INDIANAPOLIS – As the Indianapolis Colts prepare for their season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday, the team looks to break a streak of futility dating back a decade.
For Indy, 2013 marked the last time the Colts won their season opener, a 21-17 win over the Oakland Raiders. Andrew Luck (18-23, 178 yards, 2 TDs) was the quarterback, Vick Ballard (13 rushes, 63 yards) was the team’s leading rusher and Reggie Wayne (8 receptions, 96 yards, 1 TD) was Luck’s top target.
The leading tacklers: LaRon Landry (15), Antoine Bethea (11) and Jerrell Freeman (10). Robert Mathis provided the team’s only sack.
Since then, very little has gone right in Week 1 for the Colts. In fact, they’ve failed to notch a win in nine straight season openers. The only game they didn’t lose was a memorable one—a frustrating 20-20 tie against the Houston Texans last season. Kicker Rodrigo Blankenship missed a game-winning field goal in overtime.
The missed kick came after the team, behind starting QB Matt Ryan, rallied from a 20-3 deficit to tie things up. The Colts cut Blankenship after that, and their fortunes spiraled downward on the way to a 4-12-1 season in which few things went right.
Here’s a look back at the Colts’ streak of futility in Week 1. They lost home and away games, fell to NFC and AFC teams alike and failed to beat divisional opponents.
2014: Broncos 31, Colts 24 (away)
The game pitted Luck against beloved former Colts quarterback Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. Manning led the Broncos to 24 points in the first half, while Indy mustered just a touchdown before the break and trailed 24-7 at halftime.
Luck and the Colts rallied late with a pair of touchdowns in the fourth quarter to make it 31-24 but were unable to complete the comeback.
The Colts finished the season 11-5 and made the playoffs. They reached the AFC Championship Game that year, falling to the New England Patriots 45-7 in the infamous “Deflategate” game.
2015: Bills 27, Colts 14 (away)
This one wasn’t much of a game. The Colts trailed 24-0 before scoring their first touchdown late in the third quarter and adding a two-point conversion to make it 24-8. Indy scored with just under six minutes to play to make it 27-14.
Luck tossed a pair of interceptions. Adam Vinatieri missed a field goal in the first half.
The Colts finished the year 8-8 and failed to make the playoffs. Luck missed nine games after suffering a shoulder injury (Week 3 vs. Titans) and a lacerated kidney (Week 9 vs. Broncos).
Other quarterbacks to play that season for the Colts included Matt Hasselbeck, Charlie Whitehurst, Josh Freeman and Ryan Lindley.
2016: Lions 39, Colts 35 (home)
This high-scoring affair was a heartbreaker of a loss. The Colts trailed 21-3 before rallying to tie the game in a wild fourth quarter.
The Lions scored with just over four minutes left to make it 34-28; kicker Matt Prater missed the extra point. Indy responded with a 6-yard touchdown pass from Luck to tight end Jack Doyle for a 35-34 lead with 37 seconds left.
The defense couldn’t hold, however, and Prater redeemed himself with a 43-yard field goal with four seconds remaining. The Colts were called for a safety on the final play of the game for throwing an illegal forward pass, making the final score 39-35.
The Colts finished 8-8 and again missed the playoffs. Luck missed a Thanksgiving Day game against the Steelers after suffering a concussion against the Titans.
2017: Rams 46, Colts 9 (away)
It doesn’t get much uglier than this. With Andrew Luck sidelined—he’d end up missing the entire season—the Colts went with Scott Tolzien as the starter.
The Rams intercepted Tolzien’s first pass and returned it for a touchdown. Tolzien threw a second pick-six in the third quarter. Jacoby Brissett, traded to the Colts just a week before the season began, relieved Tolzien in the fourth quarter.
The Colts finished 4-12 and missed the playoffs.
2018: Bengals 34, Colts 23 (home)
After missing the entire 2017 season, Luck returned to great fanfare in front of the home crowd at Lucas Oil Stadium. For a while, things were looking good for the Colts, who held a 23-10 lead with about eight minutes left in the third quarter.
But the Cincinnati Bengals rallied to take a 27-23 lead with just under four to play. The Colts marched downfield for what would’ve been a game-winning touchdown, but Jack Doyle fumbled while trying to get a first down, leading to an 83-yard touchdown return for Cincy with under 30 seconds left. The score squashed any hopes of a thrilling, last-second win.
The Colts finished 10-6 and made the playoffs. They beat the Houston Texans at home in the Wild Card Round before losing to Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional Round.
It ended up being Luck’s final season.
2019: Chargers 30, Colts 24 (OT, away)
With Jacoby Brissett starting after Luck’s sudden retirement, the Colts dug themselves into a 24-9 hole before rallying to tie the game with under a minute left. Brissett found T.Y. Hilton for a 19-yard score, while Marlon Mack tied things up with a two-point conversion.
