Alec Pierce got to his spot, saw the Jaguars in a single-high safety look with cornerback Shaquill Griffin ready to play press coverage, and looked over to the 14,000-yard, should-be Hall of Fame wide receiver on the Colts' sideline who happened to be his position coach.
Be patient, Reggie Wayne signaled to his rookie pupil. Don't try to run by Griffin – get a clean release and the ball's coming your way with a chance to win the game.
Pierce fought through a bit of contact – another coaching point of Wayne's – and got the clean outside release the Colts needed. Ryan took the shot. And Pierce dunked on Griffin to haul in the game-winning 32-yard touchdown with 23 seconds left, earning the Colts a 34-27 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
"He had so much poise on the release," head coach Frank Reich said. "What happens is a lot of times, guys just try and rush the release. And he didn't rush the release."
So much had to be be done right and executed properly for Ryan to drop that pass in to Pierce. Inside everything that went into it:
The playcall. Facing a third-and-13 at the 32-yard line with the Jaguars up by a point, the Colts could've played things conservatively to make sure Chase McLaughlin could kick the game-winning field goal. McLaughlin came up huge in the Colts' Week 5 win over the Broncos, with game-tying and game-winning field goals in the fourth quarter and overtime, respectively.
But the Colts figured they'd get a single-high safety and loaded box with Jacksonville trying to generate a negative play to make a McLaughlin's kick even longer. And there was no hesitation on how the Colts would try to attack it: With a "conversion route," Reich said. If Pierce was pressed by Griffin, the route would convert to either a go ball (with a chance to win the game) or a quick slant (with a chance to get McLaughlin a shorter field goal).
"As soon as I said, 'Hey, how do you feel,'" Reich said, "(Ryan said) 'Oh, yeah, that's what I wanted.' And I gave him the option. I said, 'If Alec is pressed, you can take him on a go-route or you can take him on, like, a quick slant.' There was never any question it was going to be go the whole time."
The mentality. During a break prior to the Colts' first-and-10 play at the 29-yard line, center Ryan Kelly said a few players were having a discussion: If we complete a pass, should we try to score a touchdown or get down so we can set up a game-winning field goal try with no time remaining?
"We're looking at each other like, f––, do we score, do we get down and get the field goal," Kelly said. "And then Matt just said, hey, 'f––ing score.'"
The release. Part of Wayne's coaching on Pierce was because he didn't get good leverage on a go ball earlier in the game. Wayne previously told Pierce to fight through contact instead of trying to run around the corner in front of him, then gave him that "be patient" hand signal.
"I was just working to make sure (Griffin) didn't get hands on me," Pierce said. "Didn't really try to do too much on the release — just knew he was going to be playing the sticks and not really expecting it. I knew I had to be clean off the ball, not let him get hands on me and I'd be good to go."
The protection. The Jaguars consistently generated pressure on Ryan in Week 2 using overload fronts and stunts with their defensive line. The Colts handled those fronts and stunts well throughout the game – Ryan was not sacked on 58 pass attempts – and, when it counted the most, Kelly and left guard Quenton Nelson passed off a stunt between interior linemen Corey Peters and Roy Robertson-Harris and stonewalled those guys. While defensive tackle DaVon Hamilton still got some pressure on Ryan, he had enough time to not only get the throw off, but place the ball where it needed to be.
"That last third down, the catch — they came in an overload front, which that got us beat the first time we played them, and we stuffed it," Kelly said. "We kept Matt clean enough to get that ball out and go out there and win."
The catch. Pierce got a step on Griffin and sensed the Jaguars cornerback was in panic mode. With good leverage, all he had to do was find the ball and make a play.
"That's his route, the fade," wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. said. "He comes up big on them. So I mean, just keep throwing it to him and he's gonna catch one of them.
"... I see him kind of chicken wing (Griffin) off and them I'm like 'oh s––, oh s––.' And then he catches it and I said an even worse word, and then I ran over there."
The trust. All this came together because Reich trusted Ryan and the offensive line, and Ryan trusted Pierce to make a play.
"(Reich said) 'Hey, trust what you see,'" Ryan said. "'You can go this or you can go that.' And I just trusted Alec. He's so good on those kind of routes. I think a lot of times in those situations, throwing the ball past the sticks, being aggressive, taking a shot is huge. You can't play scared in those situations. And I thought it was, you know, a great call. Great route. And just tried to give him a chance. And a really good play by him."