INDIANAPOLIS — As he worked his way back from a torn ACL this offseason, Julian Blackmon kept writing the same five words all over his notebook.
Defensive Rookie of the Year.
On Sunday against the Green Bay Packers, Blackmon might've made the play to catapult him to the top of the list for that very award.
On the Packers' second offensive play in overtime of Sunday's Week 11 matchup, Blackmon bullied his way through two blockers on a screen play to Marquez Valdes-Scantling and knocked the football out of the wide receiver's grasp; defensive tackle DeForest Buckner dove on the loose ball at the Green Bay 29-yard line, setting up the Colts with prime field position to knock in a game-winning field goal.
Four plays later, rookie kicker Rodrigo Blankenship would do just that, nailing his fourth field goal of the day, this time from 39 yards out, to give the Colts a huge 34-31 overtime victory over the NFC North-leading Packers in front of 12,495 fans at Lucas Oil Stadium.
"Wow, what a game, exciting game, great team win," Colts head coach Frank Reich said. "All week our focus was two things: play together, and then we talked about the bigger the game, the smaller you have to make your world, narrow things down – focus and make it small, then be a beast in that small world. I think that's what our guys did."
The beast in the early goings of Sunday's game for the Colts (7-3) was their inability to capitalize on some uncharacteristic mistakes by the Packers (7-3), while Green Bay was able to do quite the opposite whenever Indianapolis would cough up the football.
In fact, the Packers went into halftime with a 14-point lead, 28-14; at that point in the ballgame, Green Bay had scored 14 points off two Indy turnovers, while the Colts were unable to get any points off two Packers turnovers over that same span.
But, as they've proven in several games already this season, the Colts came out of the halftime break ready to turn the tide.
By the end of the third quarter, Indianapolis had pulled within three points, 28-25, and was driving for an eventual game-tying field goal. The Colts held the Packers to two three-and-outs on offense in the third quarter on Sunday, while the Indy offense had nine first downs, 125 total net yards and saw rookie running back Jonathan Taylor explode for seven carries for 56 yards in that period alone.
"I mean, 14 points isn't that much, to be honest with you, and there is plenty of time," Reich said of the Colts' attitude coming out of the second half on Sunday. "To be able to come out and run the ball the way we did, I just think builds momentum. I just think even though we ended up having to kick a field goal (on the opening drive of the third quarter), it just establishes a physical presence that we need and that we want."
The fourth quarter of Sunday's game — particularly the final two minutes or so — was about as crazy a ride as you'll get in the NFL.
The Colts tied the game at 28 on a 32-yard Blankenship field goal with 11:17 left in regulation. Defensive end Cassius Marsh, just elevated to the active roster from the practice squad on Saturday, would then force a fumble on the ensuing Green Bay kickoff return, which was recovered by safety Tavon Wilson at the Packers' 28. Four plays later, Blankenship would nail a 43-yard field goal to give the Colts their first lead of the game, 31-28, with 9:01 left in the fourth quarter.
Facing 4th and 1 from the Indianapolis 34 on the ensuing drive, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who at 36 (and turning 37 next week) is still playing like an MVP candidate, was rushed into an incomplete pass attempt to running back Jamaal Williams; turnover on downs with 3:06 to go and the Colts leading, 31-28.
Then came one of the most ridiculous endings to a regulation that you'll see.
The Colts got to their own 49-yard line when wide receiver Zach Pascal was flagged for illegal motion. On 3rd down, Rivers found running back Jordan Wilkins for a gain of 15, setting up 4th and 4 from the Green Bay 36; get this conversion, and the game, one would hope, is essentially over.
Rivers delivered, finding running back Nyheim Hines for a gain of 13 yards and a first down.
The next play? Holding on right guard Mark Glowinski. Two plays later: holding on left guard Quenton Nelson and right tackle Chaz Green, in for an injured Braden Smith. Two plays later, Rivers is rocked as he tries to throw by star Packers pass rusher Za'Darius Smith, and the ball was scooped up by Christian Kirkley, who returns it 71 yards for a go-ahead touchdown with 1:47 left.
