One team showed up at the RCA Dome on Sunday afternoon for a tense divisional showdown minus a half-dozen key players dealing with varying states of infirmity. The other arrived here, as it has the past few visits, without its composure.
Advantage, Indianapolis Colts, the franchise that lost a lot of players in Week 2 and even during Sunday's game, but also the team that never lost its cool.
In a taut 21-14 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars that wasn't decided until Indianapolis backup safety Mike Doss intercepted a Byron Leftwich pass with 44 seconds left, the Colts demonstrated once again that the ability to maintain one's poise is often as critical as the ability to make plays.
Sometimes, it seems in this always-close matchup of AFC powerhouses, the former attribute is perhaps infinitely more crucial than the latter. Given the excellence of the two teams, the Jacksonville-Indianapolis games are always going to be emotional bloodlettings.
But it's the Jaguars who allow their emotions to spill over the edge, who lose control, and invariably lose winnable games.
"You play between the whistles," said Colts middle linebacker Gary Brackett. "All the talking that goes on out there, it doesn't mean a thing. That's what counts, the stuff you do before the whistle blows. After that, all you do is get yourself and your team in trouble with any kind of [extracurricular] stuff. The games with these guys, hey, they're way too close to get caught up in that kind of craziness."
For the second year in a row here, Jacksonville outplayed the Colts but squandered an opportunity to steal the infrequent victory by a visiting team in the RCA Dome, in part because of silly penalties. The one that figures to most stick in the craw of Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio, whose team keeps yapping about a lack of respect but then commits senseless fouls that suggest the maturation process isn't quite complete, occurred in the second quarter and turned around a contest that Jacksonville had dominated to that point.
Leading 7-0, and having squelched Colts quarterback Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis offense on two straight series, Leftwich threw incomplete on a third-and-9 from the Jacksonville 37-yard line, setting up a punt. But after the incompletion, Jaguars right guard Chris Naeole was flagged for unnecessary roughness for shoving linebacker Cato June, meaning that Chris Hanson had to punt from 15 yards deeper.
Hanson boomed the punt 48 yards, but Colts return man Terrence Wilkins -- with one brilliant cutback to the right seam to avoid deep-snapper Joe Zelenka, a move to step out of would-be tackle by Tony Gilbert, and then a devastating block by Jason David on Hanson -- chugged the kick back 82 yards for a tying touchdown. It was, to be sure, the signature play of the game, as important in the overall big picture as Manning's surprise two-yard bootleg in the fourth quarter for what proved to be the winning score.
The gaffe by Naeole, and a personal foul early in the game against wide receiver Reggie Williams, were reminiscent of last season's game here, in which Jacksonville drew three flags for either personal fouls or unsportsmanlike conduct. Characteristically, teams as good as Jacksonville eventually mature beyond such moments, which are symptomatic of either a lack of maturity or too much hubris.