Indianapolis Colts Recap: Week 1, at Jacksonville Jaguars

Philip Rivers

AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

This fall, the magazine will recap each week of the Colts’ strange, pandemic-hobbled season. This week: editor-in-chief Michael Rubino and digital editor Derek Robertson dissect a deflating loss to the supposedly basement-dwelling Jacksonville Jaguars.

Derek Robertson: So—it’s been a long, strange journey from Andrew Luck’s abrupt retirement, through the Brissett interregnum, to the beginning of this season, with Colts fans putting their faith in a (once-)elite quarterback to lead them back to AFC title contention. For one beautiful opening drive where Rivers and co. cut through a seemingly inept Jags defense like butter, that scenario still seemed very much in play. And then… the rest of the game happened. Gardner Minshew completed 19 out of 20 (!) passes against a bizarrely passive Colts defense while Rivers turned into a pumpkin, throwing for more than 360 empty yards on the way to an anemic 20 points. It wasn’t enough to overtake a Jags team that, through the first quarter, inspired little but widespread speculation that they were kicking off a tanking campaign for Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence. What did you see, even at the beginning of this game where the Colts were seemingly in control, that foreshadowed its utterly deflating end?

Michael Rubino: We started Philip Rivers. Late in the game, you DM’d something along the lines of, “… If the Colts win this, it will be the most Philip Rivers shit ever.’ And it was—from beginning to end. It’s not that he’s a bad quarterback. He isn’t. He’s FINE. But, at this point of his career, this is the kind of maddeningly inconsistent game you’re going to get from a guy who seems like he should be hanging out with the Carmel Dads’ Club instead of taking snaps from Ryan Kelly. And, in the meantime, the dude who looked like he manages the Knightstown Family Video carved up the Colts defense. Going into this game, the bet was that in order to have a successful season, Rivers was going to have to be good enough and the defense was going to have to be good. Neither—good enough or good—was the case yesterday. And it makes me worry for the rest of the season. Is that an overreaction? Week 1 is full of them. What are you overreacting about?

DR: That’s a fair point. The Week 1 freakout is an NFL tradition, but regardless of whether the Colts had been able to pull off the comeback with that last drive, it doesn’t take a tape freak to recognize this team’s fundamental problems. The second quarter was a perfect example of the typical Rivers-led offensive rollercoaster: still up 7-0, he throws an unbelievably terrible pick that wobbled all the way to the Jags rookie C.J. Henderson, blanketed all over T.Y. Hilton. It was *exactly* the kind of poor decision and execution that Rivers made all year last year. His 20 interceptions, among other things, led the Chargers to decide some combination of Tyrod Taylor and Justin Herbert would be an acceptable alternative. Of course, then there’s still the other end of the rollercoaster, where in the second quarter they scored on a textbook six-minute drive that included a beautiful deep pass to Parris Campbell on the sideline. It was the kind of play that only a few uber-talented quarterbacks can make, and it reminded us of why this seemed like a good idea in the first place. But NFL games aren’t entirely won or lost on QB play—well, not all the time. What else did you see, whether it was on defense, in the coaching, or at the skill positions that worried you yesterday?

MR: If you’re a Colts fan and don’t want to go insane this season, you have to live with the fact that Rivers is unpredictable. But the thing that worries me is not so much that Rivers will look great on one drive and complete trash on other. It’s that all of this is exacerbated by Frank Reich’s penchant to gamble. You can have one wildcard, but not two. But, you’re right, this isn’t all on Rivers. Or Reich. For example, did you see a pass rush? (Or should we blame the DBs?) Also, T.Y.,  you’ve got to catch that ball. Since there’s blame to go ‘round, I’ll try to be positive. Kudos to Rodrigo Blankenship. How do you work a shift at Milktooth, then have the energy to kick a field goal (after an earlier miss) to put the Colts up in the third, 20-17? How doesn’t this guy have a Dr. Tavel sponsorship?

DR: First of all, Rodrigo, if you’re out there and this NFL thing doesn’t work out, my band needs a bassist. Call me. Second, it should not be overlooked that the defense should be sending Rivers a fruit basket, or a Cheesecake Factory gift card, or a  palletful of Pampers for his kids, for taking the spotlight off their lackluster play. A squad that just added DeForest Buckner should not be making Gardner Minshew look like vintage Tom Brady (and letting former Illinois State Redbird James Robinson set a league record for rushing yards by an undrafted rookie). Buckner recorded four solo tackles, which is fine for a somewhat above-average lineman, but far from what you’d expect of the game-wrecking disruptive force as which he was advertised. In another troubling development, Adam Schefter reported that Robinson’s opposite number yesterday in Marlon Mack may have torn his Achilles. Not ideal! The Colts have a ton of depth at that position, however, with Nyheim Hines and Jonathan Taylor, the rookie from Wisconsin. As (deep sigh) a Northwestern football fan, I had a brief moment of intense PTSD watching Taylor rumble 35 yards on a short pass all the way to Jacksonville’s goal line. Let’s take Rivers’ shakiness as a given, and assume charitably that the Colts defense may have just slept on a young Jags team eager to outperform their expectations.

MR: The good thing is that the division is meh. This was just the first game and, for some inexplicable reason, the Colts always have trouble with the Jags. I don’t have answers, so I’d like to close with this: Jacksonville has the stupidest logo in professional football. The jaguar’s tongue is teal, like someone has been feeding it Blue Raspberry Jolly Ranchers. Outside of the Expanded Joe Exotic Universe, who would feed a jungle cat hard candy?

DR: Jacksonville is clearly an integral part of the Expanded Joe Exotic Universe. If Carole Baskin isn’t cooking up copyright infringement-skirting bootleg Jags merchandise featuring some kind of reference to her “cool cats and kittens,” she’s missing a huge opportunity. The Colts are at home next week for a game against the Minnesota Vikings, who looked similarly uninspiring yesterday. We’ll be back on Monday to report on whether the faithful at [insert your preferred 100-flatscreen-and-fried-pickle-touting sports bar here] are, or should be, calling yet for Rivers’ oddly grimacing head.