Frank Reich has a lot to look at and think about regarding his quarterback situation. Either Jacob Eason or Sam Ehlinger will likely start the Indianapolis Colts' season opener in four weeks. Both appeared in their first ever preseason game Sunday, and they offered reasons for encouragement and concern in the process.
"It was best-case scenario for them," Reich told reporters afterward. "If I'm them, I'm looking at the plays I messed up, but they should be proud.
The rookie might have made the more lasting impression.
Ehlinger overcame a slow start in the second half and ignited the Colts to a 21-18 comeback win over the Panthers.
His day turned around early in the fourth quarter when he unleashed a 47-yard drop in the bucket to former University of Texas teammate Tarik Black. Ehlinger followed that up with a wobbly but well-placed pass to Tyler Vaughns for a 27-yard gain on third down. Moments later, he was barreling into the end zone on a two-point conversion to tie the score.
Ehlinger's fourth and final drive was managed just as well. He drained what was essentially the last six minutes of game time by completing all three of his pass attempts and scrambling for a pair of third-down conversions to set up the game-winning field goal from 30 yards out.
The late rally overshadowed an interception on his first drive. Reich noted the turnover was the result of not only a poor throw but a receiver running the wrong route. His final line: 10 of 15 for 155 yards with eight carries for 30 yards.
Eason closed out his half on a high note as well. The 2020 fourth-rounder put on what Reich called a "clinic" in the two-minute drill, covering 75 yards in 74 seconds. The highlight was a 32-yard strike to Mike Strachan that advanced the Colts past midfield and set up their first TD.
The big-armed Eason effectively mixed in downfield completions with short ones throughout the half. But he also missed a couple open targets because he put too much mustard on the ball and was the victim of three sacks. While his offensive tackles certainly did him no favors in pass protection, Eason failed to feel the pressure and get rid of the ball on time more than once. One occasion resulted in a strip-sack and turnover deep in his own territory. He finished 15 of 21 for 183 yards.
Reich noted afterward that Eason will start again next week versus the Vikings, with Ehlinger backing him up. The two QBs will continue to split first-team repetitions in practice. Owner Jim Irsay said in an interview during Sunday's broadcast that the team isn't planning to trade for another quarterback.
"I believe in developing our own," he said. "I think we'll stay as is."
What remains to be seen is if either novice will actually play in place of a recovering Carson Wentz in the season opener.
"Carson Wentz's foot surgery, first of all, went as well as it possibly could," NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Sunday. "The fact that Wentz was out on the field without a boot, a couple days after surgery, is a very good sign. So there is optimism. And at least he's got a shot, maybe an outside shot, but at least a shot at Week 1."
Eason and Ehlinger have another one in six days.
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