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First Impressions: Colts Fall To The Jaguars

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) scrambles away from Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, right, during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Gary McCullough)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Indianapolis Colts today fell to the Jacksonville Jaguars, 6-0, at TIAA Bank Field.

What’s top of mind for the Colts as they fall to 6-6 on the season?

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

What a difference three weeks make.

On Nov. 11, the Colts played host to the Jaguars at Lucas Oil Stadium, and both teams, at various points of the ballgame, were able to move the ball up and down the field with relative ease. In the first half, the Colts jumped out to a 29-13 lead, and by the end of the ballgame, Jacksonville was working on a potential game-tying or game-winning drive when cornerback Kenny Moore II was able to force a fumble to save the day. The Colts won that battle, 29-26.

Sunday? Sunday was a whole different animal.

The Jaguars entered the game with all sorts of turmoil on the offensive side of the ball. On Monday alone, the team fired its offensive coordinator, took away the starting quarterback job from Blake Bortles and saw running back Leonard Fournette suspended for a game. That was on top of All-Pro guard Andrew Norwell going on injured reserve.

With Cody Kessler at quarterback, and a new playcaller in Nathaniel Hackett, nobody knew what to expect from that side of the ball from Jacksonville.

The defensive side of the ball, however — that’s always been the Jaguars’ bread and butter. And, boy, did that unit come to play on Sunday.

Perhaps still embarrassed from Indy’s 29-point first-half effort three weeks ago, the Jacksonville defense played like the “Sacksonville” group that led the team all the way to the AFC Championship Game last season. Their defensive front brought pressure all day, and their secondary was sticking to the Indy receivers like glue.

That theme was apparent from the first to the very last snap Sunday, as the Jaguars shut out the Colts, 6-0, to snap Indy’s win streak at five games.

REVEALING MOMENT

The Colts have been able to have a good amount of success on fourth-down attempts this season, but the Jaguars were certainly able to buck that trend on Sunday.

Indianapolis was 0-for-3 on fourth down, and here’s how the first two attempts broke down:

» Early in the second quarter, the Colts were gifted a first down at the Jacksonville 5-yard line after a roughing the long snapper penalty on what would’ve been a made field goal by Adam Vinatieri. But after two incomplete passes, Andrew Luck was able to find running back Nyheim Hines for a four-yard gain to the one. Wanting six in this situation instead of three, however, Frank Reich elected to go for it, but running back Jordan Wilkins was stuffed short of the goal line on a shovel pass play. Turnover on downs.

» On the Colts’ very next drive, which began with great field position at the Jaguars’ 40, Indy could only muster nine yards on their first three plays, and faced, again, a 4th and 1, this time at the Jacksonville 31. Luck attempted a handoff to tight end Eric Ebron, and he was not only stuffed, but he fumbled the ball while diving to try to make a play. Linebacker Myles Jack recovered it at his 40-yard line.

The third fourth-down attempt hurt the most, however.

The Colts finally looked like they were getting a little momentum on their side with a drive that started with 5:56 left in the fourth quarter at the Indy 27. But the Jacksonville defense tightened up once Indy got closer to the red zone.

On 3rd and 7, Luck found Ebron for a six-yard gain, setting up yet another 4th-and-1 attempt with 2:38 remaining. Luck, lined up under center for the first time in this nine-play drive, didn’t hand it off, and looked like he was trying to find a receiver to his right when safety Ronnie Harrison, who looked untouched off the left edge, brought the quarterback down for a huge sack and a turnover on downs.

The Colts did get one more shot with no timeouts left and 1:53 remaining, but after starting at their own 15-yard line, tight end Erik Swoope, the officials ruled, wasn’t able to completely get out of bounds on what ended up being the final play, as cornerback Jalen Ramsey brought him down to clinch a victory for the Jaguars.

UNSUNG HERO

We’ve heard about the quick-twitch ability of Denico Autry since he was signed as a free agent back in March, and he’s certainly showed it throughout several portions of this season. But injuries (he’s missed four games) have really kept Autry from really stringing together any sort of consistent play to this point.

