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Colts QB Anthony Richardson becomes second-youngest player in NFL history to start season opener in 31-21 loss to Jaguars

Syndication: The Indianapolis Star
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Anthony Richardson spikes football after scoring a touchdown during NFL debut against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Jenna Watson/IndyStar / USA TODAY NETWORK

INDIANAPOLIS – Colts quarterback Anthony Richardson became the second-youngest player in NFL history to command a franchise at quarterback in the season opener, scoring touchdowns at Lucas Oil Stadium on the ground and through the air in the 31-21 Week 1 loss to the reigning AFC South champion Jacksonville Jaguars.

Indianapolis has not won a season opener in a decade, but premiered a revamped offense under first-year head coach Shane Steichen. Richardson mentioned his pre-game routine is to show up early and go through the script to get his body and mind in game mode. The 21-year old felt an emotional roller coaster during his debut, balancing hyped pre-game feelings while trying to stay focused on the mission at hand. The Colts No. 4 overall pick felt it all Sunday, from the joy of fulfilling a lifelong destiny to the heartbreak of defeat.

“We didn’t win, so I didn’t do good enough,” Richardson said. “But first game, first experience felt good just being out there with my teammates. The energy was good. We have just got to clean some things up, including myself, but it was fun out there just being back out there playing football.”

Richardson completed 24-of-37 passes for 223 yards and a touchdown, while gaining 40 rushing yards on 10 carries and scoring the first touchdown of his NFL career. In 14 drives, the Colts produced the following: consecutive punts, touchdown, consecutive turnovers on downs, fumble by Deon Jackson, conservative end to half, touchdown, punt, fumble by Jackson, consecutive punts, interception, turnover on downs with goal-to-go. Not ideal considering the two defensive takeaways, an interception from cornerback Tony Brown and a strip-sack, followed by an instinctive scoop-and-score from defensive tackle DeForest Buckner to give the Colts a 21-17 lead late in the third quarter.

“I thought he played solid,” Steichen said. “I did. I’ll take fault for that interception right there, second-and-10 or whatever. It was a Cover 2 deal and we didn’t have a great route called there and got to be better there, but I thought he managed the game well. I thought he did some really good things, really encouraged with his progress and what he did.”

The Colts rookie quarterback did not expect to be perfect, understanding the trials and tribulations are not just part of football, but part of life. After Richardson was welcomed to the NFL being sacked by linebacker Josh Allen on his first drive, the offense found its groove on an 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive on the third possession.

Richardson moved the sticks for the first time on play action, dumping off a screen to TE Kylen Granson for an 11-yard gain. The rookie drove the offense inside Jaguars’ territory on a completion near the sideline to Granson, who dove for extra yardage.

Steichen displayed his play-calling creativity as Richardson motioned rookie receiver Josh Downs behind RB Deon Jackson in the pistol formation. Indianapolis’ 6-foot-4, 248 lb QB pulled the option and dashed left for another first down. Two plays later with Downs in the slot, Richardson connected with the Colts third round pick on a slant after Downs left Jaguars’ safety Andre Cisco in the dust to push the third drive inside the red zone.

With goal-to-go on the first play of the second quarter, Richardson motioned TE Andrew Ogletree inside to lead the path alongside a pulling Will Fries for a designed QB Draw. Richardson sprinted six steps across the goal line and leaped for a 360 dunk on the turf in the ‘Indianapolis’ end zone to tie the game at 7-7.

On second-&-28, Richardson faked the outside run to Jackson and threw a screen from the near hash to receiver Michael Pittman Jr. The Colts fourth-year outside receiver dashed up the sideline behind blockers Granson and Will Fries for the longest play from scrimmage, a 39-yard TD reception to tie the game at 14-14.

“We definitely were in position,” Richardson said. “We had it the whole way, I believe. I felt like we had the game the whole way. Our defense played great. They played lights out, they helped us a lot.”

“Almost every possession, almost every drive for them was a turnover, and we’ve just got to help them out. They can’t get a turnover when you go three-and-out. That’s not good for them or for us. We’ve just got to get better because our defense played good. Shout-out to those guys, but offense we’ve got to clean some things up so we can make it easy for them.”

Richardson experienced rookie growing pains and grew cold, completing a pedestrian 13-of-22 passes in the second half. The offense converted just 2-of-12 third downs and 1-of-5 fourth downs in the defeat and his fourth-quarter interception became a dagger as the Jaguars turned the turnover into a touchdown to extend the lead to double-digits.

“No doubt, got to be better on third down,” Steichen said. “It wasn’t good enough. Again, it starts with myself and then fourth downs there – we’ve got to be better. Fourth-and-one, we had two of those I think and then we just tried to get a quarterback sneak, didn’t get it, and then we had a fourth-and-four I think it was at the 42-yard line, you’re in that kind of long, long field goal range or punt in your plus territory, so decided to go for it there.”

Steichen aimed to take a running-back-by-committee approach, but the run game was ineffective and could not find its rhythm behind the offensive line. The Colts lost the turnover battle and failed to convert a fourth-&-goal from the 2-yard line with Gardner Minshew concluding the game behind center in relief of Richardson, who left the game late with a left knee injury.

Andrew Ogletree was targeted by Cisco on Richardson’s longest air completion Sunday and sustained a concussion, per Steichen. Coach Steichen and Richardson plan to get back to the drawing board and focus on the Colts Week 2 divisional matchup in Houston.