INDIANAPOLIS – Everyone had high expectations as Sam Ehlinger prepared for his first NFL start.

Frank Reich raved about Ehlinger’s crisp practices leading up to the Indianapolis Colts’ Sunday meeting with the Washington Commanders at Lucas Oil Stadium. Teammates offered similar reviews.

But you just never know.

How do you know you’re ready?

“You never know if you’re ready until you’re put in the situation,’’ Ehlinger said following the Colts’ 17-16 loss to Washington. “You know, first start. Obviously don’t ever really know until you’re in there and the live bullets are coming.

“I think now I know what it feels like to play a regular season game. I think that there’s a lot of potential for growth, which I’m excited about. There’s a lot of things to clean up and things to do better. There’s a lot of opportunities to be had.

“I’m looking forward to grow and improve.’’

Reich was pleased with Ehlinger’s first impression. He named the 2021 6th-round draft pick the Colts starter for the remainder of the season last week, bouncing him ahead of 15-year veteran Matt Ryan. Ryan would have missed Sunday’s game with an injury to his right shoulder, but the move would have been made regardless.

“I thought Sam played well,’’ Reich said. “I thought he threw the ball well. I thought he looked poised, made good decisions, gave us a chance.

“We’ll look at the film more closely, but my first impression was that he played well.’’

Ehlinger completed 17-of-23 passes for 201 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. He added 15 yards on six rushes/scrambles.

On the negative side, Ehlinger was sacked twice and lost a fumble in the second quarter when he lost control of the football before being hit.

Ehlinger was hoping to become the first Colts quarterback since Chris Chandler in 1988 to win his first career start.

That group now is 1-16 since 1966.

Another slow start

The change from Ryan to Ehlinger did nothing to fix the offense’s slow starts. Ehlinger’s first two drives were three-and-outs and the Colts were limited to Chase McLaughlin’s 46-yard field goal in the first half.

The Colts now have been outscored 105-42 in the first half this season. The 42 points are the fourth-fewest in franchise history for the first eight games of a season.

Indy now has failed to score on its first possession and trailed at the half in 10 consecutive games.

Shaq comes back

Shaquille Leonard’s return after missing three games with a concussion and broken nose that required surgery consisted of approximately 20 snaps and featured his first interception of the season and 12th of his career.

“I knew I wanted to go in and make a play someway, somehow,’’ he said.

Leonard was credited with four tackles and his interception came early in the fourth quarter. Tyquan Lewis pressured Washington quarterback Taylor Heinicke – it was uncertain if Lewis hit Heinicke’s arm – and Leonard settled under the pass.

“It was just floating in the air and . . . me being me, somehow, someway found the ball.’’

In 2021, Leonard was a takeaway machine with four interceptions, a league-high eight forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.

Leonard didn’t step on the field until the second quarter. The longer he played, the better he felt.

“Of course,’’ he said. “The first drive (was) the first time in a while. Just trying to figure it out. At linebacker, you’ve got to be confident. You’ve got to feel like you know the game and feel like you know where they’re going to run the ball, throw the ball.’’

McLaurin comes back

Terry McLaurin enjoyed an impactful homecoming.

The Cathedral H.S. product led Washington with six catches for 113 yards, including a 33-yard reception with less than 1 minute remaining that gave the Commanders a first-and-goal at the 1. Taylor Heinicke scored the winning TD on the next play on a sneak.

On the 33-yarder, McLaurin was covered by cornerback Stephon Gilmore. Heinicke was able to buy time, forcing Gilmore to cover longer than normal. McLaurin wrestled the football away from Gilmore just short of the goal line.

“Terry wasn’t going to be denied,’’ Washington coach Ron Rivera said. “No, honestly, I really did believe he was going to get it. I really did.’’

Rivera added McLaurin handled his homecoming “as a normal game.

“Just the fact that a lot of us were aware that this was his homecoming, and I knew early on we got him the ball a couple of times. He made a couple of big plays early on, and that was big for him.’’

Injury update

Lewis suffered what appeared to be a significant injury late in the fourth quarter. He went down and immediate grabbed his left knee and waved for help from the medical staff.

Lewis was taken to the locker room on a cart.

Also, cornerback Tony Brown exited the game with a hamstring injury.

Jonathan Taylor appeared to aggravate an injury to his right ankle after getting free for a season-long 27 run late in the first quarter. He returned after getting his ankle re-taped.

This and that

Parris Campbell posted one of the best games of his four-year career. The 2019 second-round draft pick had two receptions for 43 yards and added a career-long 28-yard run. He also enticed a 30-yard interference penalty on cornerback Rachad Wildgoose in the fourth quarter that produced a first-and-goal at the 6.

Nyheim Hines notched a 6-yard TD on the next play, giving the Colts a 16-7 lead.

Taylor finished with 76 yards on 16 carries, but lost a fumble at the Washington 26 in the third quarter.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.