JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Darius Butler intercepted Jacksonville's Blaine Gabbert and returned it 11 yards for a touchdown as the Indianapolis Colts increased their lead to 24-3 over the Jacksonville Jaguars at the end of the third quarter Thursday night.
It was the second big defensive play of the game for the cornerback, who recovered a fumble in the second quarter that led to a score.
The Jaguars, who struggled offensively all game, seemed to finally be making some traction on their ensuing drive thanks to a 52-yard pass to Cecil Shorts that put them inside the Colts 30. But a sack and holding penalty on consecutive plays led to a punt.
Colts rookie quarterback Andrew Luck ran for two touchdowns and Adam Vinatieri added a field goal in the first half.
Luck was surgical in the opening half, keeping drives alive with several long passes.
He scored on a close 4th-and-goal sneak for his second touchdown, prompting Jacksonville coach Mike Mularkey to throw his play sheet as he ran onto the field arguing for a review.
He was assessed a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and told the play was reviewed and the ruling on the field confirmed.
That seven-play, 61-yard drive was set up by the Colts winning a challenge on a fumble by Laurent Robinson.
It was a microcosm of another abysmal half for the Jags in recent weeks.
Aside from the coaching staff losing two key challenges, Gabbert also had several passes dropped, and there was a costly false start penalty late in the half inside the red zone that caused the Jags to settle for a field goal as the offense struggled.
The Jaguars went three-and-out on their first two drives of the game, before using a few long passes and a scramble by Gabbert to get inside the Colts 30.
The drive stalled, though, and kicker Josh Scobee missed a 44-yard field goal attempt wide right. It would have given him a franchise-record 21 straight makes.
Jacksonville appeared to intercept Luck on the first play of the ensuing Colts series, but the interception was nullified by a roughing the passer penalty on defensive tackle Terrance Knighton.
The Jags' defense did intercept Luck late in the half, but otherwise put little pressure on him.
Indianapolis was without six starters, including both of its starting cornerbacks, two offensive linemen, their starting tight end and All-Pro defensive end Robert Mathis.
Still, they entered the night riding a three-game winning streak, including close wins in consecutive games engineered by the rookie Luck.
It was the sixth game the Colts played without coach Chuck Pagano, whose leukemia diagnosis in October has definitely inspired his team.
Playing in his first prime time game, Luck was one the most recent players to shave his head in his coach's honor, joining more than three dozen others.
The Jaguars came into the matchup hoping to continue their three-game win streak in the series.
Jacksonville had the advantage of home teams boasting a 6-2 mark in Thursday night games this season, after going 7-2 in those prime time games in 2011.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said before the game that fact hasn't been lost on him.
"We had some discussion about that this week. We're looking at that," he said. "One of the things I want to try and do is get the analysis on how teams are performing outside of the Thursday games. We've got to be careful of making decisions quick without the data. We've got to analyze that."
Home teams are 29-14 all-time.
"Yes, but that's not what I'm interested in," Goodell said. "What I'm saying is how are they doing outside of that? In other words, those teams may have a higher percentage of winning anyhow. So, you just have to look at that."
It was the Jaguars annual "Salute to Service" Military Appreciation Game.
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