Indianapolis had a nightmare performance to continue its near decade-long curse in Jacksonville with a 37-20 blowout loss to the Jaguars.
Before getting trounced Sunday, the Colts entered Week 6 tied for the division lead in the AFC South. Colts quarterback Gardner Minshew struggled with four turnovers, including a career-worst three interceptions in his horrific return to Jacksonville. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Minshew recorded the fifth-fewest intended air yards (7.4) in the early slate of games, finishing with a career-high 33 completions on 55 passing attempts.
Sunday’s loss was more depleting when looking forward rather than considering two of the Colts three losses are against the Jaguars. Despite delivering a season-high 310 net passing yards, Minshew was a limited threat with his legs or ability to throw downfield and the Jaguars scored 17 points off his turnovers. It is clear the floor for the Colts offense is lower when Minshew drops back 60 times in a single game.
Minshew orchestrated a 16-play opening drive, completing each of his first nine pass attempts by committing to his first read and feeding his receivers on short routes. Colts head coach Shane Steichen gambled at midfield and Minshew threw a bubble in the backfield to Zack Moss to convert fourth down.
Steichen’s nickel and dime script took 8:33 off the game clock and set up a 28-yard field goal made by Matt Gay. He later drilled a 56-yard field goal before halftime, his fifth consecutive make as a Colt from 50-plus yards out.
The Colts failed to establish a ground attack as Zack Moss and Jonathan Taylor combined to rush for 40 yards on 15 carries. In two games against the Jaguars, five Colts tailbacks totaled just 65 rushing yards on 31 carries, averaging just two yards per rush. Indianapolis’ next three drives ended with one fumble, followed by consecutive three-and-out possessions to take just 3:45 off the game clock. Jacksonville scored two touchdowns on its first 14 offensive plays of the game.
After Colts defensive end Samson Ebukam stuffed a trick play to set up fourth and short, Doug Pederson gambled on fourth down during Jacksonville’s opening drive. Travis Etienne rushed for a first down and tied the game with a touchdown after a pair of neutral zone infractions committed by DeForest Buckner and Dayo Odeyingbo allowed the Jaguars to move the sticks twice without running a play.
On the first play of the second quarter, Lawrence ran play action and found tight end Brenton Strange in the flat for a 19-yard gain to place the offense at the 2-yard line. Etienne scored on the next play to tie the game at 7-7 less than one minute into the second quarter.
On the next play from scrimmage, Jaguars linebacker Josh Allen blitzed and strip-sacked Minshew from behind, allowing Jaguars’ defensive end Angelo Blackson to recover the fumble and regain possession. On the Jaguars next play from scrimmage, Etienne faked the handoff out of wildcat formation and dashed right for a 22-yard TD to take the lead with just 16 seconds taken off the game clock.
Indianapolis’ most explosive play of the first half started with Taylor positioned out wide. Minshew motioned Taylor inside and connected on a drag route to gain 40 yards and drive inside Jaguars territory.
“It was good,” Steichen said. “It was a third-down play, caught in man coverage. He caught it and ran across the field to a man and hit a big one for a big play there.”
Minshew regretted his next two throws as Josh Downs and Michael Pittman Jr. routes wound up at the same spot on the field. Minshew sailed the errant throw into traffic, allowing Jaguars safety Andre Cisco to pick it off.
Steichen elected to use two of his timeouts, allowing Jacksonville to save its timeouts while Lawrence worked the Colts young secondary. The Colts dropped back deep in Cover 3, but rookie cornerback JuJu Brents had his eyes in the backfield and aimed to attack the screen, conceding a 29-yard TD to Christian Kirk to extend the Jaguars lead to 21-3.
On the Colts first drive of the second half, Minshew overthrew his intended target across the middle for his second interception to Jaguars safety Rayshawn Jenkins, who returned the pick inside Colts territory to set up a 48-yard field goal made by Brandon McManus. Minshew later lofted a jump ball in the end zone that Jaguars cornerback Darius Williams was able to haul in like a routine fly ball for his third interception.
Alec Pierce came down with a contested catch to convert a desperation fourth-&-7, but later left the game with a shoulder injury. On the next play, Minshew delivered his first deep ball down the sideline to Pittman for a 40-yard gain to drive inside the red zone. On fourth-&-goal early in the fourth quarter, Minshew delivered a dart to Downs on a whip route across the goal line for his first career touchdown to cut the deficit to 31-13.
“It was awesome,” Steichen said. “It was a great route by (Downs). He had been working hard at that route in practice, how to return it different ways. The way he ran it in the game was awesome, getting that reception, getting his first touchdown, it was good to see.”
Minshew delivered consecutive completions to a wide open Kylen Granson combined for 66 yards to drive inside the 5-yard line. Moss scored from 3-yards out to cut the deficit to within two scores midway through the fourth quarter. In hindsight, Steichen most likely would have elected to try an onside kick for the ensuing kickoff, because Jamal Agnew returned it 53 yards inside Colts territory to set up another field goal.
After securing the season sweep over the Colts, the Jaguars control their own destiny in the AFC South. Indianapolis hosts Cleveland, fresh off handing San Francisco its first loss of the season, next Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.