Trailing 21-3 at halftime to the Green Bay Packers, the Indianapolis Colts staged one of the most impressive — and improbable — comebacks in franchise history en route to a 30-27 victory Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Reggie Wayne’s 4-yard touchdown reception, along with a 2-point conversion run by Donald Brown, with 35 seconds remaining in the game proved to be the difference in a win that had to be seen to be believed.
In fact, it came down to a missed 51-yard field goal attempt by Green Bay’s Mason Crosby that sailed wide right with eight seconds remaining in the game that finally sent most of an announced crowd of 67,020 home happy.
Crosby missed both of his field goal attempts on the day (he had also misfired on a 52-yard kick that also landed right of the goal posts). Still, the story of the game proved to be how a youthful group of Colts rallied time and again against one of the best teams in the National Football League and came away with a hard-earned victory.
Wayne’s catch capped a remarkable day for the veteran wide receiver. He caught 13 passes for 212 yards. On the touchdown catch, the 12-year veteran was hit by two Green Bay defenders and reached the ball over the goal line with an outstretched arm.
Rookie quarterback Andrew Luck came of age Sunday as well. Despite a relentless Green Bay pass rush, which sacked Luck four times in the first half, the Colts’ No. 1 draft pick completed 31 of 55 passes for 362 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He also had one interception.
Luck also ran the ball six times for an additional 24 yards, but none was bigger than his 7-yard scramble up the middle on a third-and-7 at the Packers’ 11-yard line. While barely making the first down the run set up the game-winning pass to Wayne.
As much as the victory was big for a Colts team still stinging over a 22-17 home loss to Jacksonville two weeks ago, it was also meaningful because of what it meant to Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano, who has been in an Indianapolis hospital for over a week as he undergoes treatments for a form of leukemia.
Pagano watched Sunday’s game from his bed at the Indiana University Simon Cancer Care Center along with members of his immediate family.
Colts owner Jim Irsay and interim coach Bruce Arians were both emotional after the game, with Irsay taking a game ball for Pagano to the hospital. Arians also earned a game ball for a win that he later called “the greatest that I’ve ever been a part of.
“Can’t say enough about the resiliency of these guys. It wasn’t pretty in the first half. We all know that. We got together at halftime and there was no panic. It was just ‘this is what we have to do and let’s get it done,’ ” Arians said afterward.
“Better third-down football. We had to score with every [offensive] possession and we almost did. We had to get some [defensive] stops and we did. And then you can’t say enough about the end. It had a kind of storybook ending. And we’ve got a game ball for Chuck.”
Green Bay had roared to its first-half lead as Pro Bowl quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw touchdown passes to James Jones (6 yards) and Randall Cobb (31 yards) and fullback John Kuhn scored on a 2-yard run.
Luck, along with the rest of the Colts offense, struggled to get much going over the first two quarters. The only Indianapolis points came on a 24-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri. Vinatieri was also wide left on a 53-yard attempt late in the second quarter.
Indianapolis outgained the Packers in the first half (208-179) and had one less first down (11-10). But Green Bay’s defense pummeled Luck. The Packers were flagged for a leading-with-the-head tackle when outside linebacker Nick Perry planted Luck, who completed 16 of 26 passes for 174 yards in the first half, on a blind-side collision.
Rodgers connected on 11 of 17 passes for 122 yards and a pair of touchdowns before heading into the locker room at halftime.
Momentum started to shift on Green Bay’s first possession of the third quarter. Cornerback Jerraud Powers intercepted a Rodgers pass to give Indianapolis a first down at the Packers’ 39-yard line. Five plays later, Luck fired an 8-yard touchdown pass to rookie tight end Dwayne Allen to narrow the margin to 21-10.
Vinatieri made the first of two second-half field goals, a 50-yard effort with 7:42 left in the third quarter, and the Green Bay lead was down to 21-13.
Luck scored on a 3-yard quarterback draw with 18 seconds remaining in the quarter to make it 21-19, but a 2-point conversion pass to Wayne failed. Vinatieri’s final field goal of the game, this one from 28 yards out, gave the Colts their first lead of the day at 22-21 with 8:04 remaining in the game.
Then the real fun started. Rodgers’ second touchdown pass of the day to Jones gave the Packers a 27-22 lead at the 4:30 mark of the fourth quarter. Green Bay’s two-point conversion pass came up short.
Luck then guided Indianapolis on a wild 13-play drive that covered 80 yards in 3:55. Sixty of those yards came on pass completions to Wayne, who hauled in five of the six passes thrown to him on the possession.
“The second half we missed some wide-open passes. [Luck] just kept swinging,” Arians acknowledged. “I told [Luck] ‘Don’t pause. Don’t get worried about it. Get your feet settled down in the pocket and make plays. You can do it.’ And then we we had the great drive at the end.
“I wish we had that long one [an overthrown pass to wide receiver Donnie Avery down the middle of the field] to take the lead. [But] I still think this ending’s better.”
Rodgers ended the game completing 21 of 33 passes for 243 yards and was intercepted once. He was also sacked five times, two by defensive end Cory Redding and one each by inside linebacker Moises Foukou, outside linebacker Dwight Freeney and outside linebacker Robert Mathis.
The Colts will now take their 2-2 record into next week’s road game with the New York Jets. Indianapolis has now matched last year’s win total. Green Bay, meanwhile, dropped to 2-3 heading into a nationally televised road game with Houston.