INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts today defeated the the Jacksonville Jaguars, 29-26, at Lucas Oil Stadium.
What's top of mind for the Colts as they improve to 4-5 on the season?
It was truly a "tale of two halves," but in this instance, the Colts weren't ultimately doomed either way. Indy couldn't have asked for a better start on Sunday against the defending AFC South Division champs, jumping out to a 29-16 halftime lead. When playing a team like the Jaguars, who are so predicated on getting out to a lead and unleashing their defense to close it out, the Colts were able to avoid that narrative. But Indy would get just two first downs combined in the second half, and Jacksonville, of course, would begin chipping into the lead. One unanswered touchdown and field goal later, and Indy was clinging to a 29-26 advantage — and Jacksonville was driving again late, trying to either tie or take the lead for good. But good teams find ways to dig in and make game-changing plays, and the Colts have gotten that the last two games out of their defense. This time cornerback Kenny Moore II forced a fumble on the driving Jaguars, who had gotten as close as the Indy 25-yard line, and it was recovered by Malik Hooker to seal the game. Indy is now winners of three straight and, after starting the season with a 1-5 record, have a chance to get to .500 — and surpass last year's win total — if they're able to take care of business against the Tennessee Titans next week.
Eric Ebron has more than proven that he was a solid free agent pickup this past spring. He's spent the entire season among the league leaders of all tight ends in receptions, yards and, especially, touchdowns. That was certainly still the case early in Sunday's game against the Jaguars, when he became the beneficiary of busted coverage to log a 53-yard touchdown reception on Indy's first drive of the ballgame. But Frank Reich had something up his sleeve when it came to Ebron later in the first quarter. Jacksonville tied the game at 7 with an 80-yard touchdown strike from Blake Bortles to former Colt Donte Moncrief, but on the ensuing possession, the Colts were able to punch right back, getting to the Jacksonville 2-yard line thanks to a 35-yard throw to T.Y. Hilton and a 27-yard throw to Mo Alie-Cox. On 3rd and Goal from the 2, Reich called a jet sweep — usually reserved for a wide receiver — but this time it was Ebron in motion from right to left, and the tight end took the handoff into the end zone for his second-career rushing touchdown. For good measure, Ebron would bust open for another 12-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter. What a pickup by the Colts.
PLAY OF THE GAME
By midway through the fourth quarter, Jacksonville had disposed of Indianapolis' comfortable halftime lead. And as the game approached, and passed, the two-minute warning, the Jaguars were putting themselves in position to not only potentially tie the game and force overtime, but possibly even punch the ball into the end zone and fly home with a divisional win. But for a second straight game, the Colts' defense was able to dig in and find a game-changing play late after having struggled for much of the rest of the contest. On Sunday, it was cornerback Kenny Moore II, who stripped Rashad Greene Sr. at the Indianapolis 25-yard line with less than two minutes left. The ball was scooped up by safety Malik Hooker, and after a review — the officials initially ruled Greene Sr. was down — the call was reversed. Fumble. Colts ball. Colts win. Linebacker Darius Leonard made a similar play late in the Week 8 game against the Oakland Raiders, helping seal a win, and this time it was the second-year corner Moore II sending the home crowd into a frenzy.
The Colts were excited about the prospects of defensive tackle/end Tyquan Lewis when they selected him in the second round of this year's NFL Draft, but had to put those feelings on hold when he suffered a toe injury just before the first preseason game, and had to be put on injured reserve once the regular season started. But the team always believed Lewis would be back sometime later in the season, and, accordingly, he was placed back on the active roster on Friday. But with fellow rookie Kemoko Turay dealing with a neck injury and inactive on Sunday, it was Lewis who was not only making his NFL debut against the Jaguars — he was starting at defensive end. Lewis didn't disappoint, racking up three tackles and also making perhaps the second-biggest defensive play of the game, when he got to quarterback Blake Bortles early in the fourth quarter and forced an errant pass, leading to a punt. Lewis was effective on Sunday in his first-ever NFL game — think what he can do with a little bit more experience behind him?
