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In preseason debut, Anthony Richardson's 'real growth' happens in real time

Richardson threw an interception on his first NFL preseason drive but impressed head coach Shane Steichen and his teammates with how he responded on Saturday at Highmark Stadium against the Buffalo Bills. 

Anthony Richardson

The Colts saw Anthony Richardson make steady progress throughout the first two and a half weeks of training camp leading into Saturday's matchup with the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium. But that progress came with an acknowledgement that the Colts' preseason games would ratchet up the development process for the 2023 No. 4 overall pick.

"Until you get in those moments," general manager Chris Ballard said before the start of camp, "that's where your real growth takes place."

On Saturday, the Colts saw that real growth happen over the three series in which Richardson quarterbacked the first-team offense.

Richardson's first possession ended when he hitched in the face of pressure from the slot, hesitated then threw high toward wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie. The pass landed in the waiting arms of Bills cornerback Dane Jackson for an interception.

Later in the afternoon, both the passer (Richardson), play-caller (head coach Shane Steichen) and intended target (McKenzie) took responsibility for the turnover. Richardson said shouldn't have been "reckless" with the ball; Steichen said he should've coached the play better; McKenzie said the miscommunication that led to the interception was "on me."

"We knew they were going to bring some pressure," Richardson said. "To be on the same page with Isaiah and just try to manage it and find a way to make it work rather than turn the ball over – should have probably given him a better ball, first of all, instead of throwing it over his head or just should have decided to throw it out of bounds. I tried to make it work, first drive. We got to find a way to manage it and make it work instead of just turning the ball over."

The Colts knew there would be up-and-down moments for Richardson, who on Saturday started his 14th game since his high school graduation. The interception was a down moment, no matter who bore responsibility. But in acknowledging there'd be miscues, the Colts have taken a keen interest in how Richardson would respond to them.

And on Saturday, the Colts saw Richardson respond well.

Richardson moved the chains with a five-yard scramble and nine-yard completion to wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. to begin his next possession, which ended when running back Evan Hull was stopped for no gain on a fourth-and-one carry. On his final drive, Richardson engineered a 14-play, 83-yard march downfield that ended with a field goal attempt.

Over those 14 plays, Richardson lasered a throw through traffic to tight end Kylen Granson for a 20-yard gain and completed a handful of quick throws to keep the Colts on schedule. Wide receiver Alec Pierce wasn't able to come down with a deep ball near the end zone, and a holding penalty on tight end Pharaoh Brown wiped out an impressive run by Richardson – and the Colts' offense wasn't able to recover from being backed up by the latter. Kicker Matt Gay missed a field goal to close out the drive.

But Richardson ended his day – he gave way to Gardner Minshew and the second-team offense after that third drive – on a positive note.

"He bounced back," Steichen. "It was the first drive of the game, he gets the pick there and he comes back and we started moving the ball pretty good. He had some nice touch passes. Good calm. Had some good things. Commanded the huddle, all those different things. I thought he did a nice job."

Minshew saw the same things.

"It was great to see how he responded to that (interception)," Minshew told Colts Media's Larra Overton. "He came back, led a couple good drives — didn't get points but had positive plays, making good decisions. I think he's as long as he's doing that we're going to be playing good ball."

Saturday was the first marker in a critical 12-day stretch ahead of the start of the regular season: From Aug. 12-24, the Colts will play three preseason games and hold three joint practices. And the Colts came away from the start of this determining period encouraged by what Richardson can do – and how he'll respond to it.

"For the most part I love what I saw from him and how he distributed the ball," McKenzie told Overton. "We put some drives together and yeah we came up short with field goals and all that stuff. But it's preseason, we're going to get better. We like what we saw with the offense, with AR, with everybody that was part of the plays we were running downfield. It looks like it's going to be a good season."

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