LAS VEGAS – By the time Friday afternoon rolled around, Jeff Saturday had an idea of what he was going to do in his first game as the Colts' interim head coach.
He just saw Matt Ryan have a good day of practice on Thursday. The veteran quarterback threw the ball well in his first practice since sustaining a right shoulder injury on Oct. 23 against the Tennessee Titans. Saturday challenged him to repeat it on Friday – "go back to back," Saturday told Ryan.
Ryan wasn't guaranteed anything, but told his new coach: "I only know one way to do it. If I do, this is how I do it. And this is who I am and this is how it's worked for me."
Ryan looked good again on Friday. Saturday wanted to talk it over with his coaching staff first, but he knew "everybody was with it," he said.
And so Saturday made the call: We're going back to Ryan.
"I felt like Matt gave us the best chance to win," Saturday said.
That's exactly what happened on Sunday, as Ryan picked apart the Raiders for 222 yards on 21 of 28 passing. He threw for a touchdown, plunged in a quarterback sneak for a score and recorded the longest rush of his career – a 39-yard dash in the fourth quarter that helped set up his go-ahead 35-yard catch-and-run strike to Parris Campbell that wound up being the game-winner in the Colts' 25-20 victory over the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium.
"We're gonna start the zone read with Matt from now on," Saturday laughed.
Going back to Ryan, of course, meant sliding Sam Ehlinger back into a backup role after starting the Colts' last two games. As soon as Saturday informed Ehlinger of the decision, he was blown away by how the second-year Texas product handled things.
"And I had the conversation with Sam, who was a true pro," Saturday said. "And I have so much respect for that young man and the way that he's conducted himself and the type of teammate he is.
"As soon as I talked to Sam, he was right in the role that Matt had been for him."
On Sunday, Ryan was kept upright (one sack, five total pressures on 30 dropbacks) and benefitted from an efficient, explosive run game (Jonathan Taylor, Jordan Wilkins and Zack Moss averaged 6.5 yards per carry on 26 rushes). And it probably wasn't a coincidence Ryan had a clean, efficient game with the rest of the Colts' offense executing at a high level.
"He's still got plenty when you protect him and run the ball like we did," Colts Owner and CEO Jim Irsay said. "We saw what we're capable of doing."
At the end of a week defined by change, the Colts made another one in going back to Ryan as their starting quarterback. It was a win-now move spurred by a healthy quarterback and a desire to get the 2022 season back on track. And on Sunday in Las Vegas, it worked.
"Everything that's been done has been done to win," Irsay said. "It's very simple. Nothing's been done for any reason except, what's the best for the franchise. And the same thing with Matt starting today."