The Indianapolis Colts have been insistent they are a serious postseason contender for weeks.
They’re likely to have more people on that bandwagon now.
In one of the wildest games ever played at Lucas Oil Stadium, the Colts outlasted the Green Bay Packers 34-31 in overtime Sunday to stay in a tie atop the AFC South.
“We talked about the bigger the game, the smaller you gotta make your world, narrow things down, focus and make it small,” Colts head coach Frank Reich said. “And then be a beast in that small world, and I think that’s what our guys did.”
The win sets up another big game next week against the Tennessee Titans (7-3) — who beat the Baltimore Ravens in overtime earlier in the afternoon — with the division lead on the line. But this one felt big from the start.
The announced crowd of 12,495 was filled with Green Bay faithful taking advantage of the chance to watch their team live. The Packers have hosted no fans at Lambeau Field yet this year.
They chanted “Go, Pack, go” throughout the contest, and Green Bay linebacker Za’Darius Smith even raised his arms to call for more noise from the fans as his defense tried to make a stop late in the extra period.
It didn’t work.
Rookie safety Julian Blackmon forced a fumble recovered by defensive tackle DeForest Buckner on the first possession of overtime, and fellow rookie Rodrigo Blankenship connected on a 39-yard field goal for the win. The Colts (7-3) surged off the sideline and chased Blankenship toward the opposite end zone to celebrate a win even owner Jim Irsay acknowledged was special.
“Truly one of the most exciting victories we’ve ever had at home here, and obviously in overtime, too,” Irsay said. “So we couldn’t be more elated.”
Things didn’t start out well for the home team.
The Packers (7-3) surged to a 21-7 lead after a tipped interception deep in Indianapolis territory, and led 28-14 at the half after a big pass interference flag against cornerback Rock Ya-Sin set up a 4-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers to Jamaal Williams.
Rodgers finished 27 of 38 for 311 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.
But the Colts kept clawing back.
After missing a 50-yard attempt early, Blankenship made three field goals in the second half and Philip Rivers connected on a 6-yard touchdown to Jack Doyle as Indianapolis built a 31-28 lead with 8:56 remaining.
Then penalties caught up with the Colts again.
Rodgers air-mailed a pass on fourth-and-1 to end a drive with less than four minutes to play, but Indianapolis could not run out the clock.
Reich made a gutsy call to go for it on fourth-and-4 with less than two minutes remaining, and Rivers connected with running back Nyheim Hines for the conversion. But the Colts were called for six holding penalties on the possession and wound up with a third-and-26 from Green Bay’s 39-yard line.
Rivers was hit as he threw, and the ball was initially ruled a fumble returned for a go-ahead touchdown by Green Bay. Upon further review, it was called an incomplete pass and punter Rigoberto Sanchez pinned the Packers at their own 6-yard line with 1:25 left.
On third-and-10, Rodgers found Marquez Valdes-Scantling for 47 yards to Indianapolis’ 47-yard line. The drive reached a third-and-3 at the 8-yard line before Rodgers threw an incompletion out of the back of the end zone. That set up Mason Crosby’s field goal to force the extra period.
“When the games get close, and it’s on the defense, you gotta want to make a play,” linebacker Darius Leonard said. “You gotta want to be the one to go out with no fear in your heart, no doubt in your mind that you’re gonna make a stop.”
The defense went right back onto the field after Green Bay won the coin toss, and Rodgers found Aaron Jones for 8 yards on first down. Then Blackmon changed the game.
The rookie correctly guessed the Packers might go back to a wide receiver screen. He split the double team and hit Valdes-Scantling on the arm to jar the ball loose.
A hustling Buckner recovered at Green Bay’s 29-yard line. After three straight runs, Blankenship kicked the game winner to fully atone for his early miss.
“I feel like a [college] freshman all over again, having a lot of first-time experiences,” Blankenship said. “It just felt incredibly special. I’m incredibly blessed to be here, and God gave me – He gave me a chance at redemption and to just prove that I could be resilient and stick it out and bounce back.”
Rivers nearly matched Rodgers, finishing 24 of 36 for 288 yards with three touchdowns and a pick.
The Colts also got big games from a pair of rookies. Jonathan Taylor rushed for 90 yards on 22 carries, and Michael Pittman Jr. had three catches for 66 yards and his first career touchdown.
The end result was a victory worth savoring.
“Every opportunity you get, you’re always thankful, and you always try to tell yourself take nothing for granted,” Rivers said. “And then I think when you’re 38 and you get to be part of an NFL football team and be the quarterback and lead the team out there and play against an Aaron Rodgers-led Green Bay Packers on national TV at 4:25 on a Sunday afternoon, there’s no question [it was unique].
“It is special. It’s certainly meaningful.”