WHAT WENT RIGHT:
• How about that first half of football for the Colts' offense? Indy put up 29 points largely by attacking a solid Jacksonville defense through the air. In the first two quarters, Andrew Luck completed 16-of-20 passes for 217 yards and three scores for a QB rating of 151.5, as head coach Frank Reich was dialing up successful play after successful play — ones that oftentimes led to his receivers being wide open. With the run game not quite clicking has it had been the last two games, when the Colts got up to at least 200 yards rushing in wins over the Buffalo Bills and the Oakland Raiders, Luck was able to put the offense on his shoulders, and while the second half wasn't a very successful period for this unit, it was just enough to get a win.
• How about those tight ends — again? In the Colts' last game, Week 8 against the Raiders, Indy became the first team in NFL history to have three tight ends catch touchdown passes in the same game. They had two different tight ends catch touchdown passes on Sunday — in the first half. Eric Ebron caught two touchdowns (and ran for another), while Mo Alie-Cox caught a touchdown for a second straight game. Is there a better collection of offensive talent at the tight end position than in Indianapolis? If so, send that unit my way.
• While Bortles had another superb performance, the Colts bottled up the Jaguars' potentially potent run game. Leonard Fournette, the Jaguars' first-round (fourth-overall) pick last year, had missed five games with a hamstring injury, but made his return on Sunday against the Colts, and found an Indy defense that was ready for him. Fournette did have a rushing touchdown — from one yard out — but finished with 24 carries for 53 yards in all, an average of 2.2 yards per carry. The Jaguars as a team had 34 carries for 91 yards — 2.7 yards per carry.
WHAT WENT WRONG:
• Simply put: the second half of the game. On offense, the Colts had just two first downs total over the course of the final two quarters (both of the passing variety) after having 15 first downs during the first and second quarters (11 passing and four rushing, and two from penalties). On defense, Indy allowed 191 total yards in the second half, as the Jaguars essentially had their way during most of the critical junctures, including on third down, when they converted 7-of-12 attempts.
• Missed tackling was an issue at junctures throughout Sunday's game for the Colts' defense. While Bortles and the Jacksonville offense seemed fine with dinking and dunking for most of the game, they would still get yards in big chunks, largely due to missed tackles; 31 yards to Leonard Fournette, 20 yards to T.J. Yeldon, 17 yards to James O'Shaughnessy, 17 yards to Fournette and 16 yards to Blake Bell. Tackling has actually been a strength of the Colts' defense for most of the season, so consider this an anomaly for now.
• Dropped passes really hurt the Colts at times during their three-game losing streak earlier in the season, but that all seemed to go away, for the most part, during the team's recent rise. But the problem reared its ugly head once again on Sunday, as two drops in particular — one by running back Nyheim Hines, and another by Mo Alie-Cox — really seemed to hurt (the bobble by Alie-Cox led to an interception that, had the Colts' defense not put the clamps down on the ensuing drive, really could've stung). Liked the missed tackles, however, there's no real cause for concern here; it's just something to note about this particular game.
— Just two players, both on the defensive side of the ball, exited Sunday's game with injuries, one of whom was able to return. Defensive end Carroll Phillips did not return with a groin injury, while defensive tackle Grover Stewart suffered an ankle injury but went back into the game. Reich next addresses the media during his weekly Monday conference call.
The Colts, as they will all November, stay at home next Sunday, when they play host to yet another divisional foe, the Tennessee Titans, at Lucas Oil Stadium. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. The game will be a pivotal midseason bout as it pertains to the AFC playoff picture, as Tennessee will come into the matchup just ahead of Indy with a 5-4 record. The Titans, who started off with a 3-0 record this season before dropping their next four games, come into next Sunday's game winners of two straight. Today, they blew out the defending AFC champion New England Patriots, 34-10, in Nashville. The Titans have the league's 30th-best offense (299 yards per game), but the seventh-best defense (328 yards allowed per game).