INDIANAPOLIS — Comeback kids. Second-half warriors. Cardiac Colts.
Whatever you want to call them, the Indianapolis Colts and their defense have taken things to another level recently when the players' backs have been against the proverbial wall.
On Sunday against a strong Green Bay Packers squad led by quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the Colts trailed 28-14 at halftime. Upset but not unphased by the challenge posed by a surefire Hall-of-Fame gunslinger and a 7-2 team tied for the NFC’s best record, the Colts defense clamped down.
Rodgers and the Packers put up just three points after halftime.
That allowed the offense to take care of business in a dramatic 34-31 overtime triumph at Lucas Oil Stadium.
"We talked about the bigger the game, the smaller you have to make your world,” said third-year Colts head coach Frank Reich. “Narrow things down – focus and make it small, then be a beast in that small world. I think that’s what our guys did.
“It didn’t quite start out the way we wanted. We matched their energy, but we knew they would score some points with the quarterback that they had – (we) just didn’t feel like we were opportunistic in the first half. So, we were down by 14, but came in at halftime and everybody just knew what we had to do. It just felt like we could dominate this game, it felt like we could take control. We talked about, ‘Let’s take control of the second half. Let’s take control of this second half. We have the guys in here to do it and so let’s just go out and do it one play at a time.’ I give the guys a lot of credit. They played hard, they never stopped believing – obviously, against a very good football team, against a very well-coached team and the players just did a great job.”
The Colts defense putting opponents in a chokehold after halftime has been a theme at times this year, but recently the offense has joined the effort and helped put the team over the top.
The Colts (7-3) halted Green Bay’s momentum, holding them to 162 yards (including 10 yards rushing) and three points after allowing 206 yards and 28 points prior to halftime.
The Colts came up big and got off the field when it mattered, holding the Packers to 1-of-5 on third down (20%) and 0-of-1 in the red zone, as well as forcing two punts and two turnovers in the second half.
The week prior, on the road against the Tennessee Titans, the Colts faced another halftime deficit at 17-13. And it was the same defensive formula. The Colts held Tennessee to just 138 yards in the second half and didn’t allow a point in a 34-17 win. The Titans converted just 1-of-6 third downs, were 0-of-2 in the red zone, sacked once, and forced to punt twice.
In the last two games, the Colts have outscored the Packers and Titans 41-3 in the second half and overtime.
“I just feel a resilience and mental toughness,” Reich said. “Two weeks in a row now against very good football teams in different ways, take control of the game in the second half.”
What makes the Colts defense so effective late in games is the mindset and playmaking ability. Rookie safety Julian Blackmon, drafted in the third round, has proven to be quite a closer.
Blackmon is generating legitimate Defensive Rookie of the Year buzz after helping facilitate four takeaways this season; three of which have come in the fourth quarter or overtime.
Blackmon’s forced fumble during overtime gave the Colts the ball at the Packers’ 29. He made a terrific play on the ball, coming downhill to play the screen pass and splitting between two blockers. Knowing he wouldn’t be able to get his body in a position to make the tackle, Blackmon stuck out his hand and popped the ball out of Packers wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling’s grasp, and Colts defensive tackle DeForest Buckner pounced on it.
"I honestly had a feeling they were going to come back to that screen they had been running quite a few times during the games,” Blackmon said. “I came down and I had to get down to the box and split two guys trying to block me. I honestly aimed at his arm because he was kind of swinging it but I was getting blocked from behind, so it was kind of hard for me to finish the tackle. So, I just swiped at it and happened to hit his arm.”
Four plays later, Colts kicker Rodrigo Blankenship lifted his 39-yard field goal through the uprights.
“It’s a real difficult ask, but Julian is explosive and he does have that knack and he is fearless,” Reich said. “He continues to make those kind of plays. He’s consistent, but he also has that play-making ability. In a game like this, we have a bunch of those guys that have to step up and make big-time plays and Julian certainly did that today.”
While others around the country may just now be mentioning Blackmon as a serious contender for postseason recognition, he’s had his eyes on it since he got in the Colts’ building.
"Definitely, throughout my playbook I sat down and literally wrote ‘Defensive Rookie of the Year’ all over my book because that's what I want,” Blackmon said. “I truly believe that's a talent that I have that I can help bring to this team. It's definitely been on my radar.”
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