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Colts vs. Panthers preseason score, takeaways: Sam Ehlinger leads Indy’s comeback win in first NFL action

The Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts wrapped up Week 1 of the 2021 NFL preseason on Sunday, as Frank Reich and his Colts pulled out a 21-18 comeback victory. After rookie quarterback Sam Ehlinger led Indy 61 yards down the field with time winding down in the fourth quarter, Eddy Pineiro knocked a 30-yard, game-winning field goal. It was a tale of two halves, as the Panthers secured a five-point lead at the halftime break thanks to the magnificent play of quarterback P.J. Walker, but Ehlinger was able to come in and flip the script.

Both starting quarterbacks for this matchup turned in strong performances. Walker completed 10 of 21 passes for 161 yards and one touchdown. He made several big throws and established a rapport with rookie receiver Terrace Marshall Jr., who caught three passes for 88 yards in the opening half. Jacob Eason also had a solid outing, as he completed 15 of 21 passes for 183 yards. His offensive line didn’t help him much, but his strong arm was on full display. In fact, Eason’s receivers struggled to haul in his passes due to the amount of mustard he was spinning the pigskin with. Eason also led an impressive two-minute drill in the second quarter which resulted in the Colts’ first touchdown of the game.

Why the Colts won

The Colts won because of the huge second half from Ehlinger. With Indy down five at the beginning of the second half, it actually looked like the Colts were headed for disaster. The rookie out of Texas threw a bad interception on his first possession, and the play calls looked pretty vanilla. He was able to rebound, however, which is something we will get into later. Overall, Ehlinger finished going 10 of 15 for 155 yards and one interception, and also led the Colts in rushing with 30 yards on eight carries. He didn’t light up the box score, but made some huge throws that ultimately decided the game. The Colts have a legitimate backup quarterback competition on their hands. 

Why the Panthers lost

The Panthers were rolling with Walker under center, but did not experience the same offensive success with Will Grier in the second half. Grier completed 6 of 10 passes for 31 yards, and went three-and-out on three out of five drives. He didn’t turn the ball over, but Carolina did turn the ball over on downs in the third quarter after failing to convert on a 4th-and-2. It was a tough ending to the nine-play drive, as it was halted at the Colts’ 20-yard line. The Panthers offense scored just three points in the second half, which opened the door for the Colts to come back.

Turning point

After an eight-play drive that didn’t go anywhere, Ehlinger returned to the field after the Panthers hit a field goal to go up eight points. It was on this drive where everything changed. On his first throw, Ehlinger connected with Tarik Black on a beautiful, 47-yard pass that couldn’t have been thrown any better with the defender literally on top of his receiver.

The Colts were all of a sudden near the red zone, and Ehlinger then built on the momentum by completing what was the play of the game.

Play of the game

With the Colts facing a 3rd-and-5, it felt like the game could potentially be on the line. Would the Colts not be able to pull off another big drive like this one? Would a field goal mean anything if the Panthers were to score again? On that important third down, Ehlinger threw a nice pass to Tyler Vaughns, who made an absurd one-handed catch. 

Credit to Vaughns for making a one-handed clutch catch, but also credit to Ehlinger for putting the ball where it needed to be in between two defenders. 

Panthers praise

The Panthers appeared to be the better team for the majority of the game, and that’s because of the play of their offensive rookies. The aforementioned Marshall Jr. was a big play waiting to happen, and recorded what was definitely one of the biggest plays of the afternoon. 

Rookie running back Chuba Hubbard also had an impressive first NFL game. The Oklahoma State product rushed seven times for 80 yards, including this 59-yard pickup that had cameramen confused.

Even South Carolina rookie Shi Smith got involved! Making a huge sideline catch in between two defenders.

What’s next

The Panthers return to Charlotte and will host Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens next Saturday. As for the Colts, they travel to Minnesota to take on the Vikings next Saturday. 

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