INDIANAPOLIS – The decision came Friday afternoon. Maybe it was earlier.
Regardless the timeline, one of Jeff Saturday’s most impactful decisions as interim coach involved shuffling the Indianapolis Colts’ quarterback room.
Sam Ehlinger was out after two starts.
Matt Ryan was back in control.
Saturday initially announced Ehlinger would start Sunday against the Las Vegas Raiders, but that was Monday night as he was being introduced as Frank Reich’s replacement.
The first time he actually saw Ryan throw was Thursday. The 15-year veteran suffered a Grade 2 separation in his last start, the 19-10 loss at Tennessee.
“I told him ‘Go back-to-back,’’’ Saturday said following the Colts’ 25-20 win over the Raiders. “And again, now this is my first experience really ever seeing him throw and he looked really good.’’
He talked things over with the offensive staff on Friday.
“But I knew what I was going to do,’’ Saturday said, “and I knew everybody was with it.
“I felt like Matt gave us the best chance to win. I wanted to make sure he was in the right space to do it. He wanted all of it. Let’s go, let it rip.’’
Ryan had appeared in 239 games in his decorated career, all as a starter. He believed if he could put together a solid week of practice – “And that week only being two days,’’ he said – there was a chance he could be involved in the Raiders game.
But as a starter? Ehlinger’s backup?
“I didn’t know. I didn’t know,’’ Ryan said. “And so, really Friday afternoon I started to get a feel for how it might go and then (Saturday) kind of talked to everybody and let us know where we were at.
“When he asked me about it earlier in the week, I really just said, ‘I only know one way to do it. And so if I do it, this is how I do it and this is who I am and this is how it’s worked for me.’
“I didn’t get any commitments or anything like that, just the opportunity to work. I’m proud of what we did today.’’
With Parks Frazier calling plays for the first time, the Ryan-led offense generated 415 total yards and found a rare balance: 222 yards on 28 Ryan pass attempts and 207 yards on 30 rushes.
Saturday’s reaction to Ryan?
“Stud, man,’’ he said.
Ryan completed 21-of-28 passes for the 222 yards, including what proved to be the game-winning 35-yard TD to Parris Campbell with 5:07 remaining. He set up the TD to Campbell with a 39-yard scramble, the longest run of his career.
“I’m not used to being in the open field for that long,’’ he said. “A really good play call by Parks. We kind of went with some tempo there, trying to see if we couldn’t just pick something up, get a guy in space.
“It opened up kind of a running lane to the right. It was man-to-man coverage, so everybody was kind of flowing to the left and I got out.’’
Wideout Ashton Dulin provided an escort down the right sideline.
“Maybe if I was a little faster, I could have scored,’’ Ryan said with a smile. “But I (did) the best I could.’’
Ryan finished with 38 rushing yards, another career best. His 1-yard sneak – with Michael Pittman Jr. pushing from behind – in the first quarter gave the Colts a 7-0 lead.
Ryan delivered the 46th game-winning drive of his career. That’s tied for sixth all-time. Four have come this season.
Ryan back? No problem with the boss
Owner Jim Irsay was the driving force behind the Colts turning to Ehlinger. But he insisted the move wasn’t made with the intention of never going back to Ryan.
“When we made the change . . . I said, ‘Look, we have three guys that can all help us win. It’s a long season. Matt’s hurt. Sam has a chance to come in with his feet and make some plays for us. But it doesn’t mean we’re not going back to Matt,’’’ Irsay told reporters outside the Colts’ locker room.
“Everything that’s been done has been done to win. It’s very simple. Nothing’s been done for any reason except ‘What’s the best for the franchise.’ Same thing with Matt starting today. He felt really healthy. We’re on the road in a tough place and he’s still got plenty when you protect him and run the ball like we did. We saw what we’re capable of doing.’’
Big game for Taylor
Jonathan Taylor was the catalyst of the Colts’ revived run game. After missing the New England loss with an ankle injury, he rushed 22 times for 147 yards. His season-long 66-yard touchdown in the third quarter gave the Colts a 19-14 lead.
It was Taylor’s second 100-yard game of the season, but first since the season opener at Houston (161 yards on 31 attempts).
According to ESPN Stats & Info, Taylor’s fourth career rushing TD of at least 60 yards tied Lenny Moore’s franchise record.
This and that
Campbell finished with seven receptions for a career-best 76 yards, highlighted by the 35-yard TD. Pittman added seven catches for 53 yards and tight end Kylen Granson four catches for 57 yards.
Linebacker Zaire Franklin led the defense with 10 tackles, including seven solos. Linebacker Bobby Okereke had nine.
The defense got to Derek Carr for two sacks: one by tackle Grover Stewart and a shared sack by DeForest Buckner and Yannick Ngakoue.
Placekicker Chase McLaughlin converted a pair of 48-yard field goals, but had a third 48-yard attempt ricochet off the right upright.
The Colts failed to score a point on their opening drive for an 11th straight game, but posted a lead at halftime (13-10) for the first time. They also entered the fourth quarter with the lead for the first time this season (19-14).
Defensive end Kwity Paye was forced from the game after aggravating an ankle injury. He practiced Wednesday and Thursday but missed Friday’s work with the injury. He was questionable for the game.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.