Colts’ Loss Clears Path for Pursuing Andrew Luck

The Colts’ 19-13 loss to the ensured that they will have the first overall pick in the N.F.L. draft and that Stanford’s Andrew Luck, perhaps the most coveted quarterback since Manning himself, will almost surely be theirs. The Jaguars, who along with the rest of the A.F.C. South have been tormented by Manning’s presence, now face at least another decade with a potentially dominant quarterback in the division.

The Colts finished the season 2-14, their worst record since they were 3-13 in 1998, when Manning was a struggling rookie. The Colts, who were implored by some fans to preserve their draft position by tanking games, were in danger of missing out on the first pick and Luck because they won two straight games last month. Had the Colts beaten the Jaguars, they would have lost the top pick to the St. Louis Rams, who lost to the San Francisco 49ers and, with only two wins, would have had the worst record in the N.F.L.

Instead, the Colts, who won the top pick on a tiebreaker, now embark on what will be an off-season of difficult decisions and delicate conversations. They must first determine if Jim Caldwell will remain as the coach. But then they must figure out how to manage Luck and Manning. There seems to be little doubt that the Colts will take Luck — he is simply too good to pass up, even if Manning, who will turn 36 in March, can play a few more years.

The trickier decision is what to do about Manning, whose return is not yet assured. The Colts owe Manning a $28 million roster bonus in early March, which will put in effect the final four years of the five-year contract he signed last summer. The Colts may not fully know by then if Manning is able to return to his pre-injury level of play.

If the Colts do not pay the bonus, Manning will be a free agent, an outcome that seems unlikely after the owner Jim Irsay told the NFL Network that Manning would return to Indianapolis if he was healthy. If the Colts pay Manning, they will almost certainly keep him and make Luck his backup even though most personnel evaluators say Luck will be good enough to start as a rookie — potentially setting up an awkward dynamic.

If the Colts keep both quarterbacks, it will probably limit their ability to spend significantly to improve other positions, needs that were underscored by the team’s collapse in Manning’s absence.

THE FIFTH DOWN; Magical Jaguar Mystery

Chase Stuart contributes to the blog and to

Three months ago, the sports media had three things to say about the Jaguars:

1) Can you believe Jacksonville drafted Tyson Alualu instead of Tim Tebow?

2) When is this team moving to Los Angeles?

3) How is Jack Del Rio still the coach?

Jacksonville might have been the blandest team in the league, with possibly the most apathetic fan base. But with an 8-5 record in mid-December, none of the above matters. With a win on Sunday against the Colts, Jacksonville would wrap up its first division title since Tom Coughlin’s squad won its third straight A.F.C. Central crown in 1999. With the Jaguars all but ignored in the national media, you might be wondering how the Jags are winning games this year.

There’s only one answer to that: unconventionally. Jacksonville’s pass defense is miserable, fluctuating weekly with the Texans for last place in net yards per attempt allowed and adjusted net yards per attempted allowed. The Jaguars are tied with the Broncos and the Vikings for the honor of worst turnover margin, unthinkable for an offense that leads the league in rushing attempts. And Jacksonville has been outscored by 36 points, after being blown out by three touchdowns or more in four games this season. If the Jaguars win one more game, they’ll become just the fourth team since 1940 to have a winning record despite four losses of 21 points or more.

Despite a terrible pass defense, its struggles to hold on to the ball or to take it away from its opponents, and the decision to seemingly skip every third game, Jacksonville can clinch the division with two weeks to play. How? The obvious person to look to is Maurice Jones-Drew, the running back who ranks second in the league in both rushing yards and yards from scrimmage. But Arian Foster leads the league in those two categories, and the Texans’ pass defense is just as bad, so there’s more to the story.

David Garrard is having a solid but unspectacular season. His best attribute this season has been the ability to limit all his bad plays to games the Jaguars are going to lose anyway. In losses to the Giants, Eagles and Chargers, Garrard has thrown six interceptions with one touchdown while averaging just 5.0 yards per attempt. He was injured early in the Jaguars’ flop against the Titans and didn’t play when the team allowed 42 points to the Chiefs. Meanwhile, in seven of Jacksonville’s victories, Garrard has thrown for 17 touchdowns with just two interceptions while averaging 9.0 yards per attempt.

