INDIANAPOLIS — Like so many other first-year college graduates, Will Grier received a humbling introduction to the real world in his first day at the office.
The former West Virginia star had a disappointing first career start for the Carolina Panthers, who were mauled 38-6 by an Indianapolis Colts team fighting to keep its playoff hopes alive. Grier finished the game 27 of 44 for 224 yards and three interceptions.
“It was not the result we wanted,” Grier said. “But it was good to get out there and get experience. To get hit again.”
As much as his first career start meant to him personally, it was clear that not too many people around him shared those feelings.
Grier’s Panthers are playing out the string, out of the playoff hunt and working for a lame-duck coaching staff. On top of all that, leading receiver DJ Moore left the game with an injury in the first quarter and did not return.
Given the situation, veteran Panthers tight end Greg Olson said that Grier “never really stood a chance.”
It showed in Carolina’s effort, or more accurately the total lack thereof.
Indianapolis returned two punts for touchdowns and nearly broke a third.
Sacking Grier was like shooting fish in a barrel. The Colts defense got to him for five sacks, and he danced his way out of twice that number with a pretty good show of mobility and pocket awareness for a rookie playing for the first time since West Virginia hosted Oklahoma last Thanksgiving weekend.
“When Will used his legs, I enjoyed watching him,” said Panthers interim head coach Perry Fewell. “He scrambled and — just run the ball and take off if you don’t like what you see.”
Grier wasn’t exactly Cam Newton, but he wriggled his way for 17 yards on four carries. His mobility also bought time for a pair of first-down completions.
Grier’s bad plays will look worse on paper than they will on film.
His first interception was very much a “welcome to the NFL” moment. Colts linebacker Anthony Walker dropped 35 yards downfield into coverage, winning a tug-of-war for the ball with Panthers receiver Jarius Wright.
The list of Big 12 linebackers making that play in Grier’s West Virginia career is very short, if it even exists.
“That was a really good play,” Grier said. “I thought Jarius caught it, and that guy made a really great play. They’re allowed to make plays too. They’re good players and that’s part of it. It was a good throw and he made a play on it.”
Grier’s second interception was badly overthrown, but was delivered awkwardly because of a pass rusher who took him down the moment after he released the ball early.
With the game well out of hand in the final two minutes, Grier’s third interception came with an assist from receiver DeAndrew White, who simply had the ball taken from his hands by Colts defensive back Pierre Desir.
“We’ve got to help Will,” Fewell said. “Everybody has to help Will. We have to go up and compete for the ball.”
It wasn’t a turnover that best symbolized the mammoth jump from college to the NFL, but a throw that was recorded in the stat book as a simple incompletion.
With Carolina sustaining a drive for the first time, Grier dropped a 10-yard pass to Wright in the back corner of the end zone. Wright made an athletic play to get his foot down before falling out of bounds — in college, a touchdown.
But this is the NFL. The second foot never hit the turf. There was no score. Carolina ended the possession with a turnover on downs.
Already down 14-0, that was an early turning point from which the Panthers failed to recover.
This is the real world. It’s not always fun. But Grier is ready to embrace it.
“I’m going to come back to work tomorrow and keep fighting,” he said.