Despite the comeback, the Colts couldn’t hold on for the win.
Austin Ekeler scored on a seven-yard run in overtime to seal it for the Chargers.
The Colts finished the season 7-9 and missed the playoffs.
2020: Jaguars 27, Colts 20 (away)
The Colts turned to Philip Rivers to bring a veteran presence and winning pedigree to the franchise. He led the Colts to a 17-14 lead at halftime, but Indy couldn’t pull off the win.
Colts fans remember this one as the “Gardner Minshew Game.”
Minshew, then a second-year quarterback now a backup QB on the Colts’ roster, completed 19 of 20 passes for 173 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Jags to a 27-20 win.
Making it even worse, the Jaguars went 1-15 on the season, making this their only win of the 2020 campaign.
Rivers and the Colts finished 11-5 on the season and made the playoffs. Indy lost to the Buffalo Bills in the Wild Card Round.
2021: Seahawks 28, Colts 16 (home)
New year, new quarterback—a trend the Colts would ride for years. This time, Carson Wentz took the reins after the Colts worked an offseason trade with the Philadelphia Eagles.
The result was the same, however—the team’s eighth consecutive season-opening loss. Wentz, whose development was slowed by a foot injury that required surgery in training camp, threw for 251 yards and two touchdowns.
The Colts needed only to win one of their final two games to make the playoffs during the 2021 season. They lost both games, finishing 9-8 and missing out on the postseason.
2022: Colts 20, Texans 20 (OT, away)
Matt Ryan, acquired in a trade with the Falcons, came to Indy with high expectations. But the team fell into a hole early before rallying in the fourth quarter.
A missed field goal in overtime led to a 20-20 tie. And while the Colts’ season-opening losing streak was over, a tie felt like a fitting way to keep the streak of futility alive.
To recap, Indy finished the 2022 season 4-12-1, fired coach Frank Reich, hired Jeff Saturday as interim coach, started three different quarterbacks and ended up with the fourth overall pick of the 2023 NFL Draft.
String of starters
When Anthony Richardson takes the field on Sunday, he’ll be the seventh different starting quarterback to open the season for the Colts in the past seven years.
Here’s the list:
- 2017: Scott Tolzien
- 2018: Andrew Luck
- 2019: Jacoby Brissett
- 2020: Philip Rivers
- 2021: Carson Wentz
- 2022: Matt Ryan
- 2023: Anthony Richardson
Before Tolzien started in 2017, Luck had been the Week 1 starter in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. Colts legend Peyton Manning, by the way, started every Week 1 from 1998 (his rookie season) through 2010. The Week 1 starter in 2011 was Kerry Collins.
Debuts for Manning and Luck
It’s hard to know what to expect from Anthony Richardson when he makes his first career NFL start for the Colts on Sunday.
After riding the quarterback carousel for years, the Colts hope the talented rookie is a long-term solution who will provide stability at the position for years to come.
The fourth overall pick of the 2023 NFL Draft is the latest franchise quarterback taken by the Colts in the first round.
How did the other guys do? Let’s take a look.
Peyton Manning: Sept. 6, 1998
Manning brought a great college career, a keen mind and an NFL pedigree to the Colts when the team made him the first overall pick of the 1998 NFL Draft.
Manning’s debut came in a home game at the RCA Dome against Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins. This was before NFL realignment, making this a divisional game between AFC East foes. While the score didn’t look that bad (24-15), it was a rough start for Manning.
The rookie went 21-37 for 302 yards and a touchdown. He threw three interceptions and endured four sacks.
Late in the game, Manning threw an interception to Miami’s Terrell Buckley, who returned it 21 yards for a touchdown to make it 24-9.
Manning responded by scoring a touchdown on the final drive of his NFL debut, hitting Marvin Harrison (who else?) for a six-yard score as the clock ticked down.
Andrew Luck: Sept. 9, 2012
Luck had big shoes to fill when the Colts decided to part ways with Manning and made him the first overall pick of the 2012 NFL Draft.
Like Manning, Luck brought a wealth of college experience and an NFL pedigree to the franchise. He combined that with next-level football IQ and athleticism.
Luck made his first NFL start against Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.
From a statistical standpoint, Luck’s debut looked quite a bit like Manning’s: 23-45 for 309 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions. He was sacked three times and lost a fumble.
Like Manning, Luck also threw his first career touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, although it wasn’t a beat-the-clock affair. Trailing 34-14 with about 10:30 left in the game, Luck hit Donnie Avery for a four-yard touchdown to make it 34-21.
The Bears added another score a few minutes later to make it 41-21, the final score.