JACKSONVILLE, Fla. All that talk about defending Super Bowl champion Indianapolis being better this season just might be true.
The Colts dominated every aspect of Monday night's showdown against the Jacksonville Jaguars, easily winning 29-7 and once again taking charge in the AFC South. They also moved a step close to setting up an undefeated matchup with New England (7-0). The teams meet Nov. 4.
The Patriots should provide more of a challenge than the Jaguars did.
Joseph Addai and Kenton Keith combined for 141 yards rushing, Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne picked apart Jacksonville's secondary, and the Colts avenged their most embarrassing loss of last season.
Indianapolis (6-0) improved to 3-0 in the division and left Jacksonville (4-2), Tennessee and Houston in the all-too-familiar chase mode. The Colts, who have won the last four division titles, also joined Green Bay (1929-31) and St. Louis (1999-2001) as the only teams in history to start 6-0 for three straight years.
They made this one look easy, backing up assertions by coaches Tony Dungy and Jack Del Rio that the Colts are stronger, faster, more disciplined and simply better than they were during last year's championship run.
The Colts knocked David Garrard out of the game, pretty much bottled up Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew and extended their winning streak to 11 games.
Taylor and Jones-Drew spearheaded last year's 44-17 rout in Jacksonville. The Jaguars ran for a franchise-record 375 yards a defensive meltdown that proved to be a turning point for Indy. The team fixed its run defense down the stretch and then won it all.
Jacksonville tried to catch the Colts off guard from the start Monday night, calling on Garrard to throw early and often. It backfired. Garrard was knocked out of the game in the second quarter and Jacksonville's lackluster receivers dropped several balls.
Meanwhile, Manning was Manning.
He had plenty of time to throw, and with Marvin Harrison still nursing a sore knee, hooked up with Wayne all over the field. Manning finished 23-of-37 for 259 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. He also ran for a score. Wayne caught nine passes for 131 yards.
Manning's 35-yard TD pass to Dallas Clark made it 29-7 with 3:58 to play.
Indianapolis built a 17-0 halftime lead with three long drives. Manning exposed Jacksonville's secondary, and Addai and Keith picked up yards between the tackles.
The Colts mixed it up better than they have in any recent meetings against the Jaguars, who had played them tough despite losing seven of the previous 10 meetings.
Indy also got help from big plays on both touchdown drives. Manning hit Addai with a short pass on third-and-14, then Addai broke a tackle and picked up a first down. Four plays later, Addai broke a 23-yard run on fourth-and-1.
Rookie safety Reggie Nelson made a touchdown-saving tackle, but Keith scored two plays later to make it 7-0.
Garrard was injured on the ensuing drive, spraining his left ankle when sacked by Ed Johnson. After calling a timeout, Garrard limped to the sideline and was replaced by Quinn Gray.
Bob Sanders intercepted Gray's second pass, and the Colts took advantage of the first interception of Jacksonville this season.
Manning hooked up with Wayne for a 31-yard gain, then capped the drive with a 1-yard plunge two plays later.
Adam Vinatieri's 36-yard field goal with 29 seconds remaining in the half made it 17-0. That drive followed a failed fourth-and-1 play by Jacksonville.
The Jaguars attempted another fourth down, this one fourth-and-3 at the Indianapolis 34, early in the game and also came up short.
Both fourth-down plays were questionable calls, especially since the Jaguars had so much success running the ball right at Indy last season.
The Jaguars ran for 191 yards in the first meeting in 2006 and were even better in December.
On this muggy night, however, Jacksonville tried to trick Indy on fourth down. First was an incomplete play-action pass to backup tight end George Wrighster, who let the ball slip through his hands; second was an end around to Jones-Drew, who lost a yard and essentially set up the field goal.
Jacksonville will certainly face more questions about trying to throw from its own 4, especially after the offense ran 10 straight times for a touchdown to start the third quarter and with Gray at quarterback.
It was a costly move, too.
Gray dropped back into the end zone, Dwight Freeney torched left tackle Khalif Barnes and got a sack as the Colts went up 19-7.
Following the free kick, the Colts marched to the 1, then settled for another field goal and a commanding 22-7 lead an all-too-familiar position for Manning & Co.