Indianapolis Colts coach Frank Reich and his team have adapted to the quirky circumstances of life as an NFL quarterback in recent years by playing roulette. Every year they put all their chips on red in a bet and hope they don’t end up playing Russian Roulette instead of Las Vegas Roulette.
For the most part, the coaches had a decent chance, if not the chance of hitting the jackpot. And as the opening day of the 2022 season looms in Houston on Sunday, here they are again, their confidence and their future invested in another new guy.
Make it an old new guy, Matt Ryan, late of the Atlanta Falcons, where he was a mainstay from 2008 to 2021, threw for nearly 60,000 yards and 367 touchdowns, nearly 100 more touchdowns than interceptions. He is 37 years old and on a Hall of Fame trajectory.
Ryan is the latest in a string of franchise betting QB leaders to follow Andrew Luck, Jacoby Brissett, Philip Rivers and Carson Wentz. Luck, projected as the Colts quarterback forever, instead retired at 29 ahead of the 2019 season, sparking this rush for a perfect leader for a very solid all-around team. Now comes Ryan, whom Atlanta deemed unnecessary and considered old. As long as he remains in one piece, recent projections of Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers at Ryan’s age or older should support the belief that Ryan can still play.
Although Ryan will play his first real game with a horseshoe on his helmet on Sunday, he’s been a Colt for months, mingled and practiced with receivers, absorbed the coach’s wisdom and plans of game. He’s new to the franchise, but not new to the league, or any kind of newbie to the game. He’s seen just about everything a pro can see.
Ryan was a four-time Pro Bowl draft pick, won the league’s Most Valuable Player award and led the Falcons to a Super Bowl. He also thinks he can still play and was quite insulted when he learned that Atlanta didn’t think so. It’s a late-career fresh start for Ryan and he and the Colts could be a perfect and timely matchup. Ryan wants to prove it on opening day.
“As far as long-term expectations go, we know where we want to go,” Ryan said during training camp, “but the only way to get there is to attack week after week. act to play well week one. That’s the expectation that we have to have for ourselves to be ready, to go out there to Houston, play our best football and find a way to win.
The Colts could have gone a different direction — sign a new quarterback and live or die with a rookie this season. But the availability of someone seasoned like Ryan seemed a wiser way to win now. Last season ended incredibly disappointingly for players and fans alike. Anything perceived as a step backwards, or requiring spending more time waiting to make a playoff run, could have embittered observers even further.
A 9-8 final record in 2021 wasn’t enough, especially with seven players selected for the Pro Bowl. The Colts had a playoff berth 9-6 on Christmas Day and lost two straight, by three runs to the Raiders and incredibly, to the Jacksonville Jaguars 2-14. At another team, layoffs reportedly followed, but owner Jim Irsay had recently re-signed Reich and general manager Chris Ballard and spoken of his faith in their craftsmanship.
Now Reich and Ballard must produce. The Colts need to at least make the playoffs or Irsay will likely blast the whole thing out of frustration. As if the NFL isn’t a cutthroat atmosphere anyway, that’s the high-level pressure situation that awaits Ryan.
“I don’t doubt he feels that way,” Reich said earlier this week of Ryan feeling he had something to prove. “I’m sure we all feel that. Each of our players. »
If Ryan gets an ill-timed day off against Houston and the Colts don’t rush out of the corral like a wild herd, fair or not, there will be groans and criticism leaping. It’s always so much better to be 1-0 and be compared favorably to Johnny Unitas, than to be 0-1 and be compared unfavorably to Curtis Painter.
Lew Freedman writes sports columns for The Tribune. Send feedback to [email protected]