Colts win with combo of debuting coach Jeff Saturday, returning Matt Ryan

LAS VEGAS -- Jeff Saturday began his day with phone calls to his wife and son back home in Georgia, watched a webcast of his usual church service, then culled through the many text messages of encouragement he received.

By the time he departed for Allegiant Stadium in the midmorning Sunday, the newly appointed Indianapolis Colts interim head coach felt an odd sense of tranquility about his debut.

"In all honesty and in all truth, I felt very at peace," he said.

With Saturday resigned to accept any potential outcome, the Colts went out and made him 1-0 as a head coach with a 25-20 victory over the Las Vegas Raiders, taking them to 4-5-1 and giving Saturday some needed credibility with a locker room full of players and a coaching staff blindsided by his stunning hire six days ago.

Saturday took over after owner Jim Irsay fired Frank Reich on Monday, assuming the new role despite having never had a coaching role beyond high school football. It was a bold decision panned by many.

And while the Colts have seven games remaining, including one against the unbeaten Philadelphia Eagles next Sunday, the win gave them a reprieve after a taxing few days.

"I told the guys just all three phases was an incredible team effort," Saturday said afterward. "These guys have been through it. I told the staff, the coaches, the players, [about] the fortitude that they presented and the way they played today. They laid it all out there today. And I just could not be more appreciative of those guys and the way they played.

"Everybody from offense, defense and, obviously, on special teams, these guys, they rallied and it's a special moment for all of those guys. And I tipped my hat to all of them. It's just an honor to be a part of it."

Saturday implored his new players to be ready for a game that would be decided by a late play, and his projection proved true.

Cornerback Stephon Gilmore, the 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, defended a fourth-down pass in the end zone against Raiders All-Pro receiver Davante Adams with 52 seconds remaining to preserve the victory.

"I just kept telling them, man, just keep pushing through," Saturday said. "And I said it's going to come down to the last play. It always does in the NFL. And who goes hardest, the longest ultimately wins. And we made a couple plays there at the end that were spectacular."

The Colts had to revamp their coaching staff on the fly this week, with Saturday mostly yielding the detailed work to the offensive assistants, including first-time playcaller Parks Frazier. But the biggest lift arguably came from the surprise return of quarterback Matt Ryan; the team previously said he would be benched for the remainder of the season.

Ryan started the game, replacing Sam Ehlinger, and completed 21 of 28 passes for 222 yards. He also rushed for a touchdown in his first game back in three weeks.

Regarding the move to reinstate Ryan as the starter, Saturday said his observations in practice during the week convinced him it was the right one.

"I wanted to talk to the staff on Friday afternoon, but I knew what I was going to do," he said of making the change. "I knew everybody was with it and I felt like Matt gave us the best chance to win. And I had the conversation with Sam, who was a true pro, and I have so much respect for that young man and the way that he's conducting himself and the type of teammate he is."

An added bonus came from a rejuvenated Jonathan Taylor, the All-Pro running back who returned from an ankle injury to rush for 147 yards, including a 66-yard touchdown. The run was Taylor's longest since a 67-yarder in Week 15 of the 2021 season.