Who better to end the Colts' seven-game away losing streak to the Jacksonville Jaguars than one of the guys responsible for it?
Gardner Minshew isn't looking at the Colts' Week 6 matchup with the Jaguars at EverBank Stadium as a revenge game two years after Jacksonville traded him to the Philadelphia Eagles. The motivation on Sunday for Minshew and the Colts isn't to beat the Jaguars because they shipped him away, or because the Colts haven't won in northeast Florida since 2014.
The motivation is simple: Beat the Jaguars and gain control of the AFC South a third of the way through the season.
"The guys knows the stakes of the game," defensive tackle DeForest Buckner said.
Minshew is responsible for two of the Colts' seven consecutive losses in Jacksonville: First was a 38-20 win to end the 2019 season and second was a 27-20 win to open the 2020 season. Minshew completed 46 of 59 passes for 468 yards with six touchdowns, one interception and a passer rating of 126.6 in those two starts; he went 19/20 in that 2020 season opener, which was the Jaguars' only win of the season.
Ask around the locker room on 56th Street about Minshew and you'll hear his teammates say how happy they are to have him in Indianapolis – and not because of what he did to the Colts in the past. Minshew has endeared himself to his teammates through proving to be an ultra-competitive, highly-prepared, fiery-yet-chill guy who's helped deliver wins over the Houston Texans, Baltimore Ravens and Tennessee Titans.
"We've got all the confidence in him," linebacker Shaquille Leonard said. "We're going to stand behind him and let him know he's not out there alone."
The Colts lost, 31-21, to the Jaguars in Week 1, but plenty has changed since that season opener. Minshew is stepping in for rookie Anthony Richardson, who sustained an AC joint injury to his right (throwing) shoulder against the Titans and was placed on injured reserve this week, meaning he'll miss a minimum of four games.
The entire Colts' backfield will be different, too: Deon Jackson, Evan Hull and Jake Funk combined for 25 yards on 15 carries in Week 1; none are on the 53-man roster for Week 6 (Hull is on injured reserve, while Jackson and Funk were both waived). In their place are Zack Moss (the NFL's third-leading rusher), Jonathan Taylor (the NFL's leading rusher in 2021) and Trey Sermon (who was signed to the 53-man roster in September).
The Colts this week ramped up Taylor's workload in practice after he played 10 of 66 snaps in his 2023 debut last weekend; Moss, meanwhile, rumbled for 165 yards on 23 carries with two touchdowns against the Titans.
"You've got two really good backs," head coach Shane Steichen said. "Obviously, Zack is running at a high level and getting JT back with his explosive ability – to use both those guys in the backfield will be good. Then the offensive line, the way they are playing right now, they are gelling. We're going into Week 6 but we've got to continue gelling and keep playing together."
|Pro Football Focus' highest-graded offensive lines, Weeks 1-5|
There will also be some differences on the defensive side of the ball for the Colts in Week 6 compared to Week 1, specifically both starting outside corners. Dallis Flowers sustained a season-ending Achilles injury in Week 4, while second-round rookie JuJu Brents stepped in for Darrell Baker Jr. beginning in Week 3. With Flowers out, seventh-round rookie Jaylon Jones got the nod in Week 5; both rookies will be tasked with defending a surgical Jaguars passing attack highlighted by quarterback Trevor Lawrence's connection with wide receiver Calvin Ridley (22 receptions, 333 yards, two touchdowns).
"This is a really, really good receiving core," defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. "They've got multiple ways to hurt you in the passing game. So, it will be a great challenge for them. So it's a whole new set of issues that come up and it's that preparation part. They've got to study the receivers. I think one thing is studying the scheme and that's what DBs do. They study the scheme, but for corners it's also the types of releases, the style of routes they run. So it's that individual time that they need to spend watching the receivers that I think we have to keep building with those younger guys."
A common thread between everyone but Taylor here – Minshew, Moss, Brents and Jones – is they've never played for the Colts in Jacksonville. Steichen has never coached the Colts in Jacksonville. Zaire Franklin has never led the NFL in tackles heading into a road game against the Jaguars. The list goes on.
Sunday's game, then, is not about ending a streak. It's not about avenging Minshew's career there.
It's about the Colts continuing to establish their identity as one of the NFL's toughest, most physical teams.
And it's about the Colts wrestling away nascent control of the AFC South from the defending division champions.
"It's a new week, new situation, new team," Franklin said. "I don't care about what it was. I only care about what it is."