INDIANAPOLIS – If only we were able to talk with the other Ryan.
That would be Sarah.
Wife of Matt.
That would undoubtedly provide very interesting content. If, that is, she chose to share private conversations after her husband was benched by the Indianapolis Colts three weeks ago.
In the hours and days after Ryan was replaced by Sam Ehlinger – owner Jim Irsay made the decision, then-coach Frank Reich made the announcement Oct. 24 – the 15-year veteran quarterback did his best to digest the sudden demotion. He talked with close friends and confidants – Peyton Manning has been one of his sounding boards, especially when it comes to Colts’ matters – and he talked with his family.
“There’s definitely people I’ve vented to, right?’’ Ryan said Wednesday. “I think of my wife during this entire time. She’s unbelievable in how she kind of has a read for what I need. She’s incredibly supportive.’’
Ryan paused, smiled, then continued.
“She hears probably some of the things you’d like to hear, you know?’’ he said with a laugh. “I keep them there.
“You have family around you that (supports you) and guys that I’ve developed really good relationships with along the way that kind of help you through those things.’’
That’s how a 37-year old QB handles things. When major adversity hits – being bench qualifies as major adversity – he vents to his wife and maybe a friend or two, but collects himself and moves forward.
A 27-year old Matt Ryan might have vented to whomever was nearby.
“Probably not the same way,’’ he said. “I think it’s just lessons learned along the way. In all situations – uncomfortable, good, bad, whatever – there’s a right way and there’s a wrong way to do things.
“I’ve always just tried to do it the right way.’’
It helped to some degree that Ryan’s benching coincided with the Grade-2 separation to his right shoulder sustained in the Colts’ 19-10 loss at Tennessee. Even if the team hadn’t made the controversial decision, he wouldn’t have been able to play against Washington or at New England.
After gathering himself mentally, Ryan focused on his rehab and funneled his energy into helping Ehlinger in anyway possible.
“A lot of guys would probably go in the tank and, you know, maybe even say, ‘All right, well, my time’s passed. I’m out,’’’ playcaller Parks Frazier said. “But Matt was helping the guys around him. He was continuing to stay locked in.
“Then when he came back, well now, we had been having those conversations. It was easy to go back to him.’’
That proved to be one of the most impactful decisions of interim head coach Jeff Saturday. He initially said the team would stick with Ehlinger for its upcoming road test with the Las Vegas Raiders, but that was during his Nov. 7 introductory press conference and before he had an opportunity to meet with Ryan and gauge the sturdiness of Ryan’s shoulder.
Was Saturday concerned with how Ryan was dealing with being benched? That had never happened during Ryan’s 14-year career with the Atlanta Falcons that included 232 games. The only three games he missed were due to turf toe and an ankle injury.
“We actually had a conversation about it,’’ Saturday said. “I just wanted to know where he was, not only physically – even Wednesday he didn’t practice – but mentally where was he? And where was he as far as contributing and helping this football team win?
“I just wanted to make sure where he was. Fifteen years in the league and getting benched and all the other things that subsequently went with that. Just wanted to make sure he was in the right frame of mind.’’
When Ryan was able to practice last Thursday without a problem and follow that up with similar work the next day, Saturday knew there was only one logical decision: Matt Ryan was the starting quarterback.
The end of a tumultuous week – Frank Reich’s exit, Saturday’s unconventional hiring, the team turning back to the quarterback it had discarded – saw Ryan direct a 25-20 win against the Raiders. He completed 21-of-28 passes for 222 yards, including a 35-yard TD to Parris Campbell, and chugged for a career-long 39-yard run.
It was the 46th game-winning comeback of his career, and the fourth this season as the Colts sit 4-5-1.
Lest anyone question who’ll lead Indy wherever it goes the remainder of the season, it’ll be Matt Ryan.
“Yeah, he’s my starting quarterback,’’ Saturday said.
No one should casually dismiss the winding road Ryan has traveled in his first season with the Colts. Personally, he’s gone from starter to castoff to starter. On a larger scale, he’s had to deal with the firing of offensive coordinator Marcus Brady and Reich, and the hiring of Saturday, an ESPN analyst and team consultant at the time, as interim coach.
“Yeah, it’s definitely been unusual from a team standpoint, unusual to really anybody in the NFL how things have gone,’’ Ryan said. “For me personally, different from anything I’ve experienced in my career. I think as a veteran player you learn you just have to keep going, and whatever that calls for at different times, you just have to keep moving forward.’’
Because of his experience in the league and support group that surrounds him, Ryan never flirted with the notion of “checking out’’ after being benched.
“One constant is you can’t assume anything in this league,’’ he said. “You can’t make the assumption that you know how things are going to shake out. You just don’t. You try and get yourself in a good space mentally and physically.’’
That doesn’t mean the decision to demote a former MVP and Super Bowl quarterback didn’t cut deep. The last time Ryan was benched was in 2005 at Boston College when he and Quinton Porter were jockeying for starts.
“But I wasn’t the guy at that time,’’ Ryan said.
This time, he was. And again, it hurt.
“As competitors, we all believe we’re the best, right?’’ he said. “That’s just how you think. When you’re told, ‘We feel like somebody else could do a better job for us,’ that part’s hard. That’s natural.
“Again, I think back to where I’m at in my career, and I think it fires you up just as much. I think I know how to handle it better. I think I’m definitely more mature than I would have been at 27, 28, 30.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.