JACKSONVILLE – The 2021 regular-season season finale seemed inconsequential for the Jaguars.
They were running out the clock on the season, a season that seemed promising when the College Football Hall of Fame coach was paired with the franchise quarterback in the spring, but that unwound with an interim coach to face the Indianapolis Colts last January.
The Colts seemed on their way to the playoffs, and seemed poised for a deeper run than the Wild Card round in which they lost the previous season. All they had to do was beat a 2-14 team.
The only variable seemed to be how long the Jaguars would be interested in playing with the offseason in sight.
Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence let the Colts know it might be longer than they hoped when he connected with wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr. on third-and-13 on the opening drive. There was some life in the Jaguars after a 50-10 loss to the New England Patriots the week before. Lawrence found Jones again on third down for 12 yards, then 16 more on the next play. Lawrence capped the drive with a nifty toss to wide receiver Laquon Treadwell to make it 7-0.
The Colts opened their first series with the same play they ran against Jacksonville in Indianapolis in November, a play on which running back Jonathan Taylor gained 57 yards. This time he gained just one. He gained two on the ensuing play and the Colts settled for a field goal early in the second quarter.
By then, it was clear the Jaguars were up to the challenge of ending Indy's season early.
The Jaguars moved in the first half but managed just two field goals by the end of the first half and led only 13-3. Colts quarterback Carson Wentz could lean on Taylor, the NFL's leading rusher, and work to get wide receiver Michael Pittman involved and surely they'd find their way, wouldn't they?
Taylor gained five yards on the first play of the third quarter, then Wentz found him on a swing pass for 11 yards. On third-and-3, Jaguars linebacker Damien Wilson raced past center Ryan Kelly to sack Wentz and force a fumble that defensive tackle DaVon Hamilton recovered at the Colts 23.
A field goal gave the Jaguars a 16-7 lead, leaving the door wide open for Wentz if he could settle in and work Colts Head Coach Frank Reich's plan.
He could not. He made wild throws and the Colts' offensive line committed penalties. Wilson intercepted Wentz late in the third quarter at the 46-yard line – a play that instantly deflated the Colts' sideline.
Lawrence didn't miss this opportunity. Running back Ryquell Armstead took the handoff around left end for a bruising 26-yard run to the Colts 19. Armstead carried to the 3. An errant snap on the ensuing play forced Lawrence to reach high and pull the ball down. Before he could set his feet, he was on the run from a safety blitz – but he spied Jones working free on the end line near the pylon and let loose with a rainbow of a pass that Jones plucked from the air while tapping both feet within a whisper of the white lines for a touchdown.
The Jaguars pestered Wentz and pounded Taylor to clinch a 26-11 win that feels as if it took the Jaguars-Colts rivalry to another level. Colts Owner Jim Irsay made a video filled with invectives and promises, and Reich had the final score painted near their locker room to remind them of the painful consequences of not being ready to play.
The Jaguars claimed a seventh consecutive home victory over the Colts and went into the offseason with a smile after a gloomy 2021.