INDIANAPOLIS – In keeping with the flow of his first season with the Indianapolis Colts, Matt Ryan was blindsided.
He never saw his demotion coming. From starter universally hailed as the leader/quarterback that was missing last season, to No. 3 and perhaps out of the picture the remainder of the season.
Less than 24 hours after another turnover-plagued outing in Nashville, Ryan’s attention was laser-focused on the upcoming meeting with the Washington Commanders at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“You just always anticipate it’s next week,’’ he said Wednesday. “You’re getting ready to go. So, that’s where your mindset is at.’’
At some point during his Monday morning preparation, Ryan was given the hard news by Frank Reich.
You’re out. Sam Ehlinger is in.
“There is a little bit of that surprise and shock or whatever at the beginning,’’ Ryan said. “It’s a decision they had to make, and as a player, as a teammate, you have to move forward you’ve got to help out where you can.
“Individually and personally, disappointed. As a player, as a competitor, you want to be out there. You want to go.’’
Ryan was waiting by his cubicle as the media began pouring into the locker room Wednesday afternoon. Instead of delaying things because of his injury status – a Grade 2 separation to his right shoulder – a 15-year veteran who has never been benched and missed only three of 239 games because of injury was available to address questions about where everyone goes from here.
Perhaps the most stunning part of Reich’s announcement Monday was the permanent nature of the demotion/promotion.
“Right now the move is for Sam to be the starter for the rest of the season,’’ he said.
In situations, it might have been:
Matt Ryan is hurt and will miss at least one game. Sam’s the starter against Washington and then we’ll re-evaluate.
Instead, the message – Reich delivered it but the decision came after he and general manager Chris Ballard had a one-hour discussion with owner Jim Irsay late Sunday – seemed to be the Matt Ryan era in Indy lasted seven games.
Ryan is under contract through 2023 with a salary cap hit of $35 million next season. The team saves $17 million by cutting him at the end of the year, but it would have to absorb $18 million in dead money.
During his meeting with the media, Ryan was asked several pointed questions, including one regarding his immediate future.
Any thoughts of requesting a trade?
The NFL trade deadline is next Tuesday.
“I haven’t thought about that,’’ Ryan said. “Honestly, it’s been two days.
“My job this week is to help support Sam and get my shoulder right.’’
He also was asked about the team’s unquestioned move away from him. It hasn’t been that long ago that everyone in the organization believed Matt Ryan would do what others before him – Jacoby Brissett, Philip Rivers, Carson Wentz – had failed to do.
It’s fair to wonder how the Colts could ever go back to Ryan, other than as a result of injuries to Ehlinger and Nick Foles.
“Yeah, that part is different,’’ Ryan said. “But I’ve always learned in this league it’s tough to assume anything. And the minute you start to make assumptions about how things are going to shake out. You just never know.’’
Ryan’s season has been one of those roller coaster experiences. He’s tied for 1st with 203 completions, 2nd with 297 attempts, 4th with 2,008 yards and 5th with a 68.4 completion percentage, and has directed game-winning drives in the Colts’ three wins. But he’s suffered nine interceptions and 12 total turnovers, both NFL highs.
“I would liked to have played better,’’ he said.
The offense has followed his erratic lead. It’s averaging 16.1 points per game and has scored more than 20 points only once.
When Reich informed Ryan of the demotion, he told him the team didn’t “hold up to our end of the bargain.’’ Everyone anticipated Ryan being surrounded by a top-tier offensive line and elite running game. Along with the 24 sacks, Ryan has been hit 80 times. The running game ranks 30th.
Does Ryan feel betrayed at any level?
“I thought coming into it we had enough, for sure,’’ he said. “You just don’t know how things are going to shake out. Nobody has a crystal ball.
“Obviously it hasn’t been the level of production we all would have wanted.’’
Ryan is entering uncharted waters. Again, he was never benched during 14 seasons in Atlanta and only missed those three games. The last time he wasn’t under center for a regular-season game: week 8 of 2019 when he was dealing with an ankle injury. The other two occasions were in 2009 when he was sidelined by a turf toe injury.
“It’s new,’’ he agreed. “It’s not something that I’ve had to deal with during my career. I’ve been around a long time and seen that it happens.
“I’ve always preached you’ve got to accept and embrace the role that they’ve decided for you and be the best you an be. That’s what I’ll do.’’
Reich said the move to Ehlinger would have been made even if Ryan had suffered the shoulder injury.
But would Ryan have been ready?
“We would have seen,’’ he said. “I’ve definitely been sore the last couple of days. “I’ve missed three games to injury. I’ve always tried to just give myself a chance. And you never know. It’s amazing what your body can do in 48-72 hours.
“Sometimes you don’t know until the end of the week, but it would have been close.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.