Calvin Ridley shines in Jaguars’ sloppy season-opening win over Colts

INDIANAPOLIS — In his Players’ Tribune piece published in March, Calvin Ridley wasn’t short on confidence. He explained how he’s the strongest he has ever felt mentally and physically. 

He let the NFL world know that he’d dominate in his return after missing last season due to a violation of the league’s gambling policy. 

“On my daughter’s name, if I’m healthy? With Trevor Lawrence?” Ridley wrote. “I’m giving Jacksonville 1,400 yards a season, period.”

He’s off to a good start. 

In his Jaguars debut, his first regular-season game in 23 months, Ridley had a team-high eight catches for 101 yards and a touchdown in Jacksonville’s 31-21 season-opening victory at Indianapolis, looking like the No. 1 receiver he was expected to be.

He showed no obvious signs of rust, despite the fact that his last regular-season action was in Week 6 of the 2021 season. He caught fire in Jacksonville’s second drive, catching four passes for 41 yards and a touchdown. He had seven receptions for 92 yards by halftime, the bulk of his production for the game. 

Ridley was everything Jacksonville had seen in him throughout the spring and summer. Crafty. Fast. An electric route runner. Indianapolis couldn’t stop him. 

“Not a surprise to me and I don’t think it was to anybody,” Lawrence said. “He played great.”

It was the Ridley who makes the Jaguars a major contender in the AFC this season. His addition to an already dynamic passing game, with Christian Kirk, Zay Jones and Evan Engram — all of whom had 70-plus receptions last season — gives the offense a pick-your-poison feel. 

Trevor Lawrence, Jaguars offense show out in week 1 win over Colts

We saw brief flashes of that experience Sunday. 

Jones’ 55-yard performance was highlighted by his 18-yard touchdown in the second quarter, a phenomenal diving grab near the back right corner of the end zone. Engram (49 receiving yards) caught a 26-yard dart from Lawrence down the sideline, helping to set up a 45-yard field goal from place kicker Brandon McManus that put the Jaguars up 17-14 in the third quarter. 

At times, Lawrence was surgical. He completed 75% of his passes (24-of-32) for 241 yards and two touchdowns with an interception. His passer rating was 103.8. 

The Jaguars shot themselves in the foot with plenty of miscues, though. One left them on the wrong side of one of the most bizarre moments you’ll ever see in a professional football game. 

Colts standout defensive tackle DeForest Buckner registered a sack-fumble on a Lawrence pass attempt in the third quarter, and it was scooped up by rookie running back Tank Bigbsy, who like the rest of his Jacksonville teammates, appeared to think the play was dead. So he just stood with the ball in his hands. 

That’s when Colts linebacker Zaire Franklin ran up behind him, punched the ball free and Buckner recovered and returned it for a 26-yard touchdown, giving Indianapolis its first lead of the game at 21-17 with 2:27 left in the third. 

“For some reason, we all kind of froze,” coach Doug Pederson said. 

The Jaguars also struggled on third and fourth down, going a combined 4-of-15 (3-of-12 on third down, 1-of-3 on fourth down). They went 2-of-5 on third and fourth down with three yards or fewer for a first down, including 0-for-3 on their last three attempts, exacerbating their inability to pull away. 

It marked offensive coordinator Press Taylor’s first game as the full-time playcaller. 

“I thought it went great from a play-calling standpoint,” Pederson said. “We have to execute better. There were just too many mistakes, too many little things that flared up offensively that cost us. … Things that we can control we have to do a better job at doing.”

But the Jaguars showed a resilient spirit to pull away in the end, a characteristic that defined their rise late last season from afterthought to AFC South champion. It was all three phases finally delivering. 

Receiver Jamal Agnew’s 48-yard punt return was the catalyst Sunday. It set up Jacksonville in plus territory, a series that ended in a goal-line touchdown rush for Bigsby, making up for his gaffe in the third quarter. 

Then cornerback Tyson Campbell picked off rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson on the second play of the Colts’ ensuing series. 

Then Jaguars running back Travis Etienne Jr. pushed the lead to two scores with a 26-yard touchdown run, beginning the exodus of Colts fans out of Lucas Oil Stadium. 

Jaguars linebacker Foye Oluokun stuffed a run by tailback Deon Jackson the middle on third-and-1 from the 1-yard line on the next Indianapolis series, then broke up a pass to Michael Pittman Jr. on fourth down to seal the game with 52 seconds left.  

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A win is a win, no matter how it looked.

“Week 1 of the regular season — even Week 2, Week 3 — you’re still trying to figure out who you are and what you want to be as a team,” Pederson said. “You’re not a well-oiled machine going into Week 1. That was obviously on display today. 

“I learned a lot last year with this team,” he continued. “Playing for four quarters, learning how to finish, learning how to win. That showed up today, and that’s a great sign.”  

Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for for three seasons (2018-20) prior to moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.

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