But Autry certainly brought the noise on Sunday — and then some. The team’s starting three technique was a monster inside for the Colts’ defense line, registering seven tackles (three for a loss) with three sacks, four quarterback hits and two forced fumbles.

His first forced fumble came on the third play of the game from the Jaguars, as Carlos Hyde ran up the middle for a four-yard gain before Autry came in to punch the ball out, which was recovered by linebacker Anthony Walker at the Jacksonville 41-yard line.

His second forced fumble could’ve been huge for the Colts. With 9:54 left in the fourth quarter, Autry was able to bring Kessler down for his third sack of the day, and Kessler lost control of the ball at the Jaguars’ 32-yard line. But the quarterback was just able to reach out and get the ball back before Autry or any other defender could get to it, and the Jaguars would punt instead of have to face a Colts’ offense getting prime field position to try to take a lead.

Autry has had a solid first season in Indy. To this point, he has 29 tackles (nine for a loss) with 6.0 sacks, eight quarterback hits, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.

WHAT WENT RIGHT:

Honestly, not a lot to report here other than Autry’s big day. The Colts’ defense, in general, held up its end of the bargain, and never let Jacksonville get into the end zone. The Jaguars had just 211 net yards of offense — 132 through the air and 79 on the ground. Indy now has a takeaway in all 12 games this season, and came into Sunday one of just two teams to have earned a turnover in all of its contests so far.

WHAT WENT WRONG:

• It was tough sleddin’ for the Indy offense on Sunday. One of the best overall offensive attacks in football this season, the Colts couldn’t get anything going against the Jaguars, as Indy was held to just 265 net yards — 224 through the air and just 41 on the ground. The best team in the NFL on third down entering Sunday, the Colts were just 5-of-18 (28 percent) on Sunday; add the team’s 0-for-3 performance on fourth down into that equation, and it’s tough to win ballgames in that fashion. Indianapolis was 0-for-2 in the red zone and 0-for-1 in goal-to-goal situations. You have to capitalize on those, and the Colts just couldn’t do it today.

• The Colts’ offensive line is unquestionably better than it has been in years, but Jacksonville was able to bring some heat on Sunday. The Jaguars hit Luck nine total times and was credited with three total sacks. Indy still has allowed the second-fewest sacks in the league at 14 (the Saints have allowed an NFL-low 13), so they’ll hope this is just a blip on the radar against a really, really good defensive front.

• A couple penalties were absolute drive killers for the Colts on Sunday. On their first possession of the third quarter, Luck found wide receiver Ryan Grant for a seven-yard pickup to move the chains — but an offensive pass interference flag wiped that out, and two plays later, the Colts were punting. Later in the third quarter, Luck found wide receiver Zach Pascal, who made a terrific catch for 35 yards at the Jacksonville 40-yard line. Nope. Holding, offense, Evan Boehm. Indy would punt once again.

INJURY REPORT

— Linebacker Skai Moore was briefly out of Sunday’s game with a knee injury, but was able to return. Safety Mike Mitchell suffered a calf injury in the fourth quarter and he was later downgraded to out. Center Evan Boehm briefly left the game in the fourth quarter with a neck injury but returned. We’ll also wait to see if there is any sort of issue with wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, who was checked out on the field during the fourth quarter, but was able to quickly return after sitting out one play.

WHAT’S NEXT

Sunday’s loss to the Jaguars isn’t the end of the world for the Colts, but it certainly isn’t helpful for a team hoping to keep stacking up wins and earn a playoff spot down the stretch. With the Baltimore Ravens winning today and the Colts losing, Baltimore officially can lock in as the sixth and final spot in the playoff race (for now), so Indy is on the outside looking in. But a win next Sunday against the Texans could do wonders for the Colts. If you’ll recall, the Texans defeated the Colts 37-34 in overtime back in Week 4, which ignited Houston’s current nine-game winning streak after starting the season 0-3. The Texans today easily took care of the Cleveland Browns, 29-13, but the Colts will perhaps be the most inspired team they’ll play all season as they try to keep applying the pressure — if not for a shot at the division, at least to stay alive in the hunt for the playoffs.

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