But wait a minute: after review, the officials say Rivers' arm was moving forward with possession of the ball, so it's changed to an incomplete pass. On 4th and 26 from the Green Bay 39-yard line — remember, the Colts faced 1st and 10 from the 23 just five plays earlier — Rigoberto Sanchez's punt was downed at the Packers' 6-yard line.
Trailing 31-28, the Packers had 1:25, 94 yards ahead of them and one timeout to, at the very least, get into field goal range to force overtime. After missing on two straight pass attempts to Allen Lazard to open the drive, however, Rodgers somehow was able to connect on a deep ball right down the middle of the field to Valdes-Scantling, who was brought down at the Indianapolis 47-yard line after a gain of 47. Timeout Packers.
Rodgers then connected with Davante Adams for 14 yards. Spike. Then Rodgers to Adams again, this time for 18 yards to the Indianapolis 15-yard line. Spike. Then a seven-yard completion to tight end Robert Tonyan. On 3rd and 3 from the 8-yard line, though, Rodgers' pass attempt to Adams sailed incomplete, though Mason Crosby was able to send the game to overtime with a chip shot 26-yard field goal.
The Colts were disappointed, but not discouraged. They were called for seven penalties in all in the fourth quarter, four of which, all offensive holding calls, were accepted (two additional holding calls were also declined).
"You have to reset," Rivers said. "You have to quickly reset because you feel like, 'Aw, we let the game get away', but wait a minute, it's 31-all and we're kicking off and we have an overtime period."
The Packers won the coin toss in overtime and elected to receive. A touchdown on their opening drive and the game is over.
On first down, Rogers connected with running back Aaron Jones for a gain of eight yards. But on 2nd and 2 from the Green Bay 30, that's when Blackmon made the play — again.
Early in the fourth quarter of the Colts' eventual Week 4 win over the Chicago Bears, it was Blackmon picking off Nick Foles to seal the victory. Two weeks later, Blackmon picked quarterback Joe Burrow late in the fourth quarter to foil a possible Cincinnati Bengals comeback win. And on Sunday against the Packers, Blackmon — who is still less than a year removed from a torn ACL suffered in his final collegiate game at Utah — read the screen play to Valdes-Scantling all the way, split a combo block by Lazard and Tonyan and reached out and knocked the ball out of the receiver's grip, which was recovered by a diving Buckner at the Green Bay 29-yard line.
The Colts wouldn't have any more problems closing out the game from there; Taylor would get eight yards on three running plays, and Blankenship would hit the game winner from 39 yards out to give Indy a dramatic, entertaining home win.
"So I honestly had a feeling they were going to come back to that screen they had been running quite a few times during the game," Blackmon said of his big play in overtime. "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."
"Julian is explosive and he does have that knack and he is fearless," Reich said of Blackmon. "He continues to make those kind of plays. He's consistent, but he also has that playmaking 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."
The Colts had 420 yards of total offense on the day. Rivers continues to stack quality performances on top of each other, as he finished Sunday's game with 24-of-36 completions for 288 yards with three touchdowns to one interception for a 107.2 rating. Rookie receiver Michael Pittman Jr. led the way with three receptions for 66 yards and his first-career touchdown, a 45-yard catch-and-run play in the first quarter.
Indy had 140 rushing yards on the day, led by 90 yards on 22 carries from Taylor.
Defensively, cornerback Kenny Moore II led the way with a career-high-tying 10 tackles; cornerback Rock Ya-Sin had four tackles and his first interception of the year, while linebacker Darius Leonard had six tackles, one pass defensed and a fumble recovery.
Blankenship, meanwhile, hit 4-of-5 field goal attempts on the day and all four extra-point tries for 14 total points.
After knocking off the NFC's No. 1 seed, the Colts' schedule certainly doesn't get any lighter from here. Next Sunday, they take on the Tennessee Titans for the second time in three weeks; the Colts handled the Titans, 34-17, in Nashville on Nov. 12, but one can imagine Tennessee, which defeated the Baltimore Ravens, 30-24, on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, will be looking for revenge in a game with huge implications in the race for the AFC South Division title.