Skip to main content
Indianapolis Colts

How Colts' special teams delivered two game-shifting moments in Week 13 win over Titans

Grant Stuard returned Nick Cross' blocked punt for a touchdown and Tony Brown swatted away a punt attempt in the second half in a pair of game-changing plays in the Colts' 31-28 overtime win over the Titans on Sunday. 

NASHVILLE – A good chunk of special teams prep is spent on getting players ready just in case. Will our opponent run a fake punt? Probably not. But you have be ready if they do.

"We work on certain things all the time, we work on teams running fakes and what we're going to do," linebacker and special teams ace Grant Stuard said, "and nine times out of 10 it never occurs."

In the days leading up to the Colts' Week 13 game against the Tennessee Titans, though, there was a different tone to meetings and practice led by special teams coordinator Brian Mason, assistant special teams coordinator Joe Hastings and Harriet P. Irsay fellow Izzy Diaz.

Those coaches noticed something the Titans did on punts and figured it could be exploited. If the Titans gave the Colts a certain look on a punt, they had the option to check into certain punt block assignments – and preparing for those checks was an intensive process, one that required everyone on the field to execute their assignment for it to work.

But the thing is: It wasn't if they'd deploy those checks in Sunday's game.

"We knew the opportunity was going to come to make this check and do this thing and to pick this guy, get this guy free — we knew the opportunity was going to be there for us," Stuard said. "We all really bought in this week. It's all about (Mason) and Joe and Izzy, the whole special teams setting the standard for preparation. That was all preparation. The was all from them to our execution and their planning."

So with 23 seconds on the clock in the third quarter, the Titans went to punt and the Colts lined four players up – almost shoulder-to-shoulder – on the left side of Tennessee's punt protection look. Stuard was shaded to the right of the long snapper. At the snap, the Colts got the Titans: The protector on right end of the formation was left having to choose whether to block linebacker Segun Olubi or safety Nick Cross. He chose Olubi. 

"I saw Nick, he had a yellow mouthpiece on the top of his helmet and I seen it flashed across my face," Stuard said. "I'm like oh, he's gonna block it."

Cross, indeed, blocked the punt, sending the ball bouncing backward. But it's one thing to block a punt and another to score on a block. 

That's where Stuard came in. 

On Saturday night, Stuard's wife said a prayer: For him to score a touchdown. 

On Sunday morning, Stuard's uncle texted him: Hey, you're going to score today. 

The prayer was answered. The bold prediction was manifested. But while Stuard made it look easy to scoop up the blocked punt and sprint into the end zone, he scored thanks to preparing for that moment long before Sunday afternoon. 

"The whole year we've been working on turnover circuit and I always prioritize making sure that I get an opportunity to bend down and grab the ball moving at full speed," Stuard said. "It's a really hard thing to do. I've just been really working on that all season. It's just really cool to see this very small thing pay off."

The blocked punt gave the Colts their first lead of the game. But the Titans quickly re-gained some momentum when safety Amani Hooker intercepted quarterback Gardner Minshew II and ran the Colts' two-point try back into the end zone for a pick-two, bringing the score to 22-19. 

Then the Colts did it again. 

Defensive end Kwity Paye's strip-sack of Titans quarterback Will Levis – which Levis recovered – forced Ryan Stonehouse to punt again. This time, Mason dialed up a different punt block play: Cornerback Tony Brown lined up as the left gunner and left his man, creeping closer to the formation before the snap. Brown timed his sprint perfectly, and right at the snap the former Alabama track star bolted toward Stonehouse. 

Brown made it to Stonehouse and technically didn't block the punt – he was so quick it went into the box score as a forced fumble. Again, the ball was sent bouncing backward, with Olubi picking it up and returning it to the Titans' seven-yard line. 

The Colts settled for a field goal, but the damage was done. Nine points hit the scoreboard directly as a result of special teams plays. 

"Big time blocks right there," head coach Shane Steichen said. "That's obviously a huge momentum change right there for us, but a testament to Brian Mason and Joe Hastings, our special teams coordinators, for getting those things wired up. Obviously getting those blocks there were big."

Stonehouse was injured on Brown's "block," which made a difference later in the fourth quarter – but not in the way you'd expect. Titans kicker Nick Folk did just fine on two punts. But when he lined up for a go-ahead PAT attempt with 5:29 left in the fourth quarter, his usual holder – Stonehouse – wasn't available. Starter-turned-backup quarterback Ryan Tannehill was tasked with holding for Folk. 

And Folk, who hadn't missed a PAT all year and had missed only one field field goal, pushed the kick wide left. The score stayed tied at 25. 

"You knock the punter out of the game, they can't kick the extra point, that ties the game and gets it to overtime," linebacker Zaire Franklin said. "I told the young guys, I said, that's when you know your special teams is really making plays when they affect the outcome of the game. And them boys stood tall today for sure."

Ultimately, the Colts pushed past the Titans on the strength of Minshew ripping a 55-yard deep ball to wide receiver Alec Pierce and following it up with a four-yard walkoff touchdown to wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. But in a chaotic game that was turned upside down several times, those two special teams plays loomed large in delivering the Colts their fourth win in a row – and a critical one in the AFC playoff race. 

"Our coaches always tell us, always think that you're going to come free, always believe you're going to make the play, always believe you're going make the game-changing play," Stuard said. "It was just really cool for all those things that we constantly work on to come to fruition and work out."

Go inside the locker room to celebrate with the Colts following their Week 13 overtime win in Nashville!

Related Content

2024 Season Tickets - Now Available!

2024 Season Tickets - Now Available!

Season Tickets for the 2024 Season are available now! Get access to the best seating locations, best pricing, and best benefits as a Colts Season Ticket Member!