INDIANAPOLIS (AP)Jacksonville’s defense struggled to keep up with the Indianapolis Colts and a suddenly spry 37-year-old Matt Ryan on Sunday.
It proved costly.
Four weeks after shutting out Indy, the Jags’ defense couldn’t get off the field, couldn’t keep the NFL’s lowest-scoring team out of the end zone and couldn’t protect a late lead. And when rookie receiver Alec Pierce caught a 32-yard TD pass with 17 seconds left, Indy had evened the season series with a 34-27 victory.
”You’re not going to luck into any wins in the NFL, you’ve got to play a complete game – offense, defense, special teams – and you can’t let up at all,” Jags quarterback Trevor Lawrence said. ”You can’t take a breath.”
Jacksonville’s defense never really had time to catch its breath in this game and that was purely by design.
After watching Jacksonville use a bevy of quick, short throws to slow down Indy’s pass rush and wear down the defense in the earlier matchup between these division rivals, coach Frank Reich decided to flip the script on his old friend and former boss, Jacksonville coach Doug Pederson.
He sped up the game, throwing on each of the first seven plays with a no-huddle offense that allowed Ryan to keep the ball in his hands.
Ryan finished 42 of 58 with 389 yards and three TDs, his most efficient game since joining the Colts. He set a single-game franchise record for completions, moved past Dan Marino for No. 7 on the NFL’s career passing list with 61,499 yards and moved into fifth all-time with his 30th career game of 350 or more yards passing.
And he did it by keeping the Jags on the run.
”We game-planned around it,” Reich said. ”We said `It’s not just going to be a tool we’re going to use, we’re going to commit to it.’ We’re all in on the no-huddle this week.”
Reich’s ploy worked perfectly against a young, improving defense that began this week ninth in yards and points allowed.
Only this time when the Jags running game helped them take an early 14-3 lead, the Colts (3-2-1) responded and Jacksonville never adapted.
The Colts’ struggling offense that had scored a league-low 13.8 points, allowed a league-high 21 sacks and hadn’t scored a touchdown since the third quarter of Week 4, managed to right itself.
Indy had no sacks, no turnovers and no punts in the second half. Instead, the Colts scored on each of their final five drives including four touchdowns to snap a TD drought at 110 minutes, 20 seconds.
”Their game plan today obviously was not to huddle as much and try to play a little tempo and get the ball out quickly, try to eliminate some of your pass rush that way,” Pederson said. ”They did a good job with that.”
It wasn’t just what the Colts did, though. Travon Walker’s roughing-the- passer penalty on third-and-11 extended one drive that allowed Indy to cut the deficit from 21-13 to 21-19. A pass interference call on Shaquill Griffins helped Indy take a 26-21 lead early in the fourth quarter.
And after Lawrence led the Jags on an 18-play drive that consumed 10:03 to retake a 27-26 lead, Pierce got behind Griffin in the final minutes and lost the hand fight – as well as the game.
”I feel like we had a lot of plays where we kind of hurt ourselves,” Griffin said ”I just feel like every time we were close to getting off the field on third down, we kind of shot ourselves in the foot. Those are the things you can’t get back, and it’s tough.”
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