INDIANAPOLIS – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton both offer three quick thoughts on the Jaguars’ game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis Sunday
1. The Jaguars’ first-half defensive performance was poor enough that a very good second-half performance by the unit ultimately didn’t matter. It’s hard to define the Jaguars’ 29-26 loss to the Colts any other way, and it’s hard to remember a performance by the unit as disappointing as Sunday’s first half. “Dumbfounding,” Jaguars Pro Bowl defensive tackle Malik Jackson called it. The Colts in the first half scored 29 points with three touchdown passes from quarterback Andrew Luck. Tight end Eric Ebron caught two of the touchdown passes and tight end Mo Alie-Cox caught the third. Ebron scored another on a two-yard run and turned in the first three-touchdown game of his career – by the end of the first half. Confusion reigned on the defense throughout a first half in which it allowed 306 total yards. Making the performance harder to stomach was the Jaguars’ offense played its best first half since a Week 4 victory over the New York Jets. The positive for the Jaguars’ defense was that it played far better in the second half, allowing 60 yards and no points. It created a second-half turnover. It caught a couple of breaks with dropped passes – and linebacker Telvin Smith’s interception came off a drop by Alie-Cox – but the second half was the sort of performance we expected from what we believed was an elite defense. On Sunday, the performance just came too late.
2.Good, but not good enough. That pretty much defines the Jaguars’ game overall Sunday – and it certainly defined the offense. While the unit was very good at times it wasn’t good enough to overcome an epically bad early performance by the defense. Running back Leonard Fournette rushed for 53 yards and had 56 yards receiving – and while his statistics weren’t eye-catching, his return after a four-game absence had the expected positive effect. Quarterback Blake Bortles had his best game in over a month, completing 26 of 38 passes for 320 yards and two touchdowns -- and his 80-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Donte Moncrief in the first half was a beautiful throw on a day when Bortles played turnover-free for a second consecutive game. There’s little question this was the Jaguars’ best offensive performance in more than a month, but the unit couldn’t muster a fourth-quarter go-ahead touchdown despite multiple chances and wide receiver Rashad Greene Sr.’s game-ending lost fumble defined a day that was close – and a decided improvement over the last month – but ultimately not good enough.
3.The Jaguars’ playoff hopes are essentially over. That’s the reality after the Jaguars slipped to 3-6 Sunday. They are a full three games behind the division-leading Houston Texans (6-3) in the AFC South, and Sunday’s loss leaves them in last place behind the third-place Colts (4-5). The Jaguars realistically were a very long shot to make the postseason even before Sunday, but this loss felt like a fitting way for the postseason hopes to end. A defense that was expected to be one of the NFL’s best couldn’t stop the Colts in the first half, and Jaguars offense that was much improved from the last month once again couldn’t register a go-ahead score. Head Coach Doug Marrone talked of pride and professionalism in his post-game media availability, and players spoke extensively of holding the team together and continuing to find ways to dig themselves out of a hole. Those are noble, necessary goals. They’re also goals for teams no longer in realistic postseason contention.
1.Awful to awesome. Andrew Luck picked apart the Jaguars secondary in the first half, completing 80 percent of his passes and tossing three touchdowns. Everyone was wide open in the first two quarters, Eric Ebron, Jack Doyle, TY Hilton....you name it. Luck faced a completely different defense in the second half and managed only five of nine for 69 yards and 35 of those came on one throw. The Jaguars did NOTHING different schematically from the first to the second according to people I talked to. What they did DO was do their jobs and it was evident. The Colts finished with only 60 second-half yards and zero points. This one is on a defense that allowed Indy to score on three consecutive drives to end the first half - one of which was aided by two personal fouls by Malik Jackson and Myles Jack that helped the Colts move nearly effortlessly down the field.
2.Blame it on Blake? No way to do that. The offense wasn't perfect. They bogged down deep in Indy territory far too often, and of course the turnover that ended the game, but it was effective for most of the day. They managed 16 points in the first half after scoring only six first half points in October, and they owned the second half with long drives that ate up the clock and had them in a position to win the game. Bortles finished the day with 320 yards and two touchdowns, and ge completed 68 percent of his passes. He put his team in a position to win - and they might have if not for the fumble.
3.Offensive line woes. The Colts offensive line is very good, and it was clear watching Luck in the pocket that a couple of high picks have paid off in Indianapolis. Luck hasn't been sacked in the last four games, and guard Quentin Nelson leads a line that looks like it might be one of the league's best in a very short time. Early in the game, they were down the field blocking for the running backs and were really effective in the screen game. The Jaguars line looks nothing like the Colts line. They struggled to move guys off the line of scrimmage during the run game, and when Indy really wanted to bring pressure, especially in the second half, they were able to impact Bortles passes. Oh ... and the Colts defense isn't very talented - especially up front. The Jaguars may need to follow the Colts game plan from last off-season and spend some early draft picks on offensive linemen.