It was a game of two halves in Wembley today as the Colts started like a team who had just landed in Heathrow and finished like a team who were deep in a playoff hunt.
“It would have been a lot different if we started out the way we wanted to,” Colts center Ryan Kelly told RealSport after the game. Kelly had a terrific battle all day with Jags defensive tackle Roy Miller, but around him the offense sputtered and struggled. Dropped passes, poor protection and more flags than any fan (never mind those in London) wanted to see – the Colts early struggles were so bad that there were questions if the 17-6 half-time deficit was too much to overcome.
The young Jacksonville defense, of whom so much was expected before the season, started to show its worth. Myles Jack flew to Frank Gore on a quick out like he was shot out of a cannon, while Jalen Ramsey and his fellow defensive backs threw a blanket over the deep part of the field that wasn’t broken for 56 minutes and change. Up front, the Jaguars harassed and punished Andrew Luck, sacking him six times, hitting him 13 more and forcing him into four scrambles.
“We definitely need to be better. I need to be better. We need to keep Andrew upright because when he’s upright he makes plays,” tackle Anthony Castonzo admitted after the game. Make plays is right. In the second half when Indy were forced to up the tempo Andrew Luck threw some lasers, including a glorious bomb to Phillip Dorsett to bring the Colts within three points. The way the Colts moved the ball, scoring three touchdowns in a flurry in the fourth quarter, echoes the way they started this season, with a losing shootout against the Lions. Why the Colts wait until the fourth quarter is a good question. There were some obvious tendencies from today’s game – runs on first down, shallow passing when faced with two high safeties and a consistent ability to get the refs to throw flags on them. Until the mid-fourth quarter, the Colts had given almost all their offensive yards back in penalties.
Frank Gore told us after the game that “we gotta play all 60 minutes, then hopefully we can get wins.” After a day where he was battered at, and behind, the line of scrimmage, Gore was dejected after his third trip to, and first loss in, London. As he hunts a Super Bowl at age 33 and is about to break into the top 10 all-time in rushing yards he would hope for better blocking up front. It looks like it will come with Kelly and maybe another draft, but Gore might not have it in him to wait even longer.
However, may the nature of this game, played overseas in a completely different kickoff slot, have something to do with the loss? There seemed to be a recurring theme in the Colts locker room that it was their unprofessionalism in the game that let them down. “We’ve got to be more professional… and do our job,” Andrew Luck told us, “I think professionals play well and sharp in every game, especially a division game. And it starts with me. I’ve got to play better.”
We have seen other teams come to London and start slowly, but whether this trip was an aberration for the Colts, or whether it’s a more systemic problem with the team, we don’t know. The Colts are yet to lead at half-time this season, leaving their production until late on. That trend is extremely worrying for Chuck Pagano, who has to worry that after years of the Patriots pounding them on the ground the Jaguars were able to do the same thing for much of the day. “We’re better than that. They know they’re better than that,” head coach Chuck Pagano said after the game.
For the Jaguars though, it was a successful – if stressful – trip to London. For long sections of the day Indianapolis weren’t just playing the 11 Jaguars on the field, but most of the 83,000+ fans as well. Jacksonville’s repeated trips to London, and efforts throughout the year, have really built them a strong fan base. The chorus of boos and jeers that accompanied Colts third downs was enormous, as were the cheers for their touchdowns – they may have been monikered “London’s team” when their repeat-trip deal was signed but I never felt that was true until today. That was felt on the field by the Jags players too. DT Roy Miller told us after the game that “It’s special to come here and feel the love. I’ve been here with the [Tampa Bay Buccaneers] but with the Jags it’s different. It feels like fans here really believe in us and want to see us win.”
On the field Jacksonville prayed on Indianapolis’ errors and the mismatches provided by the brilliant Allen Robinson. None of the Colts defensive backs had a good day against Robinson, who had the opening touchdown as well as drawing key penalties throughout the game. He finished with just five catches for 55 yards but had an enormous impact on the game itself. Antonio Cromartie simply couldn’t handle him, giving up a defensive pass interference (DPI) flag and a holding penalty on the same drive. Patrick Robinson too struggled with his namesake Allen, giving up a DPI in the end zone after Robinson beat him on a beautiful corner route.
He wasn’t the only one who tormented the Colts defense, though. TJ Yeldon had a strong performance on his 23rd birthday, with 71 yards on the ground and 46 in the air. He was a constant outlet for the Jags offense and a thorn in the side of D’Qwell Jackson and the rest of the Colts front seven.
This first win of the season will come as a huge relief to everyone involved with the Jaguars. It was speculated that a loss would see Gus Bradley lose his job, but the improvements today – especially from the defense – were huge. It was always going to take time for the youth and new faces to mesh but it would appear they have. The pressure they exerted on Luck and the coverage that kept TY Hilton to just 42 yards is a sign that even at 1-3, the Jaguars can still compete in the AFC South. They go into the bye week with a smile while on their faces. For the Colts it’s straight back to work. They are the first team not to have a bye week after their trip to London and if they can’t put away the Bears at home then they will have serious problems trying to climb back into the playoff race.
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