‘This much’ the difference in Colts, Kenny Moore outlasting the Jags

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - NOVEMBER 11: Rashad Greene #13 of the Jacksonville Jaguars fumbles the football as Clayton Geathers #26 of the Indianapolis Colts makes the tackle sealing the game for Indianapolis at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 11, 2018 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – In a game of inches and with a team with such a small margin for error, we’re talking about this much.

Hold your index finger and thumb about an inch apart.

That might have been the difference in the Indianapolis Colts extending their winning streak to three, or blowing a 29-16 halftime lead against the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.

An inch. Maybe 24 inches.

Just enough daylight between the turf and Rashad Greene Sr.’s knee for the replay booth to overturn what had been ruled a 10-yard completion and give Andrew Luck the opportunity to take three knees and give the Colts a 29-26 victory.

The Jaguars faced a third-and-1 at the Indy 35 with 1:35 remaining when Blake Bortles went to his fourth-year wideout. As Greene gathered in the pass, he quickly was wrapped up by safety Clayton Geathers. Cornerback Kenny Moore II arrived and began pulling at the football.

It came out and safety Malik Hooker recovered, but the officials insisted only after Greene was down. Before the Jaguars could snap the next play, the replay booth signaled for a review.

“It was close,” Geathers admitted. “It was close, but it went our way.”

Frank Reich didn’t see a definitive replay until late in the process.

“The look I saw at the end it was pretty clear to me it was out,” he said. “I felt pretty confident.”

Ditto, Moore.

“I’m not going to bet against myself,” he said.

As it turns out, Moore had predicted the game-sealing takeaway a few plays earlier.

“He called it maybe two plays before that,” rookie linebacker Darius Leonard said. “I trusted him and it happened.

“He said, ‘I’m gonna make a turnover.’ He called it. I believe him.”

Moore smiled.

“Yeah, I did,” he said. “It’s crunch time and that’s what we’re coached to do, to get the ball away from them.”

It marked the second straight game the defense followed a similar script. Against Oakland and Jacksonville, it has yielded 54 points, 762 total yards and 43 first downs. It’s faced 120 plays, including 73 against the Jaguars.

Yet it’s generated two plays that made the difference.

In the 42-28 win at Oakland, Leonard forced a fumble with 5 minutes to play. That came after the Raiders had motored to TDs on four of their previous five possessions.

Sunday, it was Moore with the timely takeaway. To that point, the Jaguars had piled up 415 yards, including 320 by Bortles.

“Unfortunately we lead the league in reception-fumbles after we’ve caught the ball,” Jacksonville coach Doug Marrone said. “So we’ve got to do a better job of hanging on to the football and giving ourselves a chance.

“It’s disappointing when you don’t give yourself an opportunity to go and win a game.”

First-year defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus stresses takeaways every practice, every play. Dig at the football, pry it out of the ball carrier’s hands.

“Our coach always says play each play like it’s your last, and that’s what we do,” Leonard said. “We (stress) strips in practice and you see it in the game.

“Two weeks in a row the defense takes the ball away in the last minutes.”

“Everybody gets to the ball,” Geathers said. “We pride ourselves on takeaways. No matter when you get ‘em, first quarter, fourth quarter, whenever. It doesn’t matter.

“The issue is the ball. Everybody goes for the ball. The ball is the key. We got it. We took it out at the end.”

Good thing. Until Moore’s late-game thievery, the Colts were on the verge of blowing leads of 29-13 (second quarter) and 29-16 (halftime).

“Tale of two halves, right?” Reich said. “Offensively we came out on fire. We were hummin’. Big plays, chuck plays. Andrew was clutch all over the field.”

Added Luck: “It’s sort of a mixed bag of emotions. A win, excited. But also a little bit angry at mistakes I know I felt like I made and the offense made.

“We did well enough in the first half offensively to put some points on the board and then sort of survived.”

The Colts survived without scoring in the second half for the first time since a 17-10 win over the New York Jets in 1995.

In the prolific first half, the offense amassed 306 yards and Luck was 16-of-20 for 217 yards and three touchdowns. Tight end Eric Ebron accounted for three TDs – 53- and 12-yard hookups with Luck and a 2-yard run – while tight end Mo Alie-Cox added a 1-yard TD catch.

The second half? Not much. The Colts managed 60 yards on just 17 plays, and three were Luck kneel-downs. Too often they self-destructed: a holding penalty on rookie tackle Braden Smith, an ensuing drop by rookie running back Nyheim Hines on first-and-20 that probably would have picked up the first down and a drop by Alie-Cox that resulted in an interception by Telvin Smith.

“We left two big chunk plays out there that are probably going to result in points,” Reich said. “That’s the game. We’ve got to execute.”

Which is precisely what the bend-but-don’t-break defense did when it mattered.

The mindset in the huddle as the Jaguars were driving.

“Get them off the field,” said Moore, who anticipated what was to come.

The Jaguars, he explained, had been running the same route all afternoon.

“Indy-7,” he said. “The slot (Greene) went 5-and-in and caught the ball. I wasn’t even thinking about it.

“I just did it.”

“It wasn’t pretty throughout the whole game,” Hooker said, “but at the end we came up big.”

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51

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