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Colts' trust in D.J. Montgomery shines after Michael Pittman Jr.'s scary exit in Week 15 win over Steelers

Montgomery caught his first career touchdown in the Colts' 30-13 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Saturday. 

D.J. Montgomery spent five years working for the ball Gardner Minshew II threw him on a fourth-and-goal in the second quarter.

Five years of grinding on training camp rosters and practice squads, trying to crack an NFL roster, giving the USFL a shot and going back to the NFL finally led to a ball coming his way between the "O" and "L" in Indianapolis in the Colts' end zone. Montgomery caught the pass, rolled to the ground, and watched his first career touchdown slip out of his hands.

It went incomplete. 

Not only did Montgomery miss out on a career achievement, the Colts lost possession of the ball and were still losing, 13-7, to the Steelers in the first half of Saturday's Week 15 game at Lucas Oil Stadium. Montgomery came to the sidelines and owned the drop. His teammates – the ones who had watched the 27-year-old light up practices at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center for months – had his back. 

"Some other guys could've shut down after that and took all their confidence," tight end Mo Alie-Cox said. "But we went up and told him, bro, we got your back, we know what you can do — just come back, bounce back."

Minshew went back to Montgomery the first chance he had, completing a deep in-breaker for a 34-yard gain with under 40 seconds left in the second quarter. A few plays later, Minshew again looked his way, slinging a throw to the near sideline Montgomery hauled in and dashed into the end zone for a 14-yard touchdown.

Montgomery got his first career touchdown after all, and it gave the Colts a one-point lead at halftime of a critical game against the Steelers. The Colts went on to win, 30-13. 

"It's football. It has its ups and its downs," Montgomery said. "One play after the next, you just gotta forget it. I come to the sideline, all my teammates are right there, like it's coming right back, it's coming right back, just keep going, we know you can make that play."

The Colts had elevated Montgomery to the active roster from the practice squad for their last three games, and signed him to their 53-man roster from the practice squad on Friday. It was the first time Montgomery, who initially joined the Cleveland Browns' offseason roster as an undrafted free agent from Austin Peay in 2019, earned a spot on a 53-man NFL roster. 

But while fans at Lucas Oil Stadium may have only become acquainted with Montgomery this weekend, his teammates have seen the kind of player he is behind the scenes for months. 

"Just seeing what he does in practice, it's no surprise what he did today," cornerback Jaylon Jones said. "Definitely a great player."

Minshew, Alie-Cox and linebacker EJ Speed all brought up how Montgomery has been named the Colts' internal scout team player of the week multiple times this season. Wide receiver Alec Pierce said Montgomery is an "inspiration" to the team because of his tenacious work ethic. Fellow wideout Josh Downs noted Montgomery's first career touchdown was a product of "putting in the work when nobody's watching."

It's clear the Colts hold Montgomery in high regard, and even after he dropped that touchdown, there was plenty of belief in his ability to deliver in the next big moment. 

"He's a super sure-handed guy," Pierce said. "He shows that in practice— every day he makes some crazy plays in practice."

The Colts only needed Montgomery to step up, though, because Michael Pittman Jr. sustained a concussion shortly after crossing 1,000 receiving yards on the season. 

Pittman sustained a concussion when Steelers safety Damontae Kazee lowered his shoulder and helmet into his head while he was diving for a Minshew pass; Kazee was flagged for unnecessary roughness ejected for the hit. Pittman was attended to by trainers as players on both teams took a knee around him, and ultimately walked off the field but did not return with a concussion. 

"I'm glad Pitt was able to get up and move around, because those are one of those hits that you just don't know," Downs said. "Really, I'm glad he's good."

Head coach Shane Steichen said after the game Pittman was in "good spirits," and he posted an encouraging update to X (formerly Twitter) following the Colts' win:

A theme of the Colts' win over the Steelers – and their entire season – was resiliency, and no one embodied that more on Saturday than Montgomery. Stepping in for a 1,000-yard receiver is one thing; stepping in and still making a play after dropping your first career touchdown is another. 

But the Colts, internally, expected nothing less from Montgomery, even in the face of losing their most productive pass catcher. 

"He's been working his tail off on scout team," Steichen said. "When he was on scout team all year, he made plays and plays and plays, and it's like we've got to get this guy on the active roster. Obviously, we'd love to have that (first) one back. But then he gets another opportunity and makes a big play and gets the touchdown. Credit to him, credit to Reggie (Wayne) getting him ready to roll. It was good."

View in-game highlights from the Colts versus Steelers matchup at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 16.

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