INDIANAPOLIS – What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.
We seriously doubt that’s going to be possible. Matter of fact, it’s downright impossible.
Not after the Indianapolis Colts did the improbable Sunday against the Raiders at Las Vegas’ Allegiant Stadium.
Not after they regrouped as an organization following a tumultuous, emotional week that saw:
*beloved coach Frank Reich fired.
*franchise icon, team consultant and ESPN analyst Jeff Saturday named interim coach.
*Parks Frazier, a so-called “floater’’ on the offensive staff, given play-calling duties for the first time in a competitive setting.
*quarterback Matt Ryan, benched on Oct. 24, regain his starting position after his sprained right shoulder had healed to the point he put together strong practices Thursday and Friday.
“I knew what I was going to do,’’ Saturday said of starting Ryan over Sam Ehlinger. “I felt like Matt gave us the best chance to win.’’
Colts 25, Raiders 20.
Yeah, that happened. In Vegas, the city where visitors come to hit the jackpot. It’s where the Colts came to find themselves. They snapped a three-game losing streak and returned home 4-5-1.
“The way Jeff handled the week . . . it’s amazing to me to sit here Sunday evening after all that transpired Monday and Tuesday, and for me personally Thursday, Friday,’’ Ryan said. “It’s incredible to sit here at this point with a win.
“I’m proud of that.’’
Saturday was at the center of the storm early in the week – it wasn’t a storm of his making, but he was its eye nonetheless – and stood at the podium late Sunday afternoon clutching his first career victory as a coach.
The smile spoke volumes. Think about someone at the blackjack table taking a hit on 17 and finding 21.
“I’m not sure there’s a storybook ending any better for the first game,’’ Saturday said. “It’s a heckuva win for a first win. We want to stack wins, but you can’t start a stack until you get the first one.’’
The first one was a testament to the Colts’ collective resolve.
There was Ryan directing the 46th game-winning drive of his 15-year career, and the fourth in his first season with the Colts.
And there was Frazier digging into his aggressive, balanced game plan that resulted in 415 total yards, just the third time this season the offense breached the 400 level.
“I thought Parks did a helluva job,’’ Ryan said.
Ryan accounted for 222 yards and the game-winning 35-yard touchdown to Parris Campbell with 5:07 remaining. He also showed off his 37-year-old legs with a 39-yard scramble that set up his pitch-catch-run to Campbell. It was the longest run of Ryan’s career, topping a 20-yarder in – wait for it – 2010.
The running game generated a season-high 207 yards as Jonathan Taylor returned after missing one game with a sprained right ankle and flashed his All-Pro form with 147 yards, including a season-long 66-yard touchdown.
Part of Saturday’s message to the team: the game is going to come down to the last play.
“It always does,’’ he said. “And who goes the hardest the longest wins, and we made a couple of plays there at the end that were spectacular.’’
Two weeks ago, the defense and cornerback Stephon Gilmore were unable to seal the deal against Washington. Sunday, they atoned.
With 56 seconds remaining and trailing 25-20, the Raiders faced a third-and-7 at the Indy 16. Linebacker Bobby Okereke pried the football out of the hands of tight end Foster Moreau in the end zone.
On fourth-down, it was best versus best: Gilmore versus Davante Adams along the left side of the end zone. Gilmore – who was unable to deny Terry McLaurin – batted Derek Carr’s pass away from Adams with his right hand.
That’s a storybook finish.
And an incredible first step for Jeff Saturday.
“It would have been interesting to have a heart monitor on me,’’ he said. “It was fantastic.’’
In the hours before the game, he flipped through one text after another from former teammates and colleagues. Edgerrin James texted him that he was at the game.
“It was magical in all honestly,’’ Saturday said. “In truth, I felt very at peace.
“I felt like we had a really good plan in place.’’
It was made possible by the Colts’ best players stepping up: Ryan, Taylor, Campbell, Michael Pittman Jr., DeForest Buckner, Grover Stewart, Kenny Moore II, Zaire Franklin and Okereke. And after giving up a league-high 35 sacks in the first nine games, the offensive line allowed just one to the Raiders.
But it was Saturday who provided the leadership.
“I knew Jeff would know how to mold and delegate some of our great coaches and our players and great leaders,’’ owner Jim Irsay told reporters outside the Colts’ locker room. “Jeff knows how to do that.’’
It was Irsay who made the controversial move of hiring an interim head coach with no experience at the college or pro level.
“He’s a great leader and uses everything around him to make the team better,’’ Irsay said. “Delegated, but led.
“The players are going to follow him. It’s amazing what you can accomplish if it doesn’t matter who gets the credit.’’
Perhaps, but Ryan didn’t hesitate to point a finger at his interim coach. Saturday’s first challenge after replacing Reich was building credibility with the players.
“I thought he did a great job at the beginning of the week of kind of addressing the situation, understanding it’s completely unprecedented, completely unique and was very clear about how he was going to try and go about it and very clear about what he expected from the guys,’’ Ryan said.
“I think players are extremely resilient, I really do. In this league, there’s tons of turnover when it comes to the roster. That’s how the nature of this works. I think it creates guys with hard mindsets, understanding they’ve got to go perform regardless of what the circumstances are every week.’’
Saturday, upbeat and passionate, offered poised leadership. He also won his first career coaching challenge.
“I was going to execute my role to the best of my ability and I was going to allow those men to do the same,’’ he said. “They stepped up, man. It was an incredible day.
“It’s one win, but heck man, they’re hard to get in the NFL.’’
Saturday seemed most pleased with the manner with which everyone handled the week from disruptive start to exhilarating finish.
“This was a very tough week for these guys,’’ he said. “The relationship they had with Frank, and it’s hard in all these circumstances. But those guys, man, from Wednesday on, I’m telling you . . . Friday’s practice was poppin’. The guys were rolling.
“And it just shows you. I mean, the fatigue on these guys has to be insane, from the emotional fatigue, the physical fatigue of where we are in the season, all of those things.
“I just kept telling them, ‘Just keep pushing through.’’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.