INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts improved to 4-5 on the season Sunday with their 29-26 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars at Lucas Oil Stadium.
For a second straight game, the Colts jumped out to a hot start; by halftime, they had built a 29-16 lead, putting them in prime position to close the door in the second half against the defending AFC South Division champions. But the Jaguars (3-6) put the clamps down on defense in the second half, and started chipping away at the lead, getting a touchdown and a field goal to not only pull within three points, but to be in position with less than two minutes to go to possibly send the game into overtime or even get in the end zone and fly home with a come-from-behind-win.
Any chances of a disastrous finish were squashed, however, when cornerback Kenny Moore II reached in and pulled the ball out of the grasp of Rashad Green Sr. at the Indy 25-yard line, which was recovered by safety Malik Hooker and sealed a divisional victory — the Colts' third straight win overall.
"We were doing everything right offensively in the first half. You know, it was a bunch of yards and a bunch of points, and then in the second half offensively we just couldn't get into rhythm," Colts head coach Frank Reich told reporters after the game. "A couple miscues here and there, just a lack of execution. We've got to be better and we've got to learn from it. The defense came up big. The defense came up big. They slowed them down in the second half and obviously got the huge turnover at the end, so I can't say enough about the defensive effort to hold us in as an offense there at the end for a good team win."
Here are the FIVE THINGS LEARNED from Sunday's victory over the Raiders:
• IDEAL START: The Jaguars proved last year just how dangerous they can be if given a lead, as they were able to pin their ears back defensively against the Colts and sacked quarterback Jacoby Brissett 10 times in a 27-0 demoralizing victory in Indy last season. That wouldn't be the case — at all — on Sunday, however, as the Indy offense was humming from the start, scoring touchdowns on four first-half possessions and jumping out to a 29-16 halftime lead. Andrew Luck was on fire in the first half, completing 16-of-20 passes for 217 yards and three touchdowns, as the Indy tight ends, especially, were causing fits for a talented Jacksonville secondary (more on that later). The defense could've been a little tighter for the Colts, as the Jaguars were able to score two touchdowns in the first two quarters and then knock in a key field goal just before the end of the half, but it's hard to really harshly criticize any aspect when you're up 13 points going into the break.
• SECOND HALF STUMBLE: The flip side of Sunday's game for the Colts was the second half, as Indy seemingly couldn't get anything going on offense — it had just two first downs over the final two quarters — and Jacksonville was able to slowly chip away at the lead, getting a touchdown and a field goal to pull as close as three points late before Moore II was able to make the game-changing play to seal the win. The silver lining for the Colts, however, is that back in Week 1 against the Cincinnati Bengals, they led, again, by 13 points in the second half, before seeing Cincinnati go on a 24-0 run to escape Lucas Oil Stadium with a 34-23 win. That wouldn't be the case this time around, as perhaps Indy's mission to have an "obsession to finish" is starting to take shape. "We've got to execute," Reich said. "We've got to play four quarters. We've got to be more consistent. But thankfully we were good enough early on to score, to score enough points."
• E-E-E-BRON: Eric Ebron's career year continues. After signing with the Colts as a free agent this offseason, the hope was that he'd be able to bring his unique blend of speed, size and power to the tight end position in Reich's innovative offense, and that's exactly how the first nine games have panned out for the former first-round pick — and then some. On Sunday against the Jaguars, Ebron got his day started with a 53-yard touchdown reception in which he broke wide open, shedded the only tackler in his way and dove all-out into the pylon in the front corner of the end zone. Then Reich called Ebron's number on a nifty little jet sweep play, where Luck handed the ball off to Ebron for a two-yard rushing touchdown, the second such play of his career. And the cherry on top was another play in which Ebron broke open over the top in the end zone for a 12-yard touchdown reception. Ebron now ranks sixth among all NFL tight ends in receptions (39) and receiving yards (463) and is first in receiving touchdowns (9), three more than second-place Travis Kelce.
• TOP-NOTCH PROTECTION: We mentioned that 10-sack outing by the Jaguars last season in Indy, which was a sore point for general manager Chris Ballard, who swore to do whatever he could from that juncture on to put together an offensive line that could compete against the best of the best. So the Colts took Quenton Nelson with the No. 6-overall pick to play left guard, and selected Braden Smith, who has settled in at right tackle, in the second round. The mainstays — left tackle Anthony Castonzo and Ryan Kelly — were already solid, and then when another addition, veteran free agent Matt Slauson, went down after Week 5, Mark Glowinski was tasked with taking over at right guard. Those five have been nothing short of the best offensive line in football over the past four games, and that theme carried over into Sunday's game against the Jaguars, who still have most of the same dangerous weapons that sacked Brissett 10 times last season. This time around? Zero sacks. Barely a sniff of Luck's jersey. What a turnaround. "I just think it's incredible we go another game without (allowing) a sack against that defense," Reich said. "I mean this offensive line is playing really well."
• NOTES OF INTEREST:
— Since 1988, the Colts are now 14-7 in games immediately following the bye week.
— Sunday's game represents the first time since 2012 (9/16-9/23) that the Colts scored a touchdown down on their first drive in back-to-back games.
— The Colts offense hasn't allowed a sack in four consecutive games and 185 pass attempts. It is the fourth time since sacks became an official stat in 1982 that the Colts have had four straight games without giving up a sack and the first since 2009 (9/27-10/25).
— Luck is now the third quarterback (Peyton Manning, Tom Brady) in NFL history to have six consecutive games with at least three touchdown passes in a single season. He's also thrown at least one touchdown pass in 32 straight games which is the longest active streak in the NFL.
— Jordan Wilkins had a 53-yard rush on his lone attempt. It is the longest run by a Colt since 12/18/11 when Donald Brown had an 80-yard touchdown run and the longest of Wilkins' career.
A fun look at the Colts celebrating a fumble recovery during the closing minutes of the Jaguars game. This gallery shows the celebration starting on the sideline and moving down the field to make a "Squad Photo" in the end zone!