Matt Ryan and the Colts' first-team offense – well, minus running back Jonathan Taylor – played 19 snaps together in Saturday's preseason opener against the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium. Those snaps covered the entire first quarter, and then stretched into the second quarter as well.
And with an eye on ending the Colts' nine-game Week 1 losing streak, head coach Frank Reich felt there was significant value in the work his team put in on Saturday in western New York.
"We got to do that to get ready to play winning football," Reich said. "So, that's really the biggest concern. You just can't play scared. We got to have a plan and stick to that plan and do what we have to do to get ready to get off to a fast start."
Ryan completed six of 10 passes for 58 yards, but Reich was less worried about the veteran quarterback's production and more focused on how he looked – which Reich said was "sharp."
I just thought he looked poised in the pocket," Reich said. "I thought he looked accurate. The way he threw it in pre-game, the way he threw it in the game, I thought every throw was pretty much right where it needed to be. I expected that, I expected to see him do that, but he certainly delivered there."
Another benefit of Ryan playing was getting him two dropbacks on fourth down – first, a fourth and 4 late in the first quarter on the Bills' 43-yard line; second, a fourth and 4 early in the second quarter on the Bills' 49-yard line. The Colts were also lined up to go for a fourth-and-goal from the Bills' one-yard line before a Braden Smith false start backed them up into having Rodrigo Blankenship convert a chip-shot field goal.
The Colts attempted 23 fourth-down conversions in the first, second or third quarters of games in 2021, second in the NFL only to the Detroit Lions (25). And the Colts converted a league-high 16 of those into a first down.
While the Colts didn't convert either of those fourth down tries, the experience gained on Sunday is something off which the offense can build.
"Out on the field, it's also a mindset," Reich said. "Just to remind those guys, this is what we do. We're going to be aggressive, we're going to go for it and so, we got to be a little more efficient. We didn't really gameplan a whole lot for that today. That's on me, we can be better there. I thought it was good exposure for the guys."
Ryan said it was a little bit surreal getting to his locker and getting dressed for Saturday's game, the first time he's put on a uniform other than an Atlanta Falcons' one in his 14-year NFL career. But one he put on the Colts' all-white uniform, he felt getting logistical, operational and communicative experience in the Colts' offense was beneficial.
"Getting out there, getting the live experience as huge," Ryan said. "I thought for the most part, we'd like to have done some things better. But from an operation standpoint, I thought we were pretty clean, and that's what you want to see from the first preseason game."
The Colts will return to Grand Park for a walkthrough on Monday, then practice Tuesday before welcoming the Lions to Westfield for back-to-back joint practices Wednesday and Thursday. Because of the work the Colts will get in those joint practices, starters will not play in Aug. 20's preseason game against the Lions; they'll get on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium for the preseason finale against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Aug. 27.
But on Saturday, the experience Ryan and the Colts earned was valuable – especially with just four weeks until the score of the game actually matters.
"(Ryan's) an absolute general out there," tight end Kylen Granson told Larra Overton during the game. "He's a leader. And I just feel so comfortable knowing that he's got my back and I've got his. It's just a different vibe when you're in the locker room. On the field now, you can just tell, it's a well-oiled machine.
"I can't wait. I'm brimming with excitement."
The Colts return to action in the first game of the preseason in a matchup against the Buffalo Bills.