken.murray@baltsun.com

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