INDIANAPOLIS — The first claim was filed on the $3.5 million insurance policy taken out in March.
Gardner Minshew II delivered Sunday afternoon in Houston’s NRG Stadium, which was the reason the Indianapolis Colts signed the veteran quarterback before they even knew who would emerge from the April draft as their quarterback of the future.
“We wouldn’t have had that victory without him,’’ owner Jim Irsay told the media outside his team’s locker room.
Inside, his Colts were celebrating a 31-20 win over the Texans.
Anthony Richardson, the unquestioned future of the franchise, had his first career victory.
Shane Steichen, the unquestioned leader, had his first win as a head coach. DeForest Buckner presented the game ball.
The Colts evened their record at 1-1, and if you’re keeping track at home, have a share of the AFC South lead with Jacksonville and Tennessee.
But Minshew was thrust into a starring role when Richardson suffered a concussion, probably on his 15-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.
On the first play after defensive end Samson Ebukam’s sack/strip/fumble of C.J. Stroud gave the Colts a first-and-10 at the Houston 15, Richardson faked a handoff to Josh Downs, who was in motion to the left, took off around right end and had Kylen Granson as an escort. He seemed headed for a non-contact TD, but might have slowed up ever so slightly.
Given the opportunity, safety M.J. Stewart delivered a big hit — helmet to helmet — as Richardson reached the goal line. Richardson tumbled to the ground with his helmet snapping against the turf.
He got up, raised his arms to signal a TD and was embraced by Granson and Will Fries.
No problem. Colts up 14-0.
But there was one.
After a pair of ensuing three-and-out drives, Richardson informed the team’s medical staff he wasn’t feeling right. He went into the blue medical tent, then headed to the locker room.
His afternoon was over. Minshew’s was just beginning.
“As competitive as everybody is, everybody wants to be in there to help their team win,’’ Minshew said. “I would say almost 100% of the time.
“It is hard, but I think he made the right decision.’’
Minshew didn’t notice anything askew in his sideline conversations with Richardson, but trainers told him there was a chance he would be in the game.
He inherited a 14-7 lead, then quickly pushed it to 28-10 by halftime with a pair of second-quarter TD drives. Moss capped the first with an 11-yard run, and Granson took care of the second with his first NFL TD — a twisting stretch to the left pylon from 4 yards out that required a review from New York to overturn the call on the field.
Minshew was as precise as it gets in the second quarter: 11-of-13, 114 yards and the TD to Granson. On the second drive, he was 4-for-4 on third downs — the Colts converted just 2-of-12 in last week’s loss to Jacksonville — and moved the chains each time with completions to Josh Downs (twice), Michael Pittman Jr. and rookie Will Mallory.
Minshew finished 19-of-23 for 171 yards, one TD and a 112.1 passer rating. It was clear he had been in this situation before — 32 appearances and 24 starts in four seasons, including the past two in Steichen’s offense as Jalen Hurts’ backup in Philadelphia.
“It felt good, especially coming in those first two drives,” Minshew said. “It felt like we were rolling.”
As much as Minshew provided a feel-good story in relief, he understands his role.
In the locker room at the half, he told Richardson: “I’m going to hold it down for you.”
“Everybody follows him,” Minshew added. “He’s the leader of this team. I was happy to fill in and help where I could.’’
And that’s the reason Richardson’s well-being is paramount for the Colts.
Before being sidelined, he completed 6-of-10 passes for 56 yards and rushed three times for 35 yards. He generated touchdown runs — 18 and 15 yards — on consecutive offensive snaps.
Richardson became the first Colt to rush for two first-quarter touchdowns since Edgerrin James on Nov. 21, 1999, at Philadelphia. He joined Minnesota’s Daunte Culpepper and Cincinnati’s Jake Thompson as the only quarterbacks to rush for three TDs in his first two games.
But red flags are flapping briskly two games into his career.
In the opener, Richardson suffered a bruised left knee and complained of a sore ankle the next day. He didn’t finish the game.
Sunday, a concussion that sends him into NFL protocol.
“It’s a fluke thing on that one,’’ Shane Steichen said. “Hopefully it doesn’t continue to happen.’’
Irsay met with his prized rookie in the locker room.
“Anthony was clear and feeling a lot better,’’ he said. “On the touchdown run, just hit the back of his head.’’
That semi-upbeat prognosis didn’t disguise the obvious anxiety whenever a team follows the aggressive lead of a 6-foot-4, 244-pound quarterback.
Last Sunday, Jacksonville’s Trevor Lawrence urged Richardson to protect himself.
It was the same message Sunday, this time from Richardson’s boss.
“He’s got to protect himself,’’ Irsay said. “He’s a big, physical guy. Obviously, he can run the football and guys do a lot of running now at that position.
“But I think self-protection is an issue.’’
He added Steichen and the other offensive coaches talk to Richardson all the time about doing whatever possible to avoid unnecessary contact.
“You want to see him stay healthy,’’ Irsay said. “Peyton didn’t get hurt his first year as a rookie at all. Played and practiced every game, but he didn’t run the ball like Anthony does.’’
Irsay’s angst is for the health of Richardson, which is directly connected to the vibrancy of his franchise.
A subplot of Sunday’s game was Richardson, the No. 4 pick in the April draft, squaring off against Houston’s C.J. Stroud, the No. 2 selection.
Richardson matched the hype before exiting with the concussion. Stroud countered by completing 30-of-47 passes for 384 yards and two TDs. The Colts got to him for six sacks.
Irsay couldn’t resist the urge to peek into the future.
“You’ve got two quarterbacks that are the future of the league,’’ he said. “Is it (Tom) Brady-Manning? I don’t know. You don’t know, it could be because (Stroud) is special and our guy’s special, and they’re only 21 years old.’’
Richardson and Stroud were the youngest starting quarterback tandem in NFL history at a combined 43 years and 102 days old.
“You never know when you’re watching history,’’ Irsay said. “We hope we are.’’
The present would have suffered an unfortunate wrinkle for the Colts if Minshew hadn’t done his job.
“It’s a tribute to Gardner,’’ Irsay said. “Your backup quarterback is a starter. That’s a starting player on your roster, not a backup. That’s the one position where the backup is the starter, and we proved the value of having Gardner.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.