Starting Sam Ehlinger, Colts Must Beware Backup Blow-Up After Bailey Zappe Busts

The NFL's quarterback carousel has forced a number of backups into action

Sam Ehlinger of the Indianapolis Colts waits for a snap during the preseason.
Sam Ehlinger is the new top gun for the Indianapolis Colts.
Timothy T Ludwig/Getty

From the Dallas Cowboys (Cooper Rush) and the San Francisco 49ers (Jimmy Garoppolo) to the Washington Commanders (Taylor Heinicke) and the Carolina Panthers (P.J. Walker), a number of NFL teams have found success this season when forced to start their backup quarterback after losing their starting QB to injury.

Though Bailey Zappe is technically a third-stringer, he may have garnered the most amount of backup buzz after being thrust into action for the New England Patriots following injuries to starter Mac Jones and second-string QB Brian Hoyer in Week 4 against the Packers. Though the 23-year-old wasn’t able to beat the Packers, he took the Patriots to overtime in Green Bay and was then able to lead the Pats to consecutive wins against the Lions and Browns, setting off a wave of Zappe Fever in New England.

That fever broke yesterday when Jones resumed his starting role for the Patriots on Monday Night Football against the Bears — and then came back stronger than ever when Zappe got in the game and tossed two touchdowns.

And then, exactly a week before Halloween night, Zappe turned into a pumpkin as the Patriots were routed 33-14 in a game that exposed the reality of what can happen when a backup quarterback plays under pressure for too long.

If the Colts are smart, they are paying attention to what occurred last night with Zappe, who was 9-of-16 for 76 yards in the second half against Chicago with two interceptions and a fumble, as Indianapolis announced on Monday that they will be pivoting to second-year quarterback Sam Ehlinger as their starter and ex-MVP Matt Ryan will be heading to the bench.

Though Ryan is bruised and battered and suffered a separated throwing shoulder late in the first half in a loss to the Titans on Sunday, Colts head coach Frank Reich indicated the 15-year veteran would be getting benched even if he wasn’t hurt due to his ineffective play. Ryan has led the Colts to a 3-3-1 record and leads the NFL in completions with 203, but he also leads the league in interceptions (nine), fumbles (11) and sacks taken (24). That troubling trifecta has paved the way for Ehlinger to make his starting debut on Sunday against the Washington Commanders.

“Right now, the move is for Sam to be the starter the rest of the season,” Reich said. “It’s a big step, but we think he’s ready. This guy’s special. You all know it, everybody knows it. Just talk to anybody in that locker room.”

Go talk to anybody in New England’s locker room. Beware the backup.

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