Colts bench Matt Ryan in favor of Sam Ehlinger

He was 18 of 21 passing for 123 yards and a touchdown in the second half, but couldn’t complete his fourth fourth-quarter punt return of the season. Even if Ryan hadn’t been hurt, Reich said, the decision would have been the same.

“The shoulder injury is real, but this move would be done either way,” he said.

Ryan did not speak to reporters Monday. He is usually available on Wednesdays.

Indy (3-3-1) sent a 2022 third-round draft pick to Atlanta for the 37-year-old Ryan in March.

General manager Chris Ballard thought Ryan was playing as well as he did last season. In April, team owner Jim Irsay said he thought Ryan could make the Colts a contender for four more years.

But this season has not gone as many expected.

Ryan has thrown nine interceptions and has 11 touchdowns, both tops in the league.

The Colts’ usually stout offensive line has struggled, allowing 59 hits and 24 sacks — tied with Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow for the most in the NFL entering Monday.

And with Indy’s traditionally strong ground game becoming ineffective, Ryan has thrown more passes (297) than anyone other than Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (308).

ExplorePhotos: Former Falcon Matt Ryan debuts in Colts uniform

The combination has made Indy the NFL’s fourth-lowest scoring team (16.1 points) and needs a change.

“Excited for Sam and the opportunity this gives him,” Reich said. “We always thought Sam had a special sauce. We think this is the best decision for our team.”

Ehlinger’s surprising ascent up the depth chart has come quickly.

The former Texas star was a sixth-round pick in 2021, but opened his rookie season on injured reserve with a sore knee. In October of that season, he beat out Jacob Eason for the No. 1 job. 3 and ended up appearing in three games, though Ehlinger did not throw a pass.

An impressive sophomore exhibition season led some to openly question whether the 6-foot-1, 222-pound Ehlinger could replace Super Bowl 52 MVP Nick Foles, an old friend of Reich’s, at No. 2.

Reich made that move before the Week 6 win over Jacksonville and kept Ehlinger on the bench Sunday.

Ehlinger thought the move was made mainly to use it for a few shows.

“We haven’t discussed a package this week, so I don’t know what the plan is for that,” Ehlinger said last Wednesday. “Last week, there were several situations that we talked about. Of course, he didn’t end up running any of them.”

Another good week of practice continued to turn heads within the organization, and when Ryan struggled again Sunday, Reich, Irsay and Ballard gathered again to debate the move.

Reich said he told the quarterbacks and their teammates Monday and that Ryan responded like a pro, promising to help the Colts. The hope is that Ehlinger’s mobility can help him avoid the pass rush, make plays downfield and make plays with his feet.

“I think it’s a big decision for us to have Sam back there, the way he’s come in and played,” Grover Stewart said. “I think it’s a good decision for us.”

Ehlinger will be the seventh different starting quarterback Reich has used in his five-year tenure with the Colts.

Ryan ranks among the NFL’s top 10 all-time in passing yards, career completions and fourth-quarter punt returns, a late-game prowess that earned praise from Reich just last week.

And with one more year left on Ryan’s contract, which could cost the Colts $21.7 million in 2023, Ryan may no longer be part of Indy’s long-term plan.

“I told Matt that, ‘We didn’t hold up our end of the bargain here. I mean, you came here and we promised you one of the NFL’s fastest running games and we promised you great defense, and we really, as an offense, haven’t delivered on that, and that starts with me.” said Reich. “We thought the marriage of Matt Ryan and his history with our running game, we just thought there would be a natural marriage.”

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