INDIANAPOLIS – On the Colts game-winning touchdown drive against Kansas City, it was Matt Ryan showing zero hesitation in completing his final two passes to a pair of rookies who entered Sunday without an NFL catch on their respective resumes.
And now the question becomes, what will those moments do for Alec Pierce and Jelani Woods in their rookie seasons?
Let’s begin with Pierce, who was always going to be needed for instant rookie impact.
Pierce got an opportunity to make a quick NFL impression but dropped a touchdown in the season opening tie with the Texans.
Sidelined with a concussion in Week Two, Pierce returned to action against the Chiefs and displayed something in front of the home Colts faithful that those attending training camp in Grand Park saw frequently.
With the Colts pinned way back at their own one-yard line, Ryan tossed one down the sideline for Pierce to make a play in a 1-on-1 matchup.
It was very reminiscent of what Pierce showed off in training camp—or in his collegiate days—high pointing a 50/50 ball and making a big play.
“The go ball, that’s what he’s here for, to make more of those,” Frank Reich said of that 30-yarder for Pierce’s second NFL catch.
While such chances for Pierce should be a game plan staple, around one or two times a week, it was the catch he made on the game-winning drive that shows some of his growth.
On a 2nd-and-7 with 1:15 to go, it was Pierce running a comeback route and showing off some of his impressive catch radius to haul in a 14-yard gain.
It’s plays like that, more of a normal route tree play, which will help Pierce grow into more of a complete wideout.
Two plays later, it was Ryan turning to Woods for a 1-on-1 opportunity.
With Pittman getting double teamed from a safety over the top, the middle of the field was open for Woods to utilize his 6-7 frame.
And Ryan clearly had trust in giving Woods a chance to make a play. The rookie delivered with some impressive concentration to secure the hands catch for the game-winning score.
In the box score, the duo of Pierce and Woods combined for 5 catches for 74 yards and 2 touchdowns on Sunday. While those numbers are notable, they don’t tell the full story in what those moments in the clutch could mean moving forward.
“It’s huge,” Ryan says of what Pierce and Woods did in the clutch. “For young players to step up when you need it, at the end of games, and to make the plays that Alec made on converting a first down for us to get into that low red area and then Jelani coming up, I have a lot of belief in those guys. I really think they’re going to be good players in this league. They’ve shown it on the practice field. Maybe haven’t seen it as much in the games to start this year, but I really think there’s going to be a lot of improvement from them.
“The one thing, you just don’t know until you’re in those situations if guys have no flinch, and they just keep battling. Both those guys showed that (Sunday).”
The Colts do not have enough veteran support at the pass catching positions.
Therefore, they need Pierce and Woods to contribute right now.
Is Sunday just the start of more to come?
“It just builds confidence,” Frank Reich said on Monday of what Pierce and Woods did late in Sunday’s first win of the season. “When we drafted both of these guys, we felt like these guys could have an immediate impact. We felt like these two players could be impact players. Not just make an impact, but make big plays. They both have big-play capability. That’s what we’re looking for on offense, is big-play capability. They both show that, but they’re rookies. We’ve got to be patient. This takes time, things develop. It’s not as easy as saying they are both big-play players, let’s put them in and throw the ball to them – 10 targets in the first. It usually grows gradually. That’s what you see over the years. But really encouraged with what we’ve seen so far.”