INDIANAPOLIS — The last time the Jacksonville Jaguars took on the Indianapolis Colts, Nathaniel Hackett was calling the plays for their offense, Blake Bortles was at quarterback and Leonard Fournette was making his return to the backfield.
That was Nov. 11, when Indianapolis held off a late Jacksonville rally to earn a 29-26 divisional victory as Lucas Oil Stadium.
Since that time, the Jaguars have continued their free fall, as they were stunned by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the final seconds, losing 20-16, and then, last Sunday, saw their defense allow 327 yards of total offense to a rookie quarterback, Josh Allen, in their 24-21 loss to the Buffalo Bills.
This Sunday, the Colts travel to take on the Jaguars once again, but this time around, their AFC South Division rival will look significantly different — especially on the offensive side of the ball.
On Monday, head coach Doug Marrone fired Hackett, replacing him with quarterbacks coach Scott Milanovich.
Then, the team benched Bortles and named Cody Kessler its starting quarterback.
And, finally, the team learned that Fournette had been suspended one game by the league for his role in a fight with Bills defensive end Shaq Lawson last Sunday at New Era Field.
So when the Colts take the field against the Jaguars Sunday at TIAA Bank Field, they’ll be going up against a new offensive coordinator calling plays for a new quarterback and, potentially, a different starter at the running back position.
What a difference a couple weeks can make for a team that was on the brink of an appearance in the Super Bowl just last season.
Colts head coach Frank Reich on Monday talked about a couple of those major differences his team will be facing in his weekly apperance on “Colts Roundtable Live” on 1070 The Fan:
“It’s a tough part about this business,” Reich said about the firing of Hackett. “And I thought Nathaniel Hackett had done a very good job. I mean, last year I really respected the job that he did, and I’ve heard a lot of good things about him — I don’t know him personally, but I have a lot of respect for what he’s done as a coach.
“And then they make the move to Cody Kessler,” Reich continued. “You know, the year that Cody played in Cleveland, even though he didn’t win any games, I respected the way he played. I mean, this guy’s a legit quarterback, and we’ll have to be ready to go.”
The Jaguars (3-8), who have lost seven straight, hope Monday’s shakeups will give life to an offensive attack that has been among the league’s worst this season. Jacksonville ranks 28th in points scored, 22nd in yards, 27th in turnovers, 24th in first downs and 30th in percentage of drives ending in an offensive score.
Bortles, meanwhile, ranks 29th in the league among qualifying players in quarterback rating (81.9), and has just 13 passing touchdowns to 10 interceptions.
His replacement, Kessler, relieved Bortles back in Week 7 in their game against the Houston Texans, completing 21-of-30 passes for 156 yards with a touchdown and an interception. But the team went back to Bortles the next week against the Philadelphia Eagles.
In his three-year NFL career, Kessler has appeared in 13 games with eight starts — all of which came in his rookie season in 2016, when he went 0-8 with the Cleveland Browns — and has completed 160-of-248 passes for 1,662 yards with seven touchdowns to four picks.
Kessler isn’t as mobile as Bortles, though; he has just 14 career rushing attempts for 25 yards.
As for Fournette, there’s a chance he could appeal his suspension, which would allow him to play this Sunday against the Colts (ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports Fournette was, indeed, appealing today).
Fournette had perhaps his worst overall rushing performance of the season back in Week 10 against Indy, running 24 times for just 53 yards — an average of 2.2 yards per carry — with a touchdown, although he did have five receptions for 56 yards and a touchdown in the passing game.
While Reich doesn’t personally know the Jaguars’ former offensive coordinator, he’s very familiar with the new guy calling the plays.
“The guy who’s going to call plays, Scott Milanovich, is a good friend of mine,” Reich said Monday night. “And he’s a guy who actually I thought if I ever had a chance to be a head coach in the NFL, I’d want Scott Milanovich on my coaching staff, but unfortunately he was with Jacksonville when I got this job. But I have a lot of respect for Scott — he’s a really good coach.”
Milanovich also worked with Colts quarterbacks coach Marcus Brady with the Canadian Football League’s Montreal Alouettes (2009-2011) and Toronto Argonauts (2013-16).