It was a tale of two halves in Sunday’s contest between the Indianapolis Colts and Jacksonville Jaguars. Andrew Luck had the hot hand early, as he marched the Colts down the field on the games’ opening drive, completing passes to four different receivers. On Luck’s fourth completion, he hooked up with a wide open Eric Ebron. Ebron was able to tip toe the sideline and leap towards the pylon for the games’ first score. (the first of three Eric Ebron touchdowns on the day).
After a punt by each team, the Jaguars offense settled in to a quick, five play drive. Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles found former Colts receiver Donte Moncrief for an 80 yards strike to tie up the game. Moncrief would finish with 3 receptions 98 yards and that touchdown.
The Colts would answer quickly on the next drive, as Luck hooked up with wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and tight end Mo Alie-Cox for gains of 35 and 27 yards respectively to set the Colts up near the end zone. This allowed for a two yard touchdown run on 3rd and goal by Eric Ebron. The ensuing Adam Vinatieri extra point put the game at 14-7.
A quick series by the Jaguars ended in a punt, and the Colts took an opportunity to extend their lead on their next possession. Running back Jordan Wilkins would make the most of his only carry of the day, as he gashed the Jacksonville defense on a 53 yards run. An excellent pancake block by rookie Quenton Nelson sprung Wilkins for the huge chunk play. Two Andrew Luck completions later, Eric Ebron would find himself wide open for yet another touchdown. Ebron now has 39 receptions, 9 receiving touchdowns, and 10 total touchdowns on the year. Having already eclipsed his career best touchdown numbers, Ebron sets his sights on his best statistical season since entering the league as a first round pick in 2014.
The Jaguars followed the third Eric Ebron touchdown with a touchdown run by second year running back Leonard Fournette. The Josh Lambo point after attempt would be blocked and nearly returned by linebacker Anthony Walker, but the would be two points for Indianapolis were unfortunately called back due to a low block. The Indianapolis offense however, would take the energy of that blocked kick, and filter it into even more points. The Colts capped their 10 play, 75 yard drive with a passing touchdown from Andrew Luck to Mo Alie-Cox. A Jacksonville penalty on the point after attempt allowed for the Colts to try a two-point conversion from the 1 yard line. The Colts offensive line paved the way for running back Marlon Mack, as he slid between left tackle Anthony Castonzo and Left Guard Quenton Nelson for the successful two-point conversion. This put the game at 29-13.
Jacksonville used all but five seconds of the remaining time to sneak in a Josh Lambo field goal, as he knocked a 28 yarder through the uprights. A quick kneel down by the Colts offense took the game into the half with a score of 29-16. The second half wasn’t nearly as spectacular for Indianapolis. Jacksonville made several adjustments, and shut out Indianapolis for the final two quarters as they attempted to mount a comeback. Indy’s possessions looked awful on paper, as two punts, an interception, and a missed field goal kept the game interesting for the rest of the afternoon. Jacksonville opened the second half with an exhausting 17 play touchdown drive that lasted 8 minutes and 35 seconds. Leonard Fournette would score his second touchdown of the day on a 1 yard reception.
So, right out of the gate the Colts lead shrunk to just 6 points after leading by as much as 16. The next Indianapolis drive was a quick three and out, and Jacksonville regained possession at their 39 yard line. This drive would end with one of the key plays of this game, as Jacksonville kicker Josh Lambo missed a 52 yard field goal wide left, as the Colts maintained a 6 point lead.
Four plays later, a tipped pass would result in an interception by the Jaguars’ Telvin Smith. Fortunately for the Colts, the Blake Bortles led offense wasn’t able to capitalize on the turnover, as they were forced to punt on the ensuing possession. The lead would shrink by 3 more points on the next Jacksonville possession however, as Josh Lambo keyed in from long distance, and knocked a 55 yarder through the uprights. The next Indianapolis possession made Colts fans cringe, as Adam Vinatieri would have a rare miss in clutch time. Vinatieri shanked a 52 yarder wide right, and set up the Jaguars offense in excellent field position to stage an upset.
By this point in the game, the Jaguars offense was riding a wave of momentum, and moving quickly into scoring position. Inside two minutes, Blake Bortles completed a pass to wide receiver Rashad Greene, and suddenly magic happened. Cornerback Kenny Moore III, who had himself quite the day with two pass deflections, was able to rip the ball out of Greene’s hands at the last moment. A play that was initially called a reception and down by contact, was reviewed and showed Greene losing possession just before his knee hit the turf. Safety Malik Hooker pounced on top of the ball, as the Indianapolis defense made a clutch, game saving turnover. A few kneel downs later, and the Colts survived for their 3rd straight victory 29-26.
Keys to victory:
Fast start: The Indianapolis offense was able to keep Jacksonville on their heels for the entire first half. Finding multiple broken coverages that led to big chunk plays, the Indy offense sprinted out to a 16 point lead at one point.
Offensive line: For the fourth consecutive week, Andrew Luck has not taken a sack. This has been a breath of fresh air for Colts fans who saw the Colts give up a league high 56 sacks last year. Indy currently ranks 2nd in sacks allowed (10), just behind the New Orleans Saints with 9. Clearly, the choice to pick left guard Quenton Nelson at #6 overall is paying dividends. Nelson is looking like he’ll be a perennial all-pro.
Clutch defense: Blake Bortles found a way to be pretty consistent against this Colts defense. His final stat line was 26/38, 320 yards, 2 touchdowns, and no interceptions. So, what’s one of the best ways to stop an effective passer? Force turnovers on the receivers. The Indianapolis defense clawed and scratched at the ball all day with no success, but their persistence payed off late, as wide receiver Rashad Greene lost control of the ball deep in Indianapolis territory and cornerback Kenny Moore III forced a turnover on the play of the game.
Things to work on:
Stay consistent for 4 quarters: A great first half was nearly just that, because the Colts offense was stymied in the second. Two punts, an interception, and a missed field goal in the second half gave Jacksonville a fighting chance. A win is a win, but if Indy hopes to keep the streak going and make a playoff push, they’ll need to have the, “obsession to finish” that head coach Frank Reich has preached since training camp.
Kicking game: I don’t know what’s up with Adam Vinatieri lately, but he doesn’t seem himself. A case of the yips? Injury? Old age? At any rate, he hasn’t been as clutchy as in years past. With the playoffs looming, and many teams competing for a wildcard spot, a missed kick could mean not playing playoff football in January.
Rookie Mistakes: Momentum is a very real thing in football. It energizes fans and players alike. So, when a rare blocked and returned extra point happens, you get pumped! However, when that same return is called back for an unnecessary low block, you scream at your television, because that penalty wiped out a 3 point swing on the scoreboard. If the Colts want to be a playoff team, they need to play smart in all three phases (offense, defense, and special teams).
Next week, another divisional opponent comes to Indianapolis. The Tennessee Titans are coming off an impressive dismantling of the New England Patriots 34-10. The Titans have the top ranked defense In points against (16.8), and rank in the top 10 in several other defensive categories. The good news for the Colts, is that the Titans offense ranks in the bottom 3 in most categories. This team is built a lot like the Jaguars, and will be another tough matchup for this Indianapolis team. Kickoff is scheduled for 1pm eastern time next Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
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