Friday night’s matchup against the Detroit Lions was important for Indianapolis Colts quarterback Sam Ehlinger.
The former Texas Longhorn was the second quarterback of the night to take the field, coming off of an up-and-down performance against the Minnesota Vikings. That followed an impressive NFL debut in which he completed 10-of-15 pass attempts for 155 yards with one interception, leading the team in rushing with 30 yards on eight carries.
Taking the reins after Jacob Eason, Ehlinger recorded a perfect stat line, completing 100% of his passes—only that it was far from a perfect night. In fact, looking at it from a long-term standpoint, it couldn’t have been much worse.
He was 3-of-3 passing for 63 yards with one carry for 14 yards before his outing was cut short by a knee injury he sustained late in the first half. There was no update offered after the game other than a “it didn’t look good” from head coach Frank Reich.
And it didn’t, as Ehlinger fell awkwardly on his knee, taking a shot from Lions outside linebacker Charles Harris. And even though he was under a high level of duress on the play, Ehlinger slipped out of the first tackle before the hit that caused the injury and completed a pass to wide-open receiver Dezmon Patmon downfield. This is a perfect showcase of pocket awareness and ability to evade pressure to make a play—a 60-yard one at that.
It’s traits like those, in addition to his improved accuracy and ball placement, ability to contribute in multiple ways as a dual-threat, and ability to pick himself up and play the next play, that have caused him to gain more respect and attention after several people all but wrote him off ahead of the draft.
This is going to be a situation to watch with the Colts. Starting quarterback Carson Wentz seems to be rebounding well from his foot injury, and there’s optimism that he’ll be back at the helm in time for Indianapolis' season opener against the Seattle Seahawks on Sept. 12 in Lucas Oil Stadium. In the case that Wentz is unable to play, all signs obviously point to Eason getting the starting nod until the sixth-year quarterback is back at full capacity.
Up until now, it’s been a very close contest between Ehlinger and Eason with neither quite separating from the other. With the way Ehlinger was performing on Friday, the argument certainly can be made that he was well on his way to taking the edge. After all, even when Ehlinger had some struggles against the Vikings in his second appearance, Eason failed to put himself firmly in the lead. Ehlinger completed 8-of-13 passes that night for 70 yards with two interceptions, while Eason was 16-of-27 passing for 132 yards without a score or an interception.
With the injury, depending on the severity and how long it keeps him sidelined, Ehlinger might have just gone from Week 1 starter to QB3 on the depth chart.
If there’s one thing we know about Ehlinger, though, it’s that he’s no stranger to adversity both on and off the field and has defied the odds up to this point. He’s shown enough to prove that he’s on the up based on what we’ve seen of him at the NFL level, and there shouldn’t be any doubt that he’ll overcome this setback and continue making the most of his opportunity in the pros.