INDIANAPOLIS — Within the 12 days separating the Indianapolis Colts’ commerce of quarterback Carson Wentz to the Washington Commanders and the day Indianapolis lastly acquired his successor, the temper at Colts headquarters was dominated by nervousness and uncertainty.
The Colts, in the course of a pivotal offseason, confronted an uncomfortable actuality: They’d no beginning quarterback, no first-round draft choice and nary a clue who can be beneath middle in 2022.
Think about the Colts’ aid when the Atlanta Falcons agreed to commerce a adorned quarterback with 4 Professional Bowl alternatives and a Most Invaluable Participant award to his identify. Sure, Matt Ryan appeared like a super resolution for a crew with an enormous quarterback dilemma and no apparent solutions.
The March commerce was adopted by the standard pomp and circumstance prompted by main quarterback strikes. Colts proprietor Jim Irsay despatched his personal jet to Atlanta to gather Ryan and his household. The Colts moved the information convention that marked Ryan’s arrival to a bigger room of their facility, indicating its significance. Additionally they assembled a big portion of their workplace workers for the occasion, the workers greeting the quarterback with a hero’s welcome.
The sentiments appeared mutual. Ryan had signed off on the commerce as a result of he was satisfied he was headed to a franchise with a well-documented historical past of success and one arrange for extra.
“There was only one spot that I wanted to go,” Ryan mentioned that day. “This is exactly where I wanted to be.”
If Ryan solely knew then what he is aware of now.
The 2022 season has change into probably the most making an attempt of Ryan’s distinguished profession. He was benched Wednesday for the second time this season, giving solution to fellow veteran Nick Foles, who will begin Monday night time towards the Los Angeles Chargers (8:15 p.m., ET, ESPN). The transfer seemingly ends Ryan’s ill-fated run with the Colts after 12 begins, 13 interceptions and an limitless variety of irritating moments.
The Colts’ offense has been among the many worst within the NFL. Ryan, 37, produced landing passes on the lowest price of his 15-year profession. In the meantime, he threw interceptions extra typically than he has in any season since 2009. Most of all, the Colts (4-9-1) are enduring one among their worst seasons previously decade.
How did all of it go so mistaken? And the way has the beautiful end result affected Ryan, the 2016 MVP who ranks fifth in NFL historical past in completions and seventh all time in passing yards?
“It has been harder, I think, than any of us would’ve anticipated,” Ryan mentioned of the Colts’ offensive struggles. “I felt confident coming into the year … But I’ve also learned you just never know how things are going to shake out.”
WHEN WENTZ WAS traded in March and Ryan was later added to the fold, there was arguably not sufficient consideration paid to the strengths and weaknesses all through the remainder of the roster.
The Colts added defensive standouts Stephon Gilmore and Yannick Ngakoue. However additionally they had key departures on their offensive line (together with left sort out Eric Fisher, a previous No. 1 general decide by the Kansas Metropolis Chiefs), misplaced an elite blocking tight finish to retirement (Jack Doyle) and had one of many youngest teams of receivers and tight ends within the NFL.
The primary indicators one thing was mistaken got here nearly instantly.
Within the season opener, Ryan was beneath constant strain. The one factor worse was the style through which Ryan responded. He fumbled 4 instances, shedding one, and threw an unsightly interception. Ryan’s second-half heroics allowed the Colts to safe a tie and allowed Ryan to avoid wasting face.
However in Week 2, when the Colts had been embarrassed once more in Jacksonville in a 24-0 loss, it was turning into clear that perhaps they weren’t the crew Ryan thought he was becoming a member of. By Week 7 towards the Tennessee Titans, it was obvious the cross rush was attending to Ryan and severely impacting his decision-making. He was hit 10 instances, sacked thrice and threw a pick-six within the 19-10 loss. The synergy Ryan hoped to develop together with his new teammates appeared nonexistent.
The following day, in response to a number of sources, Irsay directed coach Frank Reich to bench Ryan in favor of 2021 sixth-round decide Sam Ehlinger. Ryan, a proud starter since his very first NFL sport in 2008, was blindsided.
“There is a little bit of that surprise and shock at the beginning,” Ryan mentioned, “but it’s a decision they had to make, and as a player, as a teammate, you have to move forward.”
Ryan could not argue in good conscience that he was enjoying nicely, regardless that the Colts had been sitting at 3-3-1. He had an adjusted QBR of 41.3 (twenty third within the NFL on the time) and led the league with 9 interceptions. However he’d additionally been sacked 24 instances, and the Colts, shockingly, ranked twenty ninth in yards per speeding try. An excessive amount of of the load was falling on Ryan. That was by no means the intention.
In a non-public second, Reich informed Ryan simply that.
“We did not hold up to our end of the bargain,” Reich mentioned, recounting the dialog. “You came here and we promised you a top NFL rushing game and we promised you great protection, and we haven’t really, as an offense, delivered on that. And that really starts with me.
