It wasn’t the two interceptions Philip Rivers lamented the most after Sunday’s 27-20 loss against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Instead, it was a first-quarter completion to Zach Pascal the Indianapolis Colts’ new quarterback would most like to have back.
One snap earlier, Rivers missed tight end Jack Doyle with a high pass in the end zone, but he had the veteran open again on second-and-10 from Jacksonville’s 12-yard line. He just didn’t pull the trigger.
Rivers took his eyes off Doyle and instead threw a hitch to Pascal for a 6-yard gain. Nyheim Hines gained 3 yards on third-and-4 and then was stuffed on an inside carry on fourth-and-1 – the first of several missed opportunities during a nightmarish afternoon for the visiting team at TIAA Bank Stadium.
“If I throw it to Jack Doyle, it’s 14-0,” Rivers said, “and who knows how it ends up?”
As it was, the Colts looked nothing like the championship contender they hope to be, squandering the season opener against a Jaguars team many saw as a leading contender to finish with the worst record in the NFL.
It’s the seventh straight Week 1 loss for Indianapolis – dating back to 2013 – and the fifth straight defeat at Jacksonville. Though this one might be the most inexcusable of the bunch.
A team stocked with veteran leaders was expected to dominate an inexperienced Jacksonville side in the first action following a spring and summer put on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic.
On the opening drive, it looked like that might be the case.
The Colts marched 63 yards on just seven plays, capped by an 18-yard touchdown run by Hines, for a 7-0 lead. Then they got lost in a sea of miscues.
Rivers’ first interception set up the Jaguars’ tying score in the second quarter, and his second allowed the home team to push its lead to seven points with 2:50 remaining in the game.
In between, Indianapolis committed five penalties for 80 yards – costing opportunities on both sides of the ball – missed a 30-yard field goal and allowed Jacksonville to convert on 50% of its third-down chances.
That’s how a team that won the yardage battle 445-241 wound up on the wrong end of the scoreboard.
“We came down here and felt like we were ready to go in all three phases and then just hurt ourselves,” Colts head coach Frank Reich said. “Hurt ourselves offensively with some penalties and some miscues here and there. Obviously, got off to a fast start, had a lot of yards in the passing game, made a lot of plays throughout the game but not enough to win the game.”
Indianapolis struggled at the things it takes pride in most.
The running game lost starter Marlon Mack to an ankle injury early in the first half and gained just 88 yards on 22 carries. The offense was just 4-for-12 on third down, and the defense never came close to forcing a turnover.
In fact, the Colts barely forced an incompletion.
Jacksonville quarterback Gardner Minshew was 19-of-20 for 173 yards and three touchdowns.
The biggest strike was a 22-yard completion to Keelan Cole that gave the Jaguars the lead for the first time at 24-20 with 5:56 remaining in the game. Minshew also threw a 6-yard touchdown to D.J. Chark and a 15-yard strike to rookie Laviska Shenault to twice tie the game in the second quarter.
“You’re frustrated because you know what type of team you are,” Indianapolis linebacker Darius Leonard said. “You know what type of team we have. You know what type of players we have in this locker room. But … it doesn’t matter what you have on paper. You gotta find a way to get the job done.”
The Colts had four sacks, led by defensive end Denico Autry with two, and several gaudy offensive numbers.
Rivers was 36-of-46 for 336 yards with a touchdown and the two picks in his Indianapolis debut, and Parris Campbell – attempting to erase memories of a snake-bit rookie season – caught six passes for a team-high 71 yards. The Colts never punted and racked up 27 first downs.
But all too often they couldn’t finish drives.
Hines scored on an 8-yard pass with 4:45 left in the second quarter, and rookie Rodrigo Blankenship added field goals of 38 and 25 yards to put Indianapolis in front 20-17 with 9:39 to play in the game.
But the Colts had three other drives inside the Jaguars’ 30-yard line that produced zero points. They turned the ball over on downs at the 3-yard line in the first quarter and missed a field goal after reaching the 12-yard line in the third.
On its final offensive possession, Indianapolis reached Jacksonville’s 26-yard line before veteran T.Y. Hilton dropped a pass on fourth-and-5.
“We didn’t punt, and we only scored 20 points,” Rivers said. “… We were rolling, but the name of the game is to score one more point than the other team.”