Two disappointing seasons came down to one game that didn’t mean anything in the AFC standings to a pair of AFC South Division teams already eliminated from the playoffs.
Then the Indianapolis Colts played like that in a 38-20 loss on Sunday to a 5-10 Jacksonville Jaguars team that had lost six of seven.
The only debate for the visitors, who finished this 7-9 season by losing seven of nine, is whether the offense or defense played worse. The Colts offense, led by underwhelming quarterback Jacoby Brissett, failed to score in the second half. The Colts defense inexplicably allowed a Jaguars offense that hadn’t scored more than 20 points since late October to put up 38.
Well, that’s counting one of two Brissett’s lost fumbles that was returned for a Jaguars defensive touchdown. Yeah, that means the Jaguars defense outscored the Colts offense after halftime.
Lest anyone forget, in what goes beyond a disturbing trend, the Colts haven’t won at Jacksonville since 2014.
Second-year Colts head coach Frank Reich spoke of how his team had reset its goals since being eliminated from AFC playoff contention two games ago. The new goal was to finish 8-8, but just like this season, the Colts came up short.
What makes this even more humbling is the fact that the Jaguars had lost six of those seven by an average of 21.5 points. Front-office boss Tom Coughlin has been fired. Head coach Doug Marrone is reportedly going to get a pink slip, too, according to multiple national sources.
That makes losing like this rather difficult to explain if you’re the Colts. A defense that has regressed in the second half of the season allowed 29.4 points per game in the last five games, which including giving up just two field goals in an easy home win over Carolina last week.
The Panthers were another five-win team that was supposed to have packed it in. And they played like it.
But on Sunday, the Jaguars let it be known early on that they were going to fight to the end. They stuffed the Colts on a third-and-goal rush at the 1, forcing the visitors to settle for a field goal. Reich usually goes for it in these situations, but played it safe by settling for three points.
The Colts led 10-3 after Marlon Mack scored on a 5-yard run late in the first quarter. But the Jaguars wouldn’t go away, going ahead 13-10 on a Gardner Minshew 14-yard TD pass to Keelan Cole. Mack answered with an 8-yard TD run for a 17-13 lead.
When Colts kicker Chase McLaughlin kicked a 50-yard field goal just 39 seconds before halftime, that 20-13 edge should have been a modest measure of satisfaction. But, no, the Jaguars actually managed to get into field-goal range in those 39 seconds and Josh Lambo kicked a 56-yard field goal on the final play.
Minshew’s second TD pass was to running back Ryquell Armstead, then the Jaguars’ passer completed a two-point conversion throw for a 24-20 lead.
Brissett had plenty of time to rally his team, but couldn’t. And nobody could blame this on wide receiver T.Y. Hilton not suiting up. He gutted it out with a calf strain by catching three passes for 72 yards.
About 5 minutes into the final quarter, Brissett scrambled on a third-and-12 play at the Colts’ 3. He gained 6 yards before getting hit by Yannick Ngakoue, who forced a fumble that Calais Campbell scooped up and scored on an 8-yard return.
The next Colts possession ended in four plays when Brissett lost a fumble on a sack at the Jaguars’ 34. Minshew cashed that in for the final score, an 18-yard pass to Dede Westbrook.
Brissett finished just 12 of 25 for 162 yards with three sacks taken and the two lost fumbles. Despite the fact that the Colts rushed for 132 yards on 27 carries, an average of 4.9 per carry, Brissett’s regression — much like his team’s — was finally complete.
Some Colts mistakes were more obvious than others, be it with Brissett or others. He had a dump-off throw available to running back Nyheim Hines on the first sack taken, but as is his tendency, he hung onto the ball too long.
Colts linebackers Darius Leonard and Anthony Walker got lost in space at times when Minshew effectively dumped off short passes to Armstead, who finished with five receptions for 52 yards.
A Colts secondary that has been unable to play man-to-man or zone allowed Westbrook to catch seven passes for 72 yards. Minshew finished 27 of 39 for 295 yards with three TDs, one interception and three sacks taken.
The only positive, if it can be called that, is the Colts’ loss improved their draft position to 13 next spring.
Between now and then, general manager Chris Ballard will be on the spot to make some important decisions about how to improve a stagnant, one-dimensional, passing-inhibited offense as well as a defense that can’t consistently cover NFL pass catchers.
One final supposedly meaningless game in Jacksonville underscored the Colts’ areas of need quite convincingly.