The Indianapolis Colts came out on fire Sunday in their 2020 season opener on the road against the Jacksonville Jaguars, but a mixture of untimely penalties, turnovers and defensive miscues would ultimately prove the difference in their 27-20 loss. Andrew Walker
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Seven plays, 63 yards, three minutes and 18 seconds.
The Indianapolis Colts' first offensive drive of the 2020 season, which ended with a Nyheim Hines 12-yard touchdown run, was almost too easy.
"It felt like, almost, we were moving the ball at will," Colts head coach Frank Reich said. "It felt like we couldn't be stopped."
When the Colts' defense forced a Jaguars punt on their opening drive, the Indy offense went right back to work, getting to the Jacksonville 12-yard line. On 2nd and 10, Philip Rivers, making his debut with the Colts after spending the first 16 seasons of his illustrious career with the San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers, found wide receiver Zach Pascal to his left for a gain of six, setting up 3rd and 4 from the 6-yard line.
But Rivers really wanted to get the ball to Jack Doyle on the play, and he quickly realized the veteran tight end would've easily gotten into the end zone, which would've given the Colts a commanding 14-0 lead late in the first quarter.
Instead, on 3rd and 4, Hines earned three yards on a run up the middle, setting up 4th and 1 from the Jacksonville 3-yard line. Going off both the analytics and his gut feeling, Reich decided to go for it, calling one of his favorite run plays for Hines behind All-Pro left guard Quenton Nelson.
But defensive tackle Abry Jones and safety Josh Jones would have other plans, stuffing the third-year Colts back for no gain on the play and forcing the turnover on downs.
Whatever momentum the Colts had built to that point had suddenly transferred to the other sideline. The Jaguars started to make plays on their end, and the Colts at times couldn't get out of their own way.
A series of miscues in all three phases from there would eventually lead to Indy's 27-20 season-opening loss Sunday at TIAA Bank Field.
The Colts are still in search of their first Week 1 victory since 2013, their first season-opening road victory since 2006 and their first road victory in Jacksonville since 2014.
"Obviously, (it was) a disappointing loss," 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."
Sunday's loss for the Colts (0-1) is one of those games in which the stat sheet doesn't tell the whole story. Indy didn't punt once all day, outgained its AFC South Division rival Jacksonville (1-0) 445 to 241 in total yardage and won the time-of-possession battle 33:23 to 26:37.
Offensively, it was penalties and turnovers that would help close that gap, however.
A prime example: the Colts went into halftime with a little bit of momentum after a 38-yard field goal from rookie kicker Rodrigo Blankenship gave them a 17-14 lead going into the break. The Colts' defense would force a three-and-out on the Jaguars' opening drive of the third quarter, and Rivers would lead the offense back deep into Jacksonville territory on their ensuing drive.
On 1st and 10 from the Jaguars' 12-yard-line, rookie running back Jonathan Taylor, in for starter Marlon Mack, who exited the game in the second quarter with an Achilles injury, ran up the middle for eight yards to the Jacksonville 4.
But an illegal formation penalty on the Colts would wipe that play out. Indy wouldn't sniff the end zone on that drive again.
Four plays later, Blankenship's 30-yard field goal attempt would bang off the left upright - no good.
Rivers would also toss two interceptions on the day, the second of which occurring at the 4:32 mark of the fourth quarter as the Colts were trying to mount a possible game-winning drive, down 24-20. Instead, the Jaguars would turn that interception by safety Andrew Wingard into a 46-yard Josh Lambo field goal to put them up by seven, 27-20, with 2:54 left in the game.
The Colts would get as close as the Jacksonville 26 on their final drive before turning the ball over on downs.
In all, the Colts were just 1-of-3 on fourth-down attempts and scored touchdowns on just 2-of-5 opportunities inside the red zone.
"Ultimately it came down to we turned it over and we had penalties in the red zone," said Rivers, who completed 36-of-46 passes for 363 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions in his Colts debut. "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."
Unfortunately for the Colts, their defense wasn't able to consistently answer the call, either.
Second-year Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew II was perfectly content taking advantage of an Indy defense willing to give up the shorter and more intermediate routes, finishing an extremely efficient 19-of-20 passing for 173 yards with three touchdowns to no interceptions.
Some communication miscues on the back end - a theme for the Indy defense down the stretch last season - didn't seem to help matters on a couple of the Jaguars' bigger passing plays.
"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," said linebacker Darius Leonard, who finished with a team-best nine tackles on the afternoon. "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."
The good news for the Colts? They can fly home tonight and immediately turn the page and focus on next week's home opener against the Minnesota Vikings, who fell to the Green Bay Packers, 43-34, today in their season opener.
"You can call us frustrated a little bit because we expected to win the game and in a lot of ways, probably should've, but shoot, we have a lot to be excited about," Rivers said. "We just have to put our head down and keep working, and we're in this thing for the long haul."