INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts moved to 0-1 on the year Sunday with their 27-20 road loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in their 2020 regular season opener at TIAA Bank Field.
The Colts were rolling early — on the brink of a two-touchdown lead late in the first quarter after driving right down the field on their opening drive and getting into the end zone and then forcing a Jaguars punt on their opening drive.
But running back Nyheim Hines would be stuffed on a 4th-and-1 rushing attempt from the Jacksonville 3-yard line, giving the host Jaguars life.
An unfortunate mix of miscues in all three phases from there would ultimately doom the Colts, who hope for a better result this Sunday in their 2020 home opener against the Minnesota Vikings.
"Obviously, (it was) a disappointing loss," Colts head coach Frank Reich said after the game. "You have to get your team ready to play and ready to execute. We didn't get that done today. The way we came out and went right down the field, I thought it was going to be a good day. It's a 60-minute game and we just didn't get that done."
Here are the FIVE THINGS LEARNED from Sunday's loss to the Jaguars:
» QUICK START: You couldn't ask for a better start to the game if you're the Colts, who quickly went 63 yards in seven plays on their opening drive, as Hines found the end zone on a 12-yard touchdown run. The defense responded by forcing a punt on the Jaguars' opening drive, and then the Colts drove deep into Jacksonville territory once again. "It felt like, almost, we were moving the ball at will," Reich said. "It felt like we couldn't be stopped on offense, I really felt that way." Indy was staring a potential 14-0 lead in the face when quarterback Philip Rivers, making his Colts debut after 16 seasons with the San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers, found wide receiver Zach Pascal for a gain of six to set up 3rd and 4 from the 6-yard line, but Rivers would quickly lament the fact he didn't instead connect with tight end Jack Doyle for what he said was a sure touchdown instead. Two plays later, Hines would be stuffed on that aforementioned 4th-and-1 run play from the 3, and now all of a sudden the momentum had shifted sides. And after three total tied scores and five lead changes, the Colts were ultimately unable to figure out a way match their strong start with a similar end to force overtime, as their final drive of the day resulted in a turnover on downs.
» RED ZONE ISSUES: Offensively, the Colts' issues on Sunday can be attributed to a couple of key areas, including untimely penalties and other issues within the red zone, as well as a couple momentum-killing turnovers. The Indy offense — which ranked seventh in the NFL in red zone touchdown scoring percentage last year (64.29) — entered the red zone five different times throughout the game, but would end up scoring touchdowns on just two of those opportunities. In one instance midway through the third quarter, an illegal formation call wiped out a Jonathan Taylor eight-yard run to the Jacksonville 4-yard line; instead of 2nd and 2 from the 4, the Colts faced 1st and 15 from the 17; four plays later, Rodrigo Blankenship's 30-yard field goal attempt banged off the left upright. Early in the fourth quarter, with the game tied at 17, the Colts had reached the Jaguars' 14-yard line, and Taylor ran for six yards, this time inside the 10-yard line. But an illegal crackback call on tight end Jack Doyle turned a 2nd-and-4 from the 8 opportunity into 1st and 25 from the 29; this time, Blankenship would eventually hit a 25-yard field goal, but those two drives, coupled with the earlier turnover on downs on 4th and 1 from the 3-yard line, ended up making a huge difference in the end. The Jaguars were also able to capitalize on Rivers' two interceptions, turning them into 10 points. "Ultimately it came down to we turned it over and we had penalties in the red zone," Rivers said. "Twenty-seven first downs and 450 net yards, you'd usually feel pretty good about that, but if you kill yourself and turn it over, then you can be beat 27-20, whatever it ended up. I think that's what it was."
» COMMUNICATION BREAKDOWN: The Colts' defense played extremely well in spurts last season, but struggled at times down the stretch, particularly in coverage, as some communication issues in the secondary allowed for some big plays over the top. Sunday's opener against the Jaguars seemed like a microcosm of Indy's entire defensive performance from the 2019 season; the unit played very well at times, but with a opposing quarterback more than willing to take what he's given to connect on open looks on the shorter and more intermediate routes, coupled with some miscommunication in the back end on some of Jacksonville's bigger pass attempts, there were lots of teaching moments for the Colts' defense heading into Week 2. Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew II was almost perfect on the day, finishing an extremely efficient 19-of-20 passing for 173 yards with three touchdowns to no interceptions. On his first touchdown throw to DJ Chark Jr., the Pro Bowl wide receiver somehow snuck in behind cornerback T.J. Carrie and safety Khari Willis in the back corner of the end zone. Then, with 6:04 left in the fourth quarter and the Colts clinging to a 20-17 lead, wide receiver Keelan Cole somehow sprinted uncovered across the field and was wide open for a 22-yard touchdown reception that gave the Jaguars a lead they would not relinquish; the nearest defender on that play was cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who was about 10 yards away from the receiver when the pass was delivered. "I'm frustrated because you know what type of team we are, you know what type of team we have, you know the type of players we have in this locker room," Colts linebacker Darius Leonard said. "Like I said it doesn't matter what you have on paper, you have to find a way to get the job done. I know especially defensively, we had too many miscues, too many mistakes."
» MACK INJURED: The Colts entered the season with one of the league's top rushing attacks; not only was the team returning starter Marlon Mack, who was coming off his first-career 1,000-yard rushing season, as well as the dynamic Nyheim Hines and key backup Jordan Wilkins, on top of the return of every single starting offensive lineman, but the Colts also used a second-round pick this year to select Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor, who finished as the sixth all-time leading rusher in NCAA history. Mack was rolling once again to begin Sunday's opener against the Jaguars, with four rushing attempts for 26 yards (6.5 avg.) and three receptions for 30 yards by midway through the second quarter, when he went down clutching his foot after hauling in a short pass attempt over the middle from Rivers. He was initially ruled questionable to return with an ankle injury and then downgraded to out, and Reich confirmed after the game that Mack had actually suffered an Achilles injury and that he'll undergo further tests to determine its severity. If Mack has to miss a significant amount of time, the Colts are confident in the group they have at the position moving forward, but it would certainly be disappointing nonetheless for a guy like Mack, who has been an ideal leader for the position group and certainly has just continued to ascend each season since being selected by the Colts in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
» NOTES OF INTEREST:
— Hines added an eight-yard touchdown reception from Rivers in the second quarter. He is the first player to have a rushing touchdown and receiving touchdown in the same game since Eric Ebron did it against Jacksonville in Week 10 of 2018. Hines is just the fifth Colt and the second in the Indianapolis era to record at least one rushing touchdown and one receiving touchdown in Week 1 of the regular season.
— Taylor finished with nine carries for 22 yards as well as six receptions for 67 yards in his Colts debut. He is only the second Colts running back in team history to record more than 60 receiving yards in Week 1 (Ahmad Bradshaw, 2014).
— Rivers made his first career start with Indianapolis and his 225th consecutive start in the NFL. He is the current leader among active players in consecutive starts.