Brackett's Fumble Return Keys Dramatic Rally in Houston
HOUSTON, Texas – Gary Brackett had a choice, and little time to make it.
The Colts trailed 27-17. Less than four minutes remained. The ball was on the Reliant Stadium grass, and Brackett – the Colts' middle linebacker and defensive captain – figured he could do one of two things.
1) Fall on the ball.
2) Pick it up and try to make a big play.
Given the circumstances, Brackett said he didn't have much choice. He picked up the fumble by Texans quarterback Sage Rosenfels, returning it 68 yards for a touchdown that changed the game's momentum and helped Indianapolis to a dramatic 31-27 victory over the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium Sunday afternoon.
"We needed a big play," Brackett said. "The ball came loose. I saw it on the ground. None of me said, 'Jump on the ball.' At that point, we really had to make a big play.
"After I got the ball in my hands, I just hoped I had enough gas to make it to the end zone."
The Colts, who had trailed by 17 points with 4:04 remaining, forced three turnovers on the Texans' final three possessions, with quarterback Peyton Manning's five-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Reggie Wayne with 1:54 remaining providing the game-winning points.
"We needed that," Colts defensive end Robert Mathis said of Brackett's touchdown.
With 4:04 remaining, Manning's six-yard touchdown pass to rookie tight end Tom Santi had made it, 27-17, Houston, and after an unsuccessful onside kick, the Titans faced 3rd-and-8 from the Colts 39.
Rosenfels, starting in place of Matt Schaub – hospitalized with an illness the night before – rolled to his left, gaining seven yards. Near the Colts 32, Rosenfels leaped into the air, was hit by Colts cornerback Marlin Jackson, then defensive tackle Raheem Brock's hit separated Rosenfels from the ball.
Brackett picked up the ball, was nearly tackled near the sideline by Texans rookie offensive tackle Duane Brown, then ran the rest of the way down the right sideline for a touchdown.
"He had a good angle – if you go back and watch the film he had an angle," Brackett said. "Some of the guys were teasing me, 'How fast were you going?' I told them, 'Fast enough.' Whatever we needed to do to get in the end zone at that point in the game – that's what I was thinking going into that play. . . .
"I told those guys, 'There's a lot of game left.' Someone had to make a play. It just happened to be myself.''
As for the teasing from teammates about his big-play pace, there was plenty, and plenty of discussion about the issue, too. Someone asked Colts defensive end Robert Mathis – one of the NFL's fastest players at his position about Brackett's "wheels."
"They were good enough," Mathis said, laughing.
Brock said he never doubted Brackett would score.
"He's going to get in until he's down," Brock said. "That's how I'm thinking, that he's going to get in the end zone until he's down."
Dungy said he thought Brackett would score "because there were offensive guys chasing him," and said, too, that the Texans' personnel grouping on the play helped the Colts.
"They only had one receiver on the field at the time," Dungy said. "I felt like if he could stay in bounds he had a shot."
It was, Dungy said, a necessary play at the necessary time.
"We said at halftime, 'Somebody's got to step up and make a play,''' Dungy said. "You can't wait for the other guy to do it. You never know who it's going to come from. Everybody has to play with passion to get that done. We got one from Gary and that was certainly a big play."
And it happened, Brackett said, because of a decision that really – given the circumstances – wasn't too difficult a decision at all.
"It definitely is split-second," Brackett said. "I guess that's one of the advantages of being short. I don't have to go down that far to pick up the ball. At that point, the ball was right there. I was able to swoop it up fairly clean, get a good start.
"Those guys blocked great for me and led me into the end zone."