The Indianapolis Colts became the latest to hammer the Jacksonville Jaguars at home, winning 27-10 on Thursday night behind rookie quarterback Andrew Luck's two rushing touchdowns.
Darius Butler returned an interception for a score as the Colts (6-3) won their fourth consecutive game and snapped a three-game losing streak in the series. The Jaguars (1-8) have lost six straight, their worst start in franchise history.
The Colts had cause for concern following an emotional victory four days earlier, one in which cancer-stricken coach Chuck Pagano delivered a passionate, postgame speech in the locker room. Interim coach Bruce Arians was worried the team might crash from the emotional high.
Not even close.
Indianapolis scored on three consecutive possessions in the first half, opening up a 17-0 lead that started emptying the stands at EverBank Field.
"This win was huge," Luck said. "We wanted to keep our winning streak going. Jacksonville got us earlier this year. We didn't want to go 0-2 against a team. This is a good step in the right direction, but no one looks back at the fact that you were 6-3 in the middle of the season. It's what we do at the end of the season."
Coming off an NFL rookie record 433 yards passing against Miami, Luck wasn't quite as sharp in his prime-time debut. He didn't need to be, either.
Luck completed 18 of 26 passes for 227 yards, with an interception and a fumble. But he was unstoppable near the end zone, juking defenders with two pump fakes and scrambling for a 5-yard score on one drive and then plunging across the goal line on fourth down on the next possession.
That was plenty against the Jaguars, who have the league's worst offence and played a third game without star running back Maurice Jones-Drew.
Jacksonville has lost every game since a come-from-behind victory at Indianapolis. Blaine Gabbert hit Cecil Shorts III for an 80-yard touchdown in the final minute, stunning the Colts.
There was no drama in the rematch.
The Colts essentially sealed the victory when Butler stepped in front of Gabbert's pass in the flat and went untouched for an 11-yard score early in the third quarter.
"It was an anticipated thing," Butler said. "It was something I had seen those guys do on film, so I was ready for it and jumped in front of him. I knew they wanted to get the ball out quick. I was ready for it and went for it. A great feeling."
Indianapolis became just the third road team to win on Thursday night this season, and just the fifth in the last two seasons. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said before the game that the league is analyzing whether home teams on short weeks have a distinct advantage.
It certainly would help any road team to play in Jacksonville.
The Jaguars have been outscored 153-44 at home this season, on the wrong end of lopsided losses to Houston, Cincinnati, Chicago and Detroit.
Against Indy, nothing seemed to go Jacksonville's way.
Marcedes Lewis, Rashad Jennings and Shorts dropped passes early. Josh Scobee missed a 44-yard field goal attempt, snapping a streak of 20 consecutive makes.
The Jaguars had an interception overturned by a roughing the passer penalty on Terrance Knighton, keeping alive a drive that ended in a touchdown. They also were on the losing end of two reviews.
"We're trying to overcome ourselves," coach Mike Mularkey said. "We have to overcome ourselves. When we do that, we'll start winning games."
The mistakes kept coming, too.
Laurent Robinson fumbled at the end of a 9-yard gain, getting the ball stripped by Moise Fokou. Officials initially ruled Robinson was down, but the call was overturned on review. That turnover led to Indy's second touchdown and prompted Mularkey's meltdown on the sideline.
Mularkey lost his cool when officials refused to acknowledge his pleas for a review on Luck's fourth-down TD plunge. Luck appeared to fumble the ball as he crossed the goal line.
All scoring plays are reviewed, so Mularkey couldn't challenge, but he seemingly wanted officials to take a longer look at the scoring play. He whipped his play sheet and headset onto the field, drawing a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct.
"I lost my composure because of it," Mularkey said. "I knew it was going to be reviewed. I certainly thought the review would see what everybody else saw."
Players followed his lead, getting flagged for five more 15-yard penalties. Knighton, centre Mike Brewster, safety Dawan Landry, defensive end Andre Branch and receiver Justin Blackmon all drew flags. The Jaguars finished the night with 10 penalties for 115 yards.
"That's not going to be who we are," Mularkey said. "There's no way we're going to be that way. We will not be that type of team. We will be a disciplined team, we'll be a smart team and we will be a physical team. But we will not be that team that's going to have personal fouls. It will stop."
Trailing 17-0, Mularkey wanted to go for it on fourth-and-4, but Gabbert bobbed his head and was flagged for a false start. Mularkey settled for a field goal.
Gabbert completed 18 of 31 passes for 209 yards, with an interception. He left the game in the fourth quarter after re-injuring his left, non-throwing shoulder. He could have returned, but Mularkey decided to keep him on the bench with the score out of hand.
Shorts caught six passes for 105 yards and a touchdown, a 4-yarder from backup Chad Henne. Robinson finished with nine receptions for 77 yards.
"We're so close but so far at the same time," Gabbert said. "We get drives going and we have to make a play and we haven't done that. We definitely didn't do that tonight."
Notes: Colts DT Drake Nevis injured a hand. ... Colts hadn't won four straight since closing the 2010 regular season. ... Jacksonville's previous worst start had been 1-7 in 2003, the first season for former coach Jack Del Rio. ... Jaguars have lost five straight Thursday night games and dropped nine of 10 prime time affairs.Suggest a correction