What to look for: All eyes on what happens after Colts close against Jaguars
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Areas of interest in the Indianapolis Colts’ season finale against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Lucas Oil Stadium:
Kickoff: 1 p.m.
What’s next?: Let’s be honest. Ninety-nine percent of the interest is on what happens after the game. Jaguars owner Shad Khan already pulled the trigger and fired coach Gus Bradley. Will Jim Irsay follow suit and reach for the reset button? As we mentioned earlier in the week, the Colts owner must determine if his franchise is headed in the right direction. If so, he stands pat with coach Chuck Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson. If missing the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1997-98 – with Andrew Luck starting 15 games this year – and enduring too many embarrassing losses is more than Irsay can stomach, change is coming.
It’s hard to imagine Irsay still being undecided on his next move, or non-move. It’s hard to imagine an 8-8 or 7-9 record would be the tipping point.
Stop the bleeding: The Colts used to be the bully of the AFC South. Now, not so much. While they still have the Tennessee Titans’ number – 11 straight wins, 16 of the last 17 – they’ve lost their way against the Jaguars and Houston Texans. Consider this: the Colts have lost five straight to those two – two to Jacksonville, three in a row to Houston. Ouch.
The reversal of fortune against the Jaguars is especially unnerving. Over its last 21 games, Jacksonville is 4-17 – 2-0 against the Colts, 2-17 against the rest of the world. And let’s not forget how the Colts’ last win against the Jaguars unfolded. In a 16-13 overtime nod Oct. 4, 2015, they benefitted from placekicker Jason Myers missing 53- and 48-yard field-goal attempts – the former was a potential game-winner that drifted wide right with 1 second remaining in regulation – and the Jaguars being penalized 13 times.
Moving forward, Indy must regain its bully status in the AFC South. It wouldn’t be a bad idea for that to start Sunday.
Deal with Bortles: Clearly, the Colts haven’t figured out Blake Bortles. The third overall pick in the 2014 draft has totally frustrated Jacksonville’s fan base with stretches of inconsistency and inefficiency. A stat that boggles the mind: Bortles has suffered 11 pick-6s, which equals his career victories (11-33).
Yet he’s usually brought his “A’’ game against the Colts. In his last three starts against Indy, Bortles has passed for 755 yards with six TDs, no interceptions and a 94.1 passer rating. He’s also coming off one of the best games of his career. After Khan fired Bradley following a 21-20 loss at Houston, Bortles led a 38-17 drubbing of the Titans by passing for 325 yards and one TD.
Protect the franchise: We can argue the merits of the Colts trotting out Andrew Luck in a game that carries zero relevance in terms of the playoffs, but there never was a doubt he’d be under center.
“What’s the motivation to play? For me, it’s I love football,’’ he said. “Another chance to get to do what you love with your buddies, with your teammates, with your friends.’’
Now it’s up to the Colts to keep him out of harm’s way as much as possible. In the 30-27 loss to Jacksonville in London, Luck was hit 14 times, including suffering a career-high six sacks.
On the surface, Indy finally has gotten its act together in pass protection. After yielding 31 sacks in its first eight games, it’s allowed only nine in the last seven. The O-line hasn’t allowed a sack in the last two games, the first time in Luck’s 69-game regular-season career he’s not been sacked in consecutive games. The last time the Colts pieced together a three-game sackless streak: 2009.
But let’s pump the brakes just a bit and look past the declining sack total. In the first eight games, the Colts allowed 63 QB hits, or 7.87 per game. In the last seven, there have been 62 hits, 8.9 per game. The sacks are down, but the pressure actually has increased.
Honoring Polian, Mathis: Regardless how the game turns out, there will be reason to celebrate. Long-time executive Bill Polian will be added to the Ring of Honor during a halftime ceremony. Long-time franchise icon Robert Mathis will play in his 210th game, including the playoffs, then retire.
“This will be 98’s last game,’’ Mathis announced Friday. “It will be weird without putting a 98 jersey on. I am Indy, Indy is me.’’
Mathis’ decision to announce his decision prior to the game allows the team and fan base to give him a proper sendoff.
And the winner is: Colts 34, Jaguars 31. We’re going with our heart, not our gut. We won’t be surprised if a season of underachievement ends with Bortles shredding an awful Colts defense and Jacksonville’s pass rush engulfing Luck. But how about finding a way to send Mathis into retirement with a win?