Jeff Saturday's Colts look competent as Matt Ryan returns to lead win over Raiders

After a week filled with pontification, the Indianapolis Colts took the field on Sunday under new head coach Jeff Saturday.

It wasn't a disaster. Far from it.

Playing under a first-time head coach and a 30-year-old offensive coordinator who'd never called an NFL play in Parks Frazier, the Colts posted one of their best offensive efforts of the season in a 25-20 road win over the Las Vegas Raiders. They did so after a surprise pregame quarterback switch.

Saturday's first order of gameday business was to reinstate Matt Ryan, who'd been benched by ousted coach Frank Reich in favor of Sam Ehlinger. The decision paid off as Ryan played well while accounting for two touchdowns and no turnovers. Meanwhile, Jonathan Taylor posted his first 100-yard rushing effort since Week 1, and a maligned Colts offensive line allowed a solitary sack.

Jeff Saturday walks away from his NFL coaching debut with a 1-0 record. (Gary A. Vasquez/Reuters)
Jeff Saturday walks away from his NFL coaching debut with a 1-0 record. (Gary A. Vasquez/Reuters)

For all the heat targeting his decision to hire an interim head coach who'd never worked a college or NFL sideline, Colts owner Jim Irsay has to feel good about the early returns.

Colts strike first, rally late

The Colts got on the board first when Ryan capped a 70-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown sneak. They scored on three of their first five possessions and took a 13-7 lead into halftime. When they gave up the lead on a Josh Jacobs touchdown run, the Colts answered with a 66-yard Taylor touchdown scamper to retake the lead, 19-14 in the third quarter.

The Raiders again took the lead on a 48-yard Davante Adams touchdown from Derek Carr.

When the Colts got the ball back, the unthinkable happened. Ryan set up the game-winning touchdown — with his feet. Facing third-and-3 on a critical fourth-quarter play, Ryan escaped pressure and rumbled down the right sideline for 39 yards.

The run was a career long for the 15-year NFL veteran who's averaged 3 yards per carry for his career. It set up a 35-yard touchdown pass to Parris Campbell that gave the Colts the lead for good.

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The Raiders failed to find the end zone on their final drive, and Saturday walked away from his NFL debut with a 1-0 record.

Can Saturday, Colts capitalize on win?

The Colts entered Sunday with one of the NFL's worst offenses that ranked 26th in yards (315.1) and 31st in points (14.7) per game. They comfortably exceeded both marks as they outgained the Raiders on offense, 415 yards to 309.

Ryan, written off as done after his benching, completed 21 of 28 passes for 222 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. Taylor looked like the rushing champion of 2021 with 147 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries after averaging 77 rushing yards in his six previous games.

This is not to get carried away. It's one game, and the Colts beat a bad Raiders team that dropped to 2-7 with Sunday's loss. But it could have gone much worse for Saturday, whose hiring was widely panned when he took over the Colts' locker room straight from the ESPN studios.

Now he carries a win into his first full week as an NFL head coach. And at 4-5-1, his Colts aren't out of the playoff picture.