AFC South Reporter
On the third pass attempt of his first professional football game, Colts rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson had Bills defensive end Greg Rousseau closing in on him, unblocked and prepared to deliver a hit that would hurt.
That’s when the No. 4 overall pick got rid of the ball quickly, throwing what appeared to be a bad pass to wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie, who ran a short out route. It sailed far to the right. Bills cornerback Dane Jackson picked it off, returning it 20 yards to set up Buffalo’s eventual touchdown.
Speaking to Colts.com, McKenzie said the pick was his fault. Coach Shane Steichen also took accountability for the mishap.
However you look at the turnover, though, it was symbolic of the ride Indianapolis is taking with Richardson — one that will inevitably be filled with bumps.
“Should have probably given him a better ball, first of all, instead of throwing it over his head or just should have decided to throw it out of bounds,” Richardson said. “I tried to make it work, first drive. We got to find a way to manage it and make it work instead of just turning the ball over.”
Richardson’s preseason debut, a 23-19 Colts loss to the Bills on the road, went pretty much as expected. There was good and bad; flashes and blown opportunities.
It was everything he needed as a quarterback with just 13 starts above high school: valuable reps. He played with most of Indianapolis’ starters — running back Jonathan Taylor and right tackle Braden Smith were the most notable absences — and faced a Buffalo defense that played many first-teamers, too.
In three drives, all in the first quarter, Richardson went 7-for-12 for 67 yards and no touchdowns with an interception and a 39.2 passer rating. Two of the three series started at the Colts’ own 8-yard line or worse, giving Richardson the challenge of playing behind the eight-ball.
“I thought he had great poise, I really did,” Steichen said. “I know he has the early interception – that’s my fault, we got to do a better job communicating there on that one. … Other than that, I thought he was efficient and threw some good balls. He was calm in the pocket.”
[Arthur: Anthony Richardson is more than his athleticism: ‘He was going to absorb everything‘]
Richardson’s best throw was actually an incompletion. He threw a dime to wide receiver Alec Pierce against single coverage on a corner route, but the second-year pro dropped the potential touchdown.
His best connection was a 20-yard strike to tight end Kylen Granson across the middle, which showcased the velocity at which he can deliver the ball. Richardson also displayed his athleticism and physicality as a runner. On the first play of the Colts’ second drive, he pulled the ball to the right on a zone read and absorbed contact from cornerback Kaiir Elam near the sideline for a five-yard pickup.
“He had some nice touch passes,” Steichen said. “Good calm. Had some good things. Commanded the huddle. All those different things.”
There were miscues. The pick. A misfire to receiver Michael Pittman Jr. when he faced his first pressure, courtesy of defensive tackle Ed Oliver. On his third and final series, Richardson had a little too much mustard on a short pass to Granson, who ran a routine hitch route.
As expected, Richardson needs more live action against the speed of NFL defenses and must continue working on timing with his receivers.
“It’ll be good to watch the film, clean the things up that we need to clean up from everybody and go from there,” Steichen said.
It’s all part of the learning process for Richardson, who’s had ups and downs throughout training camp, too. He’s had rough practices like Thursday, when he was just 5-of-12 in team drills, according to The Indianapolis Star. He’s also had days like last Saturday, when he was on fire, per local reporters: an 81.8% completion rate (9-of-11) and two touchdowns, albeit against second-stringers.
This is the Richardson experience.
A national audience witnessed it for the first time Saturday.
“It felt good getting back in the groove and pushing the ball down the field,” Richardson told Colts.com, per IndyStar. “I can’t be reckless with the ball. I need to be on the same page with my receivers … Overall, I think I did pretty decent, but I could have been a lot better.”
Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for SeattlePI.com for three seasons (2018-20) prior to moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.
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