For the most part, Jacksonville has had the benefit of good fortune and good timing. In Week 1, Brandon Lloyd’s second foot grazed the end zone sideline, negating a potential game-tying touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Three weeks later, the Jaguars defeated the Colts thanks to Josh Scobee’s 59-yard field goal as time expired. In Week 10, it was Glover Quin and Mike Thomas teaming up to convert a desperation pass to beat the Texans. The next week they turned the ball over six times, but Maurice Jones-Drew picked the right time to rev up his ESPY campaign. With just over two minutes left, Jones-Drew took a screen pass 75 yards to the Cleveland 1-yard line, weaving across the field and breaking four tackles in one of the highlights of the year.

Their overall numbers are underwhelming. But so far, the Jaguars have been able to consolidate the bad plays to a few games, while making their biggest plays when it counts most. Both Jones-Drew and Rashad Jennings rushed for over 100 yards against the Raiders on Sunday, but the team still needed Deji Karim’s 65-yard kickoff return in the final minutes to put away the Raiders. The unquestioned strength of the team is red hot; the Jags have topped the 200-yard rushing mark in each of the last three weeks. Awaiting them on Sunday: the 29th-ranked rushing defense in Indianapolis.

If Jacksonville makes the playoffs, what can we expect? Since 1990, only three teams have made the playoffs despite being outscored by 25 points or more. The 2004 Rams, playing in one of the league’s all-time terrible divisions, went 8-8 and earned a wild card berth. The Rams swept the Seahawks in the regular season and then defeated them in the first round of the playoffs, before getting steamrolled by Mike Vick and the Falcons in the second round. The 1998 Arizona Cardinals — perhaps the worst playoff team ever — played the easiest schedule in the league and were outscored by 53 points. But then the Cards managed to go into Dallas, where they had lost by 28 points in Week 1, and upset the Cowboys in the first round of the playoffs. They lost, 41-21, to the Vikings the next week. The ’94 Bears were outscored by 36 points but went into Minnesota and won in the first round of the playoffs. They were obliterated by the 49ers the following week, 44-15. Like those three teams, the Jaguars have been inconsistently good, and are prone to surprise wins and blowout losses in the regular season. There’s nothing to say that that trend won’t continue in the playoffs.

Going up? Going Down

Colts Receiver Collie Out for the Season

receiver Austin Collie sustained a concussion Sunday against Jacksonville, and the team placed him on injured reserve Wednesday.

Despite missing five games and more than a half in three others, Collie leads all Indianapolis receivers with eight touchdown catches, and is second in receptions (58) and third in yards (649).

Collie was injured late in the first half against Jacksonville when linebacker Daryl Smith appeared to hit him in the head with his forearm as Collie went low to make a catch. It was his second concussion of the season.

“He certainly is a guy that’s going to be missed,” Colts Coach Jim Caldwell said. “From a medical standpoint, we are concerned more so about his health than anything else. This is the right thing for him at this particular time.”

Manning had already lost tight end Dallas Clark and receiver Anthony Gonzalez for the season, and running back Joseph Addai has missed the past eight games with a shoulder injury. MEMO ON WORKPLACE CONDUCT The sent a workplace conduct update to its teams in which Commissioner emphasized the effect improper behavior can have on others.

The memo is a reminder of the league’s belief that “all employees and associates of the N.F.L. have the right to work in a positive environment” free from all forms of harassment, intimidation and discrimination.

In response to an incident at ’ training facility in September after which Ines Sainz of TV Azteca said she felt uncomfortable in the team’s locker room, the team developed a workplace conduct program, underwritten by owner Woody Johnson. Wednesday’s league memo is a follow-up on that episode.

“Each of us must fully understand just how powerful an impact our own personal behavior can have on those we work with,” Goodell said, “and why the individual decisions we make within our workplace must be good ones. It is not enough to stand behind the strong values of the N.F.L.; we must stand for them.”

TEBOW TO REMAIN STARTER It’s time for the rest of the season whether Kyle Orton likes the situation or not. Orton said he was informed by the that Tebow will start not only Sunday against Houston, but in the season finale the next week, when San Diego visits Invesco Field.