JACKSONVILLE – This one mattered to Jalen Ramsey.
It mattered to the Jaguars' defense, too.
Not that it was easy – and for the Jaguars' All-Pro cornerback absolutely nothing came easy playing on a hurting knee Sunday.Was it a challenge?Ramsey was asked.
"A really big challenge actually, yeah," Ramsey said.
Ramsey responded to the challenge – and so did the Jaguars' defense. A 6-0 victory over the Indianapolis Colts Sunday marked not only the Jaguars' best defensive performance of the season, but perhaps the best defensive performance in franchise history.
"Defensively, they stepped up," Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone said.
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, who had thrown at least three touchdown passes in eight consecutive games, completed 33 of 52 passes for 248 yards. He threw a first-half interception and the Jaguars sacked him three times – one by Ngakoue, one by end Calais Campbell and one in the fourth quarter by rookie safety Ronnie Harrison.
The Jaguars' defense allowed the Colts 29 points in the first half of a 29-26 loss in Indianapolis last month.
"The last time that we played the Colts we wanted to show that that was a fluke, so I feel like a shutout was the best win," middle linebacker Myles Jack said. "We still had a bad taste in our mouths because we gave up 29 points in the first half, so we knew that was a fluke and we knew we weren't playing to the best of our abilities."
Sunday marked the first time the Colts had been shut out with Luck at quarterback. Marrone afterward was asked about the coaching of coordinator Todd Wash.
"I think the score speaks for itself," Marrone said.
The performance was particularly impressive for Ramsey, who missed practice with the knee issue Wednesday and Thursday. Ramsey, who never has missed a start in 44 regular-season games, was questionable entering the weekend.
Ramsey finished Sunday with two passes defensed covering Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton.
"It was hurting throughout the game," he said. "Once I put my mind to something, I do everything in my power to get it done out there. I just thank God."
Ramsey drew laughter during his post-game media availability when discussing a first-half play after which he offered a hand to Luck as if to help him from the ground. Luck, who slid during the play, reached his hand to Ramsey – who withdrew it before running away. "Truthfully, I do that almost every week," Ramsey said, smiling. "People just caught it this week. I do it almost every week though."
Quarterback Cody Kessler, making his first Jaguars start after replacing Blake Bortles, completed 18 of 24 passes for 150 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions Sunday. The victory was his first after nine NFL starts. He had an 0-8 record as the Cleveland Browns' starter in 2016. "It wasn't pretty but man it feels good," Kessler said. "It's something as a quarterback and as a kid you dream of winning an NFL game." Kessler said there's no doubt he must "push the ball downfield a little bit more and take some of those shots" moving forward. "When your defense is playing so well you don't want to force things and make stupid turnovers to put them in a bad spot," he said. Said Marrone, "Cody did a good job managing the game, but obviously we understand we've got to do a better job in the pass production and what we want to do in getting the ball down the field." Marrone said Kessler will start Thursday against the Tennessee Titans in Nashville.
The game ended in notable fashion. On 3rd-and-6 from the Jaguars 29, Luck threw to Colts tight end Erik Swoope on a play that began with :09 remaining. Swoope ran for the sidelines to stop the clock, but Ramsey torpedoed low and knocked Swoope backward enough that officials ruled his forward progress had been stopped before got out of bounds at the Jaguars 25. Because forward progress was stopped, the play was ruled to be over – and therefore the final seconds ran from the clock before the Colts could run another play. "When forward progress is stopped with contact and the player driven backward, the play is over at that point," referee Alex Kemp said in a pool report after the game. "It doesn't matter where he lands. It doesn't matter if he drops the ball. It doesn't matter what happens from that point. When he is contacted and driven backwards, the play is over." Said Ramsey: "I knew that I did chop his outside leg to keep him inbounds as best as I could; I just got up and saw him whining, so I was happy."
Rookie safety Ronnie Harrison drew praise from teammates and coaches for his play in his first NFL start Sunday. "The sky's the limit for that young man," nickelback D.J. Hayden said. A third-round selection in the 2018 NFL Draft from Alabama, Harrison started in place of Barry Church at strong safety. His nine-yard sack of Luck on 4th-and-1 from the Jaguars 19 with 2:38 ended the Colts' second-to-last possession. "He played really well," Ramsey said of Harrison, who also had three tackles, a tackle for loss and a quarterback hurry. Harrison also had a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty late in the first quarter for taunting tight end Eric Ebron, a penalty that gave the Colts a first down after a third-down incomplete pass. "I thought Ronnie did a nice job except for the personal foul, which you can't do," Marrone said. "I told him that. That's a possession. That's a turnover because you're off the field."
Marrone also addressed an unnecessary roughness penalty on rookie defensive lineman Taven Bryan Sunday. The penalty came in the second quarter on the same drive as Harrison's taunting penalty. Bryan hit the long snapper on a field-goal attempt, giving the Colts a first down. The Colts opted to turn down a successful field goal by Adam Vinatieri and the Jaguars stopped the drive four plays later when end Yannick Ngakoue stopped running back Jordan Wilkins for a one-yard gain on a shovel pass on 4th-and-goal from the 2. "We talked all week long: 'You can't hit the center,''' Marrone said of Bryan's penalty. "Both (Bryan and Harrison are) young players. Again, it's my responsibility. That's a reflection on the head coach. I've got to do a better job with them." Added Marrone of Bryan's penalty, "I don't know how much [more] we could have said it during the week. I really don't. [Special Teams Coordinator] Joe DeCamillis must have said it in every meeting I was in, with the rush, not to come across and not to hit the center."
Defensive tackle Marcell Dareus: "We all sat around this week and we just talked to each other and asked each other what do you want? We put our heads together and realized that we're playing for each other, we're playing for the organization and we're playing for the names on our back and just played our ass off. … The team needed it, the city needed it and the organization needed it. It's great, man."
Marrone: "I give a lot of credit to the coaches and the players. They worked hard during the week, obviously, to try and break that [seven-game losing] streak. All of a sudden, you're not just going to pop out of it; you're going to have to grind your way out of it. That's what we did today."
Linebacker Telvin Smith: "The players on this team are the players on this team, and we know what we're capable of when we're locked in that way. … You just got to continue to do what we just did – focus. Not even what we just did, but we had to find a way to put a cap on this bottle and it had gotten out of hand a little while. Every week, we just came through persevering, thinking that it'd be that week, and it wasn't that week. This just happened to be the week that it all came together. We just got to keep it going from here."
Ngakoue: "When I walked into this locker room this morning, I just felt the different type of energy from everybody. I could tell, regardless of what we were going through during the season, I could tell guys wanted to come out here and win, so that was really important to me and I was really happy and pleased to see that today."