“We thought the wedding of Matt Ryan and his historical past with our operating sport … he is had 14 years of extremely productive, nice quarterback play with nice play-action. So, we simply thought there was going to be a pure marriage there. It made plenty of sense.”
Two weeks later, as the Colts’ offensive struggles persisted, Reich was fired.
RYAN HAD SUSTAINED a right shoulder sprain in the Titans game, but the quarterback change was initially intended to be made for the remainder of the season. That left Ryan trying to process his unfamiliar place with the team. He was asked by reporters whether he’d considered requesting a trade (he hadn’t) or asked for his release, seeing how he was third on the quarterback depth chart (he didn’t do that, either).
Instead, this was the moment in which Ryan’s character was highlighted.
He’s always done and said the right things in his career, whether that meant accepting blame for the Falcons’ historic Super Bowl loss — squandering a 28-3 lead — to the New England Patriots in 2017 or owning interceptions that were the fault of his receivers. Here, even while he was little more than a spectator, Ryan served as a study in leadership.
“Seeing him sit there after the benching, it is simply an terrible feeling,” center Ryan Kelly said. “The man’s had such an unimaginable profession, and it is a laborious capsule to swallow. However his skill to return out and never sulk and never draw consideration, to simply be constant … I believe that was big. And that takes loads. You needed to put your ego apart and put your satisfaction apart, and that is a tough factor to do — particularly whenever you’ve been within the league for 15 years.”
Linebacker Zaire Franklin added, “I simply really feel like he took it with grace, as a lot as he presumably may. He is had among the finest careers ever from a quarterback, extraordinarily achieved. And he involves a brand new atmosphere for the primary time and issues went the precise reverse of how he needed.
“It’s been tough sledding, and I haven’t performed well enough consistently enough.”
“But I really appreciate Matt. He just gave me so much perspective on how to continue to be successful in the league from a leadership standpoint. I’ve learned a ton from him.”
Ryan’s consistency helped make for a neater transition when interim coach Jeff Saturday reinstated him because the starter in Saturday’s first sport, towards the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 10. Jonathan Taylor, the 2021 speeding champion who’d battled a sore ankle all season, rushed for 147 yards, the offensive line carried out nicely, and Ryan had an environment friendly day (21 of 28, 222 yards and a landing) in a 25-20 win.
However issues have steadily devolved since, with the Colts shedding their previous 4 video games, together with final Sunday’s historic defeat in Minnesota. The Vikings pulled off the best comeback in NFL historical past, rallying from a 33-point halftime deficit. The offense sputtered as Ryan struggled to make performs down the sphere. Regardless of the Colts’ 9 possessions within the second half and time beyond regulation, they managed to cross midfield simply twice.
Ryan’s 5.5 yards per try within the sport matched a season low and was symbolic of the punchless Colts offense. There have been alternatives for extra aggressive pictures down the sphere that Ryan hasn’t all the time taken, and coaches have seen. It is why he ranked thirty second in air yards per cross try (6.2) getting into Week 16. It appears the hesitance was led to by Ryan’s obvious diminished arm power — the shoulder damage hasn’t helped — in addition to a want to keep away from the pricey turnovers that helped kill the Colts’ season.
“He’s been sacked a lot, he’s been hit a lot, a bunch of turnovers and that’s not always on Matt,” Saturday mentioned. “There’s a lot of different pieces and parts that haven’t gone to plan. It definitely changes you.”
ONE UNANSWERED QUESTION stays: Ought to the Colts have seen this coming?
Begin with the numbers. Ryan had what was the bottom adjusted QBR of his profession final season in Atlanta (52.2). That is dipped even farther this season, falling to 43.6. Taking it a bit additional, the 4 lowest adjusted QBR marks of Ryan’s profession have every come previously 4 seasons, suggesting the decline started way back. As for Ryan’s league-high 15 fumbles (5 misplaced), they could appear shocking. Then once more, he did have 11 final season.
However the Colts did not do Ryan any favors, both.
The choice to enter the season with Matt Pryor because the left sort out appears indefensible in hindsight. Ryan has by no means been cell, and his immobility turned a deadly flaw with Pryor enjoying poorly at a place he’d by no means performed. Pryor gave up 12 sacks in 9 begins earlier than being benched. Instability at proper guard exacerbated the issue and the weak hyperlinks impacted the efficiency of remaining veterans like All-Professional left guard Quenton Nelson.
Now, Ryan is left to ponder his future after the Colts’ ultimate three video games. The crew has some selections to make, too. Ryan has a yr left on his contract, with $12 million of his 2023 wage assured.
However ideas about subsequent season have been largely postponed given how the present season is enjoying out.
“It’s been tough,” Ryan mentioned. “It’s been tough sledding, and I haven’t performed well enough, consistently enough.”
If that is it for Ryan, 2022 hasn’t been the ending anybody needed. Neither Ryan nor the Colts may have been extra mistaken about what their partnership would produce.