The game started off about as bad as Jacksonville could imagine with left tackle Cam Robinson suffering an injury. That didn’t stop Bortles from getting a first down to Allen Hurns on third down but it was something to keep an eye on as the games moved forward.
Hint: If the first half is any indication, Robinson didn’t make any difference at all.
On a key third and short play, the same kind of penalties and mistakes I mentioned in the keys to the game started to rear their ugly head. Instead of a first down close to midfield, Antonio Morrison was called for a face mask penalty that awarded the Jaguars with a spot well into Colts territory. As so often happens, this mistake led to a big play to Marcedes Lewis, followed by a completed pass to Marqise Lee that was dangerously close to being fumbled out of the end zone.
Chuck Pagano chose to not challenge the call. The Jags used Chris Ivory to punch the ball in for a touchdown. Jacksonville led early 7-0.
The Colts started their first offensive drive with a nice seven-yard run up the middle for Frank Gore. The next play was a first down run by Gore that then lost yards due to a personal foul on Kamar Aiken for unnecessary roughness. A scramble by Jacoby Brissett was followed up by another run to Gore to setup a third down and five. Brissett missed T.Y. Hilton and Indianapolis had to punt the ball back to the Jaguars.
Hint: Remember the key of limiting mistakes and costly penalties?
Rather than pinning Jacksonville inside the 20 yard line, Aiken’s unnecessary roughness penalty allowed the Jaguars to start their second offensive drive on the 30 yard line.
Jacksonville used the comfort of their lead and reasonably good field position to take a shot over the top to Keelan Cole for 52 yards. Notably, Chris Milton was in the game to cover the deep receiver instead of Rashaan Melvin — who suffered a concussion.
Repeat: the Colts best cornerback left the game.
HINT: It would have been really nice to have Quincy Wilson active for this exact situation.
The Jags were setup on the Colts 18-yard line with a wide open playbook. Milton was quick to make his presence felt again by getting called for a penalty for illegal contact that setup Jacksonville with a first and goal on the five yard line. With Indianapolis back on its heels, it was easy for Bortles to take another shot to Mercedes Lewis on a corner fade who used his height advantage over Matthias Farley to put the Jaguars up 14-0.
Hey, it’s a good thing that Milton is a special teams super star. It’s not like having him come in instead of Quincy Wilson might possibly result in giving up a long touchdown or in committing a penalty that played a big role in allowing the Jags to get a healthy lead in the first quarter. Right?
Indianapolis started their second offensive drive with a quick pass to T.Y. Hilton for a first down. Rookie running back Marlon Mack took his first carry for another first down. A false start penalty cost the Colts some field position and setup a first and 15.
The offense continued to insist on lining up Mack out wide. Brissett threw to him for a telegraphed wide receiver screen that was blown up for a loss of 2 yards. Frank Gore entered the game on second and very long to pick up a 3 yard gain up the middle. For the first time, Chester Rogers made an appearance in 2017 for the Colts catching a pass for a first down on 3rd and 14..
Indianapolis remained balanced by handing the ball off to Gore for a four yard gain on first down but the Colts stayed predictable by running Marlon Mack right back up the middle for a one yard loss. Brissett took a sack on third and seven after continuing his habit of holding onto the football for way too long.
Starting on their own 9 yard line, the Jaguars ran up the middle for one yard, completed a pass for 7 and then Bortles targeted Cole for a first down. Another big play ripped up the Colts defense off of a Bortles screen pass. Luckily for the Colts, some ridiculously unnecessary play-calling by the Jaguars — clearly had no respect for the Colts defense — led to a field goal. Jaguars lead 17-0.
John Simon went to the sideline on the drive.
The Colts offense showed no signs of life on the ensuing drive. On a third and short, after a completed pass to Kamar Aiken and a run by Frank Gore, Indianapolis predictably ran Gore up the middle for a loss. This led to another first half punt.
HINT: Balance on offense doesn’t mean predictability. It’s about not being predictable.
The Jaguars gave Indy’s special teams a gift with a block in the back on the punt. Then, Jacksonville made a mistake and were called for a holding penalty put them inside their own 10-yard line. T.J. Yeldon ripped off a long run to create a third and eight.
Blake Bortles used the comfort of his 17 point lead to stand tall in the pocket and fire to Allen Hurns for another huge play. If that wasn’t bad enough, a nasty block thrown on the sideline against rookie safety Malik Hooker — who was trying to force Hurns out of bounds — led to a knee injury that did not look good.
The Colts defensive play-makers continued to go down.
Another passing play to Marqise Lee led to a first down against a defense that wasn’t sure if it wanted to make a tackle. The Jaguars stalled out in the red zone and had to settle for a field goals. Jags lead 20-0.
The Colts next drive nearly got Jacoby Brissett hurt, included a dropped pass by Marlon Mack, and a desperation throwaway on third down. A punt put the Jaguars back around their own 10 yard line.
The last thing the Colts could afford is to allow another score. The first play was an easy completion for 20 yards. Indianapolis needed to stop chunk plays to hold the Jaguars out of field goal range. Instead, on cue, the defense gave up an easy pass on a crossing route and allowed Marqise Lee to gain 45 yards, putting Jacksonville in field goal range with plenty of time to take more shots for a touchdown.
Thankfully, Henry Anderson picked up a sack fumble to gain possession and save the extra first half score. This was the only meaningfully positive defensive play of the entire half.
Of course, this still put the ball back to an anemic Colts offense who did nothing other than have Brissett slide to avoid a sack, then take a sack with no one able to get open down the field to close out the first half.
The Jaguars took in a 20-0 lead into the half that felt more like a 40-0 lead.