Colts 27, Lions 17: What we saw (including Sam Ehlinger knee injury)

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DETROIT, MICHIGAN – AUGUST 27: Deon Jackson #35 of the Indianapolis Colts celebrates a touchdown with his teammates during the fourth quarter of the game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on August 27, 2021 in Detroit, Michigan. The Colts defeated the Lions 27-17. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS – Observations from the Indianapolis Colts’ 27-17 win over the Detroit Lions Friday night at Ford Field.

Perfection: The Colts wrapped up their first unbeaten preseason since 1994 (4-0) by scoring the final 18 points. They trailed 17-9 with 10 minutes remaining in the third quarter, but rallied behind No. 4 quarterback Brett Hundley, who saw his first action of the preseason, rookie running back Deon Jackson and kicker Rodrigo Blankenship.

Hundley overcame an early interception to lead three fourth-quarter scoring drives: a 3-yard touchdown pass to Jackson, Blankenship’s fourth field goal of the night and Jackson’s 42-yard touchdown run.

Jackson finished with 81 yards on 10 carries while Blankenship wrapped up a perfect preseason with 31-, 36-, 43- and 42-yard field goals. He was 6-for-6 in the preseason and didn’t miss during training camp as he won the kicking competition with Eddy Pineiro.

“Obviously good to finish strong the way we did,’’ Frank Reich said. “I thought the guys played hard. We really wanted to finish with good execution tonight.’’

Ehlinger injured: Several players were injured during the game, but the post-game focus was on Sam Ehlinger. The rookie quarterback replaced Jacob Eason for a two-minute drive at the end of the first half, but limped to the bench at the end of it with a knee injury.

In his post-game press conference, Reich was unable to offer any specifics on the injury, but admitted, “It didn’t look good.’’

Ehlinger battled with Eason for the backup role behind Carson Wentz and endured an inconsistent preseason. He finished 3-for-3 for 64 yards against the Lions and 21-of-31 for 289 yards with no touchdowns, three interceptions and a 57.8 rating during the preseason.

If Ehlinger’s injury is serious, the Colts must decide whether to stick with Hundley as their No. 3 QB, or look to bring in a veteran.

We’ll get to the long injury list later.

More from Paye: For the record, Reich didn’t say none of his starters would play. He said “most of our starters aren’t going to play.’’

Kwity Paye is a starter and played most of the first quarter. Clearly the coaching staff believed their first-round draft pick would benefit from another dose of preseason reps.

“We got out of him what we wanted to get out of him,’’ Reich said. “Obviously, he looked really good out there.’’

After getting his first sack last week at Minnesota, Paye added another against the Lions. He ended the Lions’ first possession on third-and-11 by beating left tackle Darrin Paulo, hitting quarterback Tim Boyle and forcing a fumble Taylor Stallworth covered.

He finished a busy first quarter with three tackles, 1 sack, two quarterback hits and the forced fumble.

Eason in, and out: Eason was given the start, and reinforced his position as Wentz’s backup. Barring the Colts deciding to bring in a veteran, that is.

Eason led three series that generated two Rodrigo Blankenship field goals. The most disappointing possession was his first, which started at the Detroit 18 following Paye’s strip-sack. Eason misfired to Ashton Dulin on third-and-5, forcing Blankenship to clean things up.

Pressure allowed by left tackle Julién Davenport on third-and-10 sabotaged the second possession, but then Eason heated up. He completed 7-of-8 passes for 62 yards on his third series. Another failed third-down situation led to another Blankenship field goal, this one from 36.

Eason finished the night 10-of-14 for 74 yards, and finished the preseason 41-of-62 for 389 (66.1%) with no touchdowns, no interceptions and an 83.3 rating.

Finishing strong: As Reich mentioned, the Colts finished with a strong closing kick. After a first half marred by missed tackles and inefficiency in third-down situations – the Lions were 7-of-10 in the first two quarters – the defense stiffened considerably.

Detroit worked its way to 169 yards and 12 first downs on 40 snaps in the first half. After the break, it was limited to 94 yards and three first downs on 23 plays. The defense yielded just 1-of-8 third-down conversions in the second half.

Isaac Rochell and Andrew Brown pushed the Colts’ sack total to 3 and linebacker Curtis Bolton had an interception.

Highlights: Along with Jackson’s 81 rushing yards and two TDs, rookie wideout Mike Strachan continued his push to earn a roster spot. The seventh-round draft pick led the Colts with five catches for 61 yards. Dezmon Patmon had a team-high 64 yards on two catches before exiting the game with a foot injury.

Cuts coming: A quick reminder 80-player rosters must be trimmed to the regular-season limit of 53 by 4 p.m. Tuesday. And for a few of those “bubble’’ players who earn one of those final spots, anxious moments will remain. General manager Chris Ballard and his personnel staff will be perusing the waiver wire for someone who might be a more viable player than he kept.

Injury update: Ehlinger’s knee injury heads the list, but it’s a long list.

Other Colts who exited the game with an injury included offensive tackle Sam Tevi (knee), Patmon (foot), safety George Odum (concussion), defensive lineman Kameron Cline (hamstring) and tight end Andrew Vollert (ankle).

COVID-19 update: Reich said offensive tackle Eric Fisher tested positive but is asymptomatic while guard Quenton Nelson did not test positive but joined Fisher on the COVID-19 list as a close contact.

Reich indicated the situations with Fisher and Nelson were related.

“Those two hang out at practice all the time,’’ he said.

The fact Nelson is a close contact means he could return quicker than was initially anticipated with the proper negative tests on consecutive days.

Both Nelson (foot) and Fisher (Achilles) are in rehab mode from injuries, and must work out on their own until they are removed from the COVID-19 list.

Fisher is “at a spot in his rehab that a lot of his work is done. He’s near the end stages,’’ Reich said. “He’ll continue to do what he can do at home. Hopefully that doesn’t slow him down very much.’’

Reich, who’s vaccinated but missed the start of camp due to a “breakthrough’’ positive test, was asked if having two starters land on the COVID-19 list so close to a game and miss the game should be a red flag to unvaccinated Colts.

“I don’t like to play that card,’’ he said, “but it is what it is.

“I greatly respect the individual choice every player has and we’ll continue to educate and give whatever counsel we can. We recommend that everybody should be vaccinated, but we respect the individual choice.’’

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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