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Five Things Learned

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5 Things Learned, Colts vs. Buccaneers Preseason Week 3

The Colts played their starters on Saturday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for one last dress rehearsal ahead of their Sept. 11 season opener in Houston. Here are five big things we learned from the Colts' 27-10 win in their final preseason game:

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1. Matt Ryan's connection with Michael Pittman Jr. looked strong – again.

Three of Ryan's five completions went to Pittman, including a 17-yard strike that got the Colts to Tampa Bay's one-yard line in the first quarter. It's no surprise Ryan's burgeoning rapport with Pittman shined on Saturday – completions between those two were a staple of the last month of training camp.

When Ryan was asked why he's developed such a strong connection with Pittman, who had 88 catches for 1,082 yards in 2021, he said, grinning: "Well, he's a great player."

"It makes it easier right when guys are very, very talented," Ryan said. "He's an incredible worker. You guys probably know that having been around. It's still new to me – seeing the way he attacks every day, the amount of time that he puts into it. There's no shortcut to it in this league. You've got to earn it and the way he works makes it easy for a quarterback like me to be on the same page with him."

2. Matt Haack made a good first impression.

Haack was released by the Buffalo Bills on Monday, worked out for the Colts on Wednesday at Grand Park, signed with the team Thursday and had just one practice (which was indoors) with his new team before Saturday night's game. It was a whirlwind experience for Haack, who's stepping in for the injured Rigoberto Sanchez, but one the veteran punter handled well.

Haack's five punts on Saturday went for:

  • 49 yards, fair caught at the Buccaneers' 10-yard line
  • 45 yards, fair caught at the Buccaners' 9-yard line
  • 57 yards, returned for no gain to the Buccaneers' 15-yard line
  • 49 yards, returned for no gain to the Buccaneers' 14-yard line
  • 53 yards, returned 13 yards to the Buccaneers' 38-yard line

So that's two punts inside the 10, two other punts returned for no gain inside the 20 and then only one on which Tampa Bay was able to advance the ball. Haack also was the holder on Rodrigo Blankenship's three field goals and two PATs – all of which he made – and Blankenship said Haack did a "great job" with those holds.

Haack also got some praise from a familiar face around Indianapolis:

"(McAfee)'s a great dude, a lot of respect for him," Haack said. "It means a lot coming from him."

3. Sam Ehlinger kept making plays.

Ehlinger juked two Buccaneers defenders on his way to a 45-yard touchdown scramble – the exclamation point on a spectacularly-productive preseason for the second-year quarterback. He also completed five of seven passes for 67 yards, bringing his preseason totals to:

  • 24 completions on 29 attempts (83 percent)
  • 289 yards (10 yards/attempt)
  • 4 touchdowns (including a 50-yarder)
  • 147.8 passer rating
  • 6 rushes for 71 yards with one rushing TD

Reich has consistently made clear Ryan is the starter and veteran Nick Foles is the backup. But where Ehlinger's preseason leaves him with the Colts' initial 53-man roster due by 4 p.m. Tuesday will be an interesting question to be answered this week.

4. Armani Watts is out for the season.

Watts suffered an ankle injury on the opening kickoff that'll require season-ending surgery, Reich said. The Colts signed Watts – who spent the last four seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs – as a free agent in the spring with the thought he'd be a core special teamer and reserve safety.

5. Other quick notes and observations.

  • Defensive tackle Grover Stewart had another fantastic game, with three tackles for no gain/a loss and one quarterback pressure. He's maybe overlooked from folks on the outside, with a lot of attention on DeForest Buckner, Yannick Ngakoue and Kwity Paye. But inside the Colts' defensive line room? "We're all expecting a great year from Grove to shake the NFL up," defensive line coach Nate Ollie said last week.
  • Rookie tight end Jelani Woods caught one pass for 12 yards, but impressed Ryan in doing so (the pass was thrown by Foles). On a shallow crossing route, Woods caught the ball about four yards beyond the line of scrimmage and athletically changed direction by planting his outside foot to turn upfield, allowing him to churn out eight additional yards on the play. "It's small little things like that that make a big difference in this league," Ryan said. "It's the hidden yardage that you get with run after catch."
  • Undrafted free agent linebacker and nearby Cicero, Ind. native Sterling Weatherford led the Colts with 10 tackles – and he didn't miss a tackle, too, per Pro Football Focus.
  • Seventh-round rookie safety Rodney Thomas II made two strong tackles in open space to bring down running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn on consecutive plays in the second quarter.
  • Undrafted free agent cornerback Dallis Flowers ripped off a 53-yard kick return to open the second half. Notable on the play, too: Five-foot-8, 190 pound running back Philip Lindsay delivered a physical block – he knocked the guy across from him to the turf – to help spring the long return.

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