Colts brace for rematch vs. reeling Jaguars
The Indianapolis Colts are trying to chase down the first-place Houston Texans, and the Jacksonville Jaguars are trying to halt a lengthy losing streak.
Sound familiar? It should. Those were the main story lines when the Colts hosted the Jaguars three weeks ago and not much has changed entering Sunday's matchup between the AFC South rivals in Jacksonville.
Indianapolis (6-5) pretty much delivered the knockout blow to the Jaguars' postseason hopes with a 29-26 victory on Nov. 11 and will be going for its sixth consecutive victory to stay within striking distance of Houston, winners of eight in a row.
"Honestly, I don't think anybody in this locker room is looking at it like a streak," Colts quarterback Andrew Luck said. "(Head Coach) Frank (Reich) has done a great job of keeping us just focused on the task at hand. Whether we were losing games or winning games, whatever it is, the approach has been the same. So in that department, nothing has really changed.
"We just come in and try to make the most out of each day. I know it sounds cliche, but it's what is working for us. That's where our focus needs to stay. I think it is. We'll fight against letting our focus go elsewhere."
Jacksonville (3-8) may have an even bigger fight to not lose its focus. One year after reaching the AFC Championship Game, the Jaguars are in a seven-game tailspin that sent them plummeting to the bottom of the division and led to changes on the roster and coaching staff.
Head coach Doug Marrone benched quarterback Blake Bortles in favor of backup Cody Kessler and replaced fired offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett with quarterbacks coach Scott Milanovich.
"It's not a knee-jerk reaction, obviously," Marrone said. "I really feel at the end of the day we've got to try to get better production out of our passing game. Nathaniel is a good football coach. He is a tireless, hard worker. I have no doubt he will continue to have success in this league."
In addition to the changes, Jacksonville will be without its best offensive player against Indianapolis. Running back Leonard Fournette, who returned from a six-week injury absence in the last matchup against the Colts, was suspended for one game after he was ejected for fighting in last week's loss versus Buffalo.
While the Jaguars are in disarray, Indianapolis is aware that it must worry about playing its own game and ignore the myriad issues of its opponent.
"It means nothing to us, we just got to go out there and play," Colts wideout T.Y. Hilton said. "We know they are going to come out there and they're going to bring it. It's a division game, so for us we got to go out there and try to take the crowd out of the game."
Luck has thrown for three of more touchdown passes in eight consecutive games, helping the Colts average 33.1 points in that span. A ninth such game this week will break a tie that Luck has with Peyton Manning for second place all-time, and leave him just one behind Tom Brady's NFL mark of 10 consecutive games with three or more TD passes.
Although he passed for 285 yards with three touchdowns and one interception in the first meeting against Jacksonville, Luck and the Colts were held off the scoreboard in the second half after bolting to a 29-16 lead at intermission. He is wary of a defense that ranks fifth in total yards allowed and third in passing yards allowed.
"They have great players all over the field," Luck said. "They've got guys who can cover, guys who can rush the passer, their linebackers are elite. They will make you pay for not being on the Ps and Qs. We know that. We know that very well."
Kessler appeared in one game this season, spelling Bortles at Houston in a 20-7 loss. He completed 21 of 30 passes for 156 yards with one TD, one interception, one fumble and he took four sacks. Kessler is still looking for his first win at a starting quarterback.
He made eight career starts -- all coming in his rookie season in 2016 with the Cleveland Browns. A former third-round pick with the Browns, Kessler has appeared in 13 NFL games (12 with Cleveland, one with the Jaguars).
"He'll be ready," Reich said of Kessler. "He's been running their system and been in it, so we'll just prepare against what we've been seeing on tape."
Updated November 28, 2018