Colts hope to end streak of futility in Jacksonville

·5 min read

Sep. 17—INDIANAPOLIS — Shaquille Leonard isn't interested in reliving the past.

The three-time All-Pro linebacker was one of the most vocal Indianapolis Colts in the wake of the devastating 26-11 loss against the Jacksonville Jaguars that ended last season in January.

As usual, Leonard's heart was on his sleeve and he talked openly about the pain he was feeling in the moment and the scar it would leave in the months to come.

The Colts (0-0-1) return to Jacksonville's TIAA Bank Stadium on Sunday, looking for their first win of 2022 and attempting to snap a six-game losing streak in the city. But Leonard — who is working his way back from back surgery — doesn't publicly ascribe any extra meaning to the Week 2 contest.

"In my mind, this is just another game," he said. "All you hear is about Jacksonville last year, last year. It's about like talking about your ex-girlfriend when you're with somebody new. You gotta learn from your ex, make your life better and just continue to get better from there. So we're not focusing on that. We're just stacking the days up, want to continue to get better in practice and hit the game ready to rock and roll.

"Hopefully, we come back here with a 'W.'"

If that's the case, it'll be the first time since 2014.

The losses for Indianapolis in North Florida have come in all shapes and sizes.

There was a 51-16 blowout that started the streak in 2015, and there was a 6-0 snoozer in 2018 — one of the oddest losses during the stretch because it was surrounded by 10 consecutive victories.

There was a 30-10 loss in 2017 against a Jaguars team that reached the AFC Championship Game a little more than a month later. And there was a 27-20 loss to open the 2020 season against a Jacksonville team that fell to defeat in its remaining 15 games.

The Colts even have managed to lose to the Jaguars on two continents. The streak outside of Indianapolis is seven consecutive losses including a 2016 date in London.

But last year's loss might hurt most of all. The Colts were 9-7 and needed a victory for their third playoff berth in four seasons.

Instead, they fell behind on the opening drive and never recovered.

It could be argued the loss still lingers today.

"I think over the years, it's been a little bit of everything, but we know the history and we're excited for the challenge," said running back Nyheim Hines, who is 0-4 in Jacksonville. "I mean, to get to new levels, you've gotta face and beat some new devils."

The Jaguars (0-1) are not the same team that beat Indianapolis eight months ago. In many ways, they're better.

It starts at the top with head coach Doug Pederson taking over after the disastrous reign of Urban Meyer.

Second-year quarterback Trevor Lawrence also has been surrounded by better weapons, including high-priced wide receiver Christian Kirk and tight end Evan Engram.

Running backs James Robinson and Travis Etienne are healthy and could form a dangerous combo by season's end.

But Jacksonville's caused the most problems for the Colts in recent years up front on defense. That begins this year with outstanding defensive end Josh Allen being bookended by the No. 1 overall pick in April's NFL draft, former Georgia defensive end Travon Walker.

"I think they made good moves on their side," Indianapolis quarterback Matt Ryan said. "I think it's a team that has gotten better and certainly an athletic front, defensive front four and good players in the second level. So we've got our work cut out for us."

Week 1 did not go as planned for the Colts.

They fell behind the Houston Texans 20-3 after three quarters, rallied to tie the game with a furious fourth-quarter comeback and then missed a 42-yard field goal that would have given them a win in overtime.

It's a missed opportunity that could haunt the entire season, but Indianapolis already has moved on.

Kicker Rodrigo Blankenship was cut Tuesday and will be replaced by either Chase McLaghlin or rookie Lucas Havrisik. Both of the latter kickers were signed to the practice squad this week to continue their competition after emerging from a seven-man tryout.

The tie in Houston also took a physical toll. Wide receivers Michael Pittman Jr. (quad) and Alec Pierce (concussion), cornerback Kenny Moore II (hip) and defensive tackle DeForest Buckner (hip) each appeared daily on the injury report.

Now the Colts must exorcise the demons in their personal house of horrors or risk a winless start with the red-hot Kansas City Chiefs coming to Lucas Oil Stadium in Week 3.

Indianapolis defensive end Yannick Ngakoue was on the other end of the streak for four years with the Jaguars. He said it's best not to focus too much on the past.

"Just put that to the side because certain guys weren't here for that whole little ordeal, as far as knowing the history behind that," Ngakoue said. "So I would just say ... treat it like it's the next one, and it's super critical because of it being a conference game."