November 9, 2010

2003: Fred Taylor Runs for 152 Yards as Jaguars Upset Colts

The Jacksonville Jaguars were a dreadful 1-7 as they hosted the 7-1 Indianapolis Colts at ALLTEL Stadium on November 9, 2003. Jacksonville was coming off of three straight losing seasons and was struggling under first-year Head Coach Jack Del Rio. Veteran QB Mark Brunell, anticipated to be on his way out after eight seasons with the club, was injured and had been replaced by rookie first-round draft pick Byron Leftwich, who was experiencing typical growing pains. Moreover, the Jaguars had never beaten the Colts in five meetings (they had only just become members of the same division as a result of the NFL’s realignment the previous year).

It hardly seemed likely that the Jaguars would have better luck this time against Head Coach Tony Dungy’s Colts. With significant playmakers on offense that included QB Peyton Manning, WR Marvin Harrison, and RB Edgerrin James and a tough defense anchored by DE Dwight Freeney, the Colts were playing like a championship contender and had pulled out some impressive wins along the way.

Jaguars RB Fred Taylor (pictured above) set the tone in the lead-up to the game as he complained about excessively rough play by Colts rookie SS Mike Doss in the previous meeting of the two teams earlier in the season and said, “I'm going to punish him. If he hits me, fine, but if I catch him, believe me, I'm going to get the better shot.” The veteran running back, one of the key players on the offense, was both healthy and motivated, and ultimately, the team gained a lift as a result.

It was Indianapolis getting on the board first, though, as Manning connected with Harrison for a 30-yard touchdown. Jacksonville responded with a seven-play, 43-yard drive later in the first quarter that ended with Taylor running for a five-yard touchdown. But the second quarter was all Colts as Mike Vanderjagt kicked field goals of 27 and 26 yards and TE Marcus Pollard scored a touchdown on a 13-yard pass from Manning just before the end of the half. Indianapolis had a seemingly-secure 20-7 lead at the intermission. However, they had lost Harrison for the remainder of the game due to a strained hamstring.

The Jaguars, who had been held to 85 total yards in the first half, opened the third quarter with an 80-yard drive in 13 plays that resulted in Leftwich running for a four-yard touchdown. Then, early in the fourth quarter, Leftwich completed a 28-yard pass to TE George Wrighster that bounced off of at least three Colts defenders before the tight end pulled it in. Leftwich followed up with a 43-yard touchdown pass to veteran WR Jimmy Smith, and with the successful extra point, Jacksonville was in the lead at 21-20.

The Colts came right back as Manning completed a pass to Pollard for a 70-yard gain to the Jaguars’ nine yard line, but an apparent touchdown throw to WR Troy Walters was nullified because Walters had stepped out of bounds prior to making the catch. The Colts settled for a 27-yard field goal by Vanderjagt to retake the lead, 23-21, with 5:16 left on the clock.

Jacksonville responded by driving to the Indianapolis 11, but an attempted field goal was botched when holder Mark Royals couldn’t handle the snap and, tossing a desperation pass, was intercepted by LB David Thornton.

There were just over two minutes remaining, but the Colts were unable to gain a first down that would have allowed them to run out the clock and had to punt. The short kick was returned 27 yards by Jacksonville RB David Allen to the Indianapolis 31. Two plays later, and after losing a yard, Taylor broke three tackles (including one by Doss) and ran 32 yards for a touchdown.

The Jaguars had a five-point lead, but the Colts still had one last opportunity with a timeout remaining. However, with 11 seconds left safety Deke Cooper picked off a Manning pass to seal the stunning 28-23 win for the Jaguars.

Jacksonville dominated the second half, gaining 268 of 353 total yards and successfully converting seven of eight third down situations. The Colts outgained the Jaguars overall with 394 yards, but the fact that the yardage total ended up being so close and that the clubs were even with 20 first downs apiece testified to Jacksonville’s strong second half surge after being dominated for the first two quarters.

Fred Taylor had his best game of the season, gaining 152 yards on 28 carries with two touchdowns; he also caught two passes for another 32 yards. Byron Leftwich (pictured at left) had his strongest performance to date, completing 12 of 22 passes for 179 yards with a TD and none intercepted. Jimmy Smith led the receivers with four catches for 87 yards and a score.

For the Colts, Peyton Manning was successful on 28 of 45 passes for 347 yards with two touchdowns, but also two interceptions. Edgerrin James led the rushers with just 44 yards on 15 carries – he went largely unused during much of the second half and was replaced by Ricky Williams, considered the better receiver out of the backfield, although he was co-leader for the Colts with six pass receptions (for 26 yards). WR Reggie Wayne also caught six passes, for 46 yards, while Marcus Pollard gained 92 yards and scored a TD on his three receptions.

A frustrated James complained in the locker room afterward, “Maybe I'm not good enough, but I don't make those decisions. I don't know why we had so many screens called. That's not my call. I just do my job.” However, all was well the next week as he ran for 127 yards, Manning passed for 401, and the Colts defeated the Jets. Indianapolis ended the regular season atop the AFC South with a 12-4 record and won two playoff games before succumbing to New England in the AFC Championship game.

A happy Fred Taylor said afterward, “I probably should have just taken the silent approach, but sometimes things happen, so I just put it out there, and my teammates backed me up.” The Jaguars crashed back to earth at Tennessee the next week in a 10-3 loss, but won three more games the rest of the way to finish at 5-11, the same as the Texans, at the bottom of the division.

Taylor ranked sixth in the NFL with a career-high 1572 yards on 345 carries (4.6 avg.) with six touchdowns. In 11 seasons with Jacksonville, he gained 11,271 yards on the ground.

While his career with the Jaguars was ultimately disappointing, Byron Leftwich had a decent rookie season in which he completed 57.2 % of his passes and averaged a healthy 11.8 yards on 239 completions. He threw 14 touchdown passes, against 16 interceptions.