Colts win overdue for defensive cog

Defensive tackle Arthur Jones returns to help Colts dominate Jacksonville 23-3 for 11th consecutive AFC South victory.

Only Arthur Jones would have mentioned what had been gnawing at him for weeks.

As reporters crowded around T.Y. Hilton to talk about the wide receiver scoring a touchdown on a Sunday that began with the birth of his daughter, and Indianapolis Colts defensive players chatted at length about shutting down Jacksonville 23-3 at Lucas Oil Stadium, Jones expressed relief.

It was the first time the defensive tackle had played in a Colts win this season.

Sidelined for seven of eight games by a right high ankle sprain, Jones was relieved to come away from the game healthy and with a victory.

“It was a big day for me to break that curse,” Jones said after contributing two tackles and a forced fumble that the Colts recovered.

Seriously, he was thinking about those past losses at Denver, to Philadelphia and at Pittsburgh?

“Yeah, absolutely,” said the fifth-year pro. “You start thinking, ‘Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m the problem.’ Nah, I’m just joking around. It feels good to be back with my brothers.”

Defensive teammates knew how much Jones — signed as a free agent to a five-year, $33-million contract last offseason — wanted to make a difference.

Defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois laughed when asked about Jones getting a win.

“Art has been talking about that for a few days,” Jean Francois said. “As soon as the game was over, I told him, ‘Art, you finally got a ‘W,’ baby. You’re a Colt and you got your first ‘W.’

“Art was just so happy, from the beginning of the game to the end, I’m talking about in pre-game in here. It felt like we needed that energy back inside here. Even with (injured outside linebacker) Robert Mathis being here (visiting), it was good to have Art back in here. That was like another piece to the puzzle that we’ve been missing.”

The Jaguars stuck to a conservative game plan to take pressure off rookie quarterback Blake Bortles. They ran the ball early and often. And the Colts didn’t give up much, in start contrast to when New England’s Jonas Gray ran for 201 yards and four touchdowns in the Patriots’ 42-20 thumping of the Colts last week.

Jacksonville finished with 80 yards rushing on 23 carries, 3.5 yards per carry, and just 194 total yards. The Colts sacked Bortles four times, intercepted him once and recovered a Dante Robinson fumble.

“The trainers did an awesome job getting me back ready to go,” Jones said. “I’m excited. I’m excited to be back. We’re just going to build on this and not be complacent.”

The Colts (7-4) led just 6-3 at halftime, but the defense never gave any indication that a sellout crowd need worry about an upset loss to the 15-point underdog Jaguars (1-10).

Despite allowing five sacks and losing three fumbles in the first half, the offense eventually got it in gear with two third-quarter touchdowns. Trent Richardson slammed in from one yard out and Hilton caught a 73-yard bomb.

“The way our defense was playing, we knew it wouldn’t be too many points that we needed to get a win,” said quarterback Andrew Luck.

That was more than enough for a defense that more closely resembled the group that blanked AFC North Division-leading Cincinnati 27-0 on Oct. 19 as opposed to the unit run over by the Patriots.

“He’s definitely a presence in there, man,” linebacker Jerrell Freeman said of Jones. “I love playing behind him, love playing behind Ricky Jean Francois. It’s great to have guys in there who are selfless.”

As Jones, Jean Francois and Cory Redding among others tied up Jaguars blockers, Freeman and fellow inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson ran free to make stops. Jackson had a game-high 13 tackles and the fumble recovery. Freeman had nine tackles. Each had sacks.

Houston’s 22-13 home loss to Cincinnati means the Colts have a two-game lead in the AFC South with five games remaining. The defending division champs have already won at Houston, and the Texans have never won at Indianapolis.

“We’re always aware that if we take care of the division, that’ll get us a ticket to the show,” outside linebacker Erik Walden said of the playoffs. “Now, it’s just about positioning ourselves for a better ticket to the show, so that’s our mind frame.”

Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.

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