T.Y. Hilton takes blame for Colts’ opening loss, but there’s a long line

Colts

T.Y. Hilton #13 of the Indianapolis Colts makes a reception during the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field on September 13, 2020 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS – Frank Reich cut to the chase after yet another opening misstep.

“Any time you lose,’’ he said on a Sunday Zoom conference call, “there’s enough blame to go around for everybody, coaches and players.’’

His Pro Bowl wideout wasn’t having any of that.

“I lost the game,’’ T.Y. Hilton insisted after his Indianapolis Colts failed to end a slew of numbing streaks against Jacksonville.

How?

“Two drops,’’ he said. “Never should’ve happened.’’

Hilton’s blame-me refrain was admirable, and embodied his role as an offensive captain.

With the Colts in position to pull even at 27-all in the final minute, Hilton twice was unable to secure what would have been first-down passes from Philip Rivers inside the Jaguars’ 30-yard line. The second drop occurred on fourth-and-5 at the 26.

Don’t credit cornerbacks Tre Herndon or rookie C.J. Henderson, Hilton insisted.

“He got nothing on both of them,’’ he said. “That was just me.’’

Again, admirable.

But misguided.

Seldom do we only need a finger or two when pointing to reasons for this loss or that loss. Sunday required a handful to explain away a 27-20 loss that extended more than a few Colts’ streaks. They’ve now lost seven straight openers (1-10 in the last 11), eight straight openers on the road and six straight on the road against the Jaguars.

Yes, Hilton’s drops were killers. Intent on putting an injury-plagued 2019 behind him, he managed just four catches and 53 yards on nine targets.

But let’s not kid ourselves, the Colts never should have been in scramble mode over the final 3 minutes. Consider:

PHILIP RIVERS

The team’s $25 million offseason acquisition passed for 363 yards to nine different receivers and an 8-yard touchdown to Nyheim Hines, but also suffered two crippling interceptions. This from a QB who had 20 a year ago.

Reich took the blame for the first, insisting it was “a bad call. It was the wrong call.’’

With Rivers targeting Hilton on the right side, the Jaguars surprised him with their coverage. Henderson came off his man and came up with his first career interception.

“I thought (Henderson) was out of there and he wheeled back and made a play,’’ Rivers said. “I felt him right as I was letting it go.’’

On the second, Rivers expected Parris Campbell to beat backup safety Andrew Wingard “to the spot.’’

Wrong.

Jacksonville capitalized on Rivers’ first interception with Gardner Minshew’s 6-yard TD to D.J. Chark, which tied things at 7-all, while the Colts’ defense limited the Jaguars to Josh Lambo’s 46-yard field goal on the second.

That’s 10 points off Rivers’ giveaways.

And Rivers’ two interceptions?

“I don’t have any concern,’’ Reich said.

QUANTITY, NOT QUALITY

The offense getting very little done despite doing so much. It generated 27 first downs and 445 net yards, and didn’t punt for just the sixth time since the 1970 merger.

But the Colts, 5th in the NFL in red-zone efficiency a year ago, were just 2-for-5 against the Jaguars. Hines capped a crisp opening drive with a 12-yard TD, but then was stuffed for no gain on fourth-and-1 at the 3.

Reich, ever the aggressor, never hesitated going for it.

“Be aggressive,’’ he said. “It was a strong ‘go’ in all the analytics charts. I was feeling that anyway.

“We loved that play; obviously it was ill-advised. Thought it was going to be a good call, but they just outplayed us on that play, and out-schemed us as coaches.’’

According to Rivers, it never should have come down to a fourth-and-1 decision. On second-and-10 at the 12, he hit Zach Pascal with a 6-yard gain, but missed Jack Doyle for a TD.

“A gimme,’’ Rivers insisted. “It should have been 14-to-nothing.’’

The other two non-TD trips consisted of rookie Rodrigo Blankenship’s 38-yard field goal at the end of the first half and Blankenship’s 30-yard attempt in the third quarter that glanced off the left upright. In large part, the latter drive stalled due to a pair of illegal formation penalties inside the Jaguars’ 12.

“It ultimately came down to we turned it over and we had penalties in the red zone,’’ Rivers said. “Twenty-seven first downs, 450 net yards. You usually feel pretty good about that.’’

DEFENSIVE LAPSES

The defense limited the Jaguars to 241 total yards and generating four sacks, but always seemed to be on its heels. That was especially true when dealing with Minshew. He was just this side of perfect: 19-of-20, 173 yards, TDs to Chark, Keelan Cole Sr. and rookie Laviska Shenault Jr. Minshew’s 22-yarder to Cole in the fourth quarter was the game-winner, and came via busted coverage in the Indy secondary.

Minshew’s mastery?

“That sucked,’’ All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard said.

The Jaguars also benefitted from an efficient debut from James Robinson. Their undrafted rookie running back finished with 62 yards on 16 carries and added another 28 yards on one reception.

Just like that, the Colts are staring up from a hole heading into week 2’s home opener against Minnesota.

“We’ll learn from this,’’ Reich said. “It’s one game. We’ll get better and be ready to go next week.’’

Rivers agreed.

“You can call us frustrated a little bit because we expected to win the game and in a lot of ways probably should have,’’ he said. “But, shoot, we’ve just got a lot to be excited about.

“We’re in this thing for the long haul.’’

INJURY

Marlon Mack’s season might have ended before it had barely got started.

The Indianapolis Colts fear their leading rusher suffered a torn right Achilles in the second quarter of their opener with the Jacksonville Jaguars, according to a source with knowledge of the situation. An MRI will determine whether the worst-case scenario is true.

Mack, in his fourth season and the final year of his rookie contract, went down and grabbed his right lower leg after catching a 3-yard pass in the second quarter. He was helped off the field before being taken to the locker room on a cart.

Mack, 24, rushed for a career-high 1,091 yards last season.

With Mack out, the Colts have turned to rookie Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

Listen to the Colts Blue Zone Podcast for weekly coverage and analysis of the Indianapolis Colts.

PRE-GAME

(Photo By Dave Griffiths)

During the pre-game nation anthem, Indianapolis stood with their arms linked while head coach Frank Reich took a knee.

The Colts released the following statement regarding the display:

Today our football team made a statement on behalf of the Black communities in our state of Indiana; but also on behalf of all Black communities from where our players and coaches call home. Our intent is to bring attention to the issue of systemic racism and the injustice inherit therein. We also wanted to demonstrate a symbolic gesture of how we believe meaningful change happens.

TO BE CLEAR – we were not protesting the flag, the anthem, or the men and women who wear the uniform. The timing of this action is meant to highlight that the presence, power, and oppression of racism remains inconsistent with the unity and freedoms of what it means to be an American. 

Our Black communities feel the weight of this issue and they are hurting. Our statement today and going forward expresses that we will not merely speak out against racism, but we will demonstrate our convictions with consistent action to support and uplift our Black communities.

Our statement included the two-fold symbolic gesture of stepping forward and kneeling: 

On stepping forward: Making significant progress to end racism requires all of us to step forward. More specifically, it requires white leaders stepping forward to bring about real change to eliminate discrimination and equal the playing field in all areas, such as housing, education, and law enforcement. The changes we need are not short-term fixes. Rather, they are system changes that will have generational impact.

On kneeling: It is not a posture of defiance but rather one of humility – taken by the White community – to acknowledge the injustice and inequality that is present, and to find the courage and resolve to make the changes needed.

The team standing and locking arms is symbolic of our unity and strength. We desire to stand with and for each other and for our Black communities in the fight for justice and equality. 

Join us. We will not be silent; we will not be neutral; we will not be passive!

Indianapolis Colts

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett tweeted about the Colts pre-game statements.

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