INDIANAPOLIS — There are a few things that have become pretty routine over the past few years in the NFL.
Aaron Rodgers as MVP candidate. Tom Brady has a team in contention for the Super Bowl. And the Indianapolis Colts don’t beat the Jacksonville Jaguars on the road.
The Colts haven’t beaten the Jaguars in Jacksonville – or London – since 2014.
You read correctly.
The Jaguars, the same team that has only made the playoffs once since 2008, have the Colts’ number as their home team. Andrew Luck was only in his third year in the NFL and still looked like the Indianapolis franchise quarterback for the next 10-12 years when the Colts last won there.
This week, the Jaguars have an opportunity to continue to be a thorn in Indianapolis’ side — as they can keep the Colts from making the playoffs by beating them in Jacksonville.
The Colts, thanks to a lackluster performance in their 23-20 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday, must beat the Jaguars to secure a playoff berth for the third time in four years under coach Frank Reich.
“Pressure does two things, break pipes or make diamonds, plain and simple,” linebacker Darius Leonard said. “You’re either going to step up when the pressure comes in the fourth quarter; you are going to make a game or you are not. That’s what it’s about. »
The Colts weren’t expected to be in a hot spot until the final week of the regular season — not after the way they’ve been playing lately. They had won six of their last seven games and eight of their last 10 before their Week 17 switch with the Raiders.
None of that will matter if the Colts’ season ends in a loss to the Jaguars.
“I mean we feel like there’s been pressure every week,” Colts quarterback Carson Wentz said. “We had a slow start. It feels like it’s been playoff football for a long time for us. Obviously, [Sunday] we didn’t, but we’re excited to have the opportunity to win, to get in, and then we have to win this one.
The Colts find themselves in this position because they sputtered and never found rhythm in any of their three areas – special teams, offense or defense – against the Raiders.
“We didn’t come to play,” catcher TY Hilton said. “You do this against a good team, you’re not going to win. We hurt each other, and now we have to bounce back. We just didn’t show up. … We were just going through the motions, and they came out with plenty of juice, and we didn’t match that intensity until it was too late.
NFL leading rusher Jonathan Taylor rushed for 108 yards, but those weren’t easy yards to come by as the Raiders got him to win every one of them. Sunday was the first time the Colts lost a game with Taylor rushing for at least 100 yards after winning nine straight.
Wentz, who was out the week before the game because he was on the reserve/COVID-19 roster, looked rusty, throwing for just 148 yards. The defense failed to respond to Raiders receivers Zay Jones (120 yards) or Hunter Renfrow (76).
“It was a hard-fought game,” Reich said. “Really what comes down to making a better call on offense, defense or special teams or making a play on offense, defense or special teams somewhere along the line to put us in position to win this game.”
The pressure is on the Colts, not the Jaguars this weekend. The only thing Jacksonville (2-14), who just lost 40 points to the New England Patriots and will be looking for a new coach this offseason, is the No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming draft.
“The good news for us as a team is that everything is still ahead of us,” Reich said. “Everything we want is always in front of us. It really is. The other good news is that we are still the same team that everyone is talking about. We’re like everyone else, if you just lose a little lead, if you let your guard down a little, you can be beaten in this league.