The Indianapolis Colts waited eight months for a return trip to Jacksonville, a chance to prove last year’s season finale was a fluke and a chance to end a head-scratching and embarrassing slip in the AFC South series.
They openly welcomed the opportunity to bury memories of last year’s debacle against the Jaguars and move on after last week’s disappointment against Houston.
How did you deal with it? Well, they were essentially no-shows.
“That was embarrassing,” Colt’s defensive tackle DeForest Buckner told ESPN. ‘We have our a** whooping cough. We have to come tomorrow, turn it on its head and grow from it.’
Indianapolis has been ruled out for the third time in the last six seasons — all in Jacksonville — the latest being a 24-0 drubbing that must at least spark speculation about coach Frank Reich’s future with the franchise.
“It’s a long season,” Reich said. “We take our medicine today for the pathetic performance, coaches and players. We’ll see how things develop.”
The Colts (0-1-1) couldn’t keep up with Jacksonville (1-1) at all on Sunday.
Matt Ryan was sacked five times, pressured many times, and threw three interceptions. Ryan and cornerback Stephon Gilmore should help bring the Colts over the hump in 2022. With these additions, Indy was picked by some to win the division.
Instead, the Colts are winless after two AFC South games.
“I need to play better,” Ryan said. ‘There’s no doubt about that. I think as a group we all have to play better too. It’s disappointing when you work during the week and come out and don’t play the way you can play.
Ryan completed 16 of 30 passes for 195 yards and finished with a 34 passer rating — the third lowest of his career. His jersey was covered in dirt and grass stains after losing to Jacksonville for the first time in five encounters.
“I’ve had my ass kicked before, that’s all I know,” Ryan said. “It just depends on how you react. You get up off the ground. That’s what happens in this league. There are good players everywhere. Every week gets tough. It happens to you sometimes, but one cannot become two.
“They need to bounce back, have a great week of prep and make sure we perform better next week.”
The Colts played without three starters: All-Pro linebacker Shaquille Leonard and receivers Michael Pittman and Alec Pierce. Pittman’s loss exposed Ryan’s receiving group, and Jacksonville took advantage.
The Jags loaded the box and held Jonathan Taylor at 54 rushing yards. Ryan was harassed behind an offensive line that was hit early and often. And Indy failed to score against Jacksonville for the third time in six seasons; it also happened in 2017 and 2018.
Also telling of this streak, the Jaguars are 6-30 in their last 36 games, and four of those wins have come against the Colts.
The latter was never in doubt and gave coach Doug Pederson his first win with his new team.
Reich fell to 0-5 in Jacksonville, a dubious slip that sure won’t sit well with team owner Jim Irsay. Indy missed a chance to make the playoffs last season by losing the finals in Jacksonville, and Irsay spelled out his disappointment at the time.
This one was equally shocking, especially after the Colts rolled up 517 yards in Houston a week ago and essentially blamed Rodrigo Blankenship for that season-opening loss.
The Colts finished with 218 yards in Jacksonville. They were 2 for 10 in third place and 0 for 2 in fourth place. They were almost doubled during the period of ownership. It sure seemed like a lackluster effort.
Nonetheless, Reich shot down notions that his team wasn’t ready for the rematch.
“Unmotivated is not a word you would use to describe our weeks, like this last week was,” he said. “After our performance last week, the intensity at training was at an all-time high, the intensity at last night’s meetings. Honestly, I mean, it’s not about speeches or anything, it’s about the intensity of last night’s meetings, the ferocity of the players who have been wanting to coach and get us back on track all week.
“I don’t feel like there’s a lack of motivation. I just have the feeling that we’re missing, that we’ve been overtaken and outplayed.