With just more than 10 minutes to go in the third quarter of Sunday's 2022 season finale against the Houston Texans, Zaire Franklin, on the precipice of becoming the Indianapolis Colts' single-season record holder in tackles, laid on the Lucas Oil Stadium turf in pain.
But at that very moment, as trainers evaluated his ankle injury on the field — even as Franklin at the time had earned his 163rd total tackle on the season, tying teammate Shaquille Leonard's record — those sorts of accolades were the furthest thing from Franklin's mind.
Instead, in the 17th and final game of a frustrating Colts season, Franklin just wanted to figure out a way to get back on the field and finish the year off with his brothers on defense.
"If I started a game, I want to finish it," Franklin recalled of his thought process at the time. "Being out there with my teammates means everything to me. I know they depend on me, and if I ever could go, I'm going to go no matter the circumstance no matter, whatever it is.
"When I was down, as soon as I could feel my ankle, I was like, 'You know what? Let's see if we can move on it and get back out there.' There was no way I wasn't going to come back in for the guys."
Franklin walked off to the sideline under his own power, albeit a bit gingerly. But after some more work with the trainers, and some more movement off to the side, the veteran linebacker was able to quickly return to game action.
Then, finally, with 2:55 left in the fourth quarter, Franklin was able to make history, as he took down Texans running back Dare Ogunbowale for his 164th tackle on the year, officially becoming the franchise's single-season record holder for total stops.
Franklin would add another two tackles — including a sack — the rest of the contest to officially finish his impressive 2022 campaign with 166 total tackles (102 solo), 12 tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks, six quarterback hits, six passes defensed and three forced fumbles.
Earning that single-season tackles record, Franklin admitted after the game, means "a lot."
"(It's) a combination of a lot of hard work, just believing in myself, and trusting in my teammates," Franklin said