INDIANAPOLIS – It was a play that Carson Wentz was accustomed to making many times throughout the first five-plus years of his NFL career.
A running lane was there in the middle of the line of scrimmage for the Indianapolis Colts' quarterback to dart through and gain 10-12 yards before sliding to the ground late in the fourth quarter against the Tennessee Titans. Wentz started to run for it, but then attempted a pass to running back Nyheim Hines in the flat that fell incomplete.
It wasn’t a matter of Wentz throwing an incompletion. That play showed how limited he was Sunday, and may continue to be, because of the two sprained ankles he sustained in Week 2.
“I knew I wasn’t going to scramble around and make some plays,” Wentz said. “[The ankles] didn’t feel great when I did that, but at the same time, there’s plays to make.”
Rest – outside of possibly sitting out some practices – is not much of an option for Wentz because the Colts do not have their annual bye week until Dec. 12 (Week 14). Shutting Wentz down in attempt to get him healthy doesn’t appear to be a possibility either.
The hope is that Wentz will continue to gradually get better each day, so that he can be more effective each week, as the Colts are one of five remaining winless teams in the league.
“I’m not the medical expert, so I rely on the doctors, and I rely on the player,” coach Frank Reich said. “The doctors are going to give us the information. Is this player subjecting themselves to injury that could be detrimental to the player and to his career? Could he be subjecting putting himself in a worse position for the season? The docs answer that question. That’s above my pay grade. Then you need to talk to the player. What I’ve experienced over the years, the players know. They know their bodies, know what they can do.
“In this instance, Carson’s docs gave him the clearance. Carson says he wants to play, so now it’s our job as a staff to try to protect him as best as we can. So that’s what we try to do. We had the game plan set up, called it in a way that we tried to protect him as best as we could.”
The Colts had no idea Wentz would even try to play against the Titans after he severely sprained both ankles against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 2. And though he returned to practice Friday, it wasn’t until he went through his warmups prior to the start of Sunday's game that it was officially determined he would play.
Wentz finished the game 19-of-37 for 194 yards. He was sacked only twice, but the second sack at the start of the Colts’ final series caused him to aggravate his ankle, according to Reich. Wentz had a noticeable limp as he made his way to the podium for the postgame interview session.
“I am very confident, just how quickly it is already from not really even being able to walk [the] first two days [last] week to playing [against the Titans],” Wentz said. “I’m very confident that we can progress this thing along and be myself.”
Hines said, "Goes to show how tough Carson is. We already respect him a lot, but he earned a lot of respect from us [Sunday] battling through that. Having both of your ankles hurt, I know it was hard for him.”
The goal this week is for Wentz to do more in practice than he did last week. He didn't practice until Friday, so ideally the Colts would like it if he were able to practice Thursday and then advance it to even more days next week, barring any kind of setback, with the goal of him eventually getting back to 100% without missing any games.
Nobody answered what percentage Wentz is health wise, but no matter what that number is, he's still better than what the Colts have behind him in backups Jacob Eason and Brett Hundley. One of the biggest adjustments Reich has had to make is that he's had to shrink his playbook some to keep Wentz in the pocket more, which will cause him to throw the ball more quickly, since he lacks much mobility.
Which could be beneficial because Wentz has a tendency to hold the ball too long (fifth longest in the league).
"Don’t get me wrong ... he does get it out on time and quick plenty of times," Reich said. "Is there one or two times where he (doesn't)? Yeah, but so does every quarterback. That’s not just Carson. I do think it could be a blessing in disguise, where he’s forced to play from the pocket, and I just think there’s some good things there.
"Believe me, while that’s happening – this isn’t some kind of project where we’re going to put winning on hold a while just until, no. We can play winning football like this. If that’s what it takes, that’s what we’ll do. I’m also optimistic that in a week or two, this will all pass and he’ll be 100%.”
The ankle injuries to go along with the left foot surgery he had in training camp adds to the ongoing issues the Colts are dealing with Wentz in his first year with the franchise. Owner Jim Irsay, speaking at an event in Nashville, the night before their game against the Titans, threw another wrinkle into things when he mentioned how his quarterback's vaccination status makes things even more difficult.
"It also makes it difficult if you’re not vaccinated, you know, because it makes it harder to depend on someone if they’re not vaccinated," Irsay said via Fox59 television in Indianapolis. "So they have freedom of choice, and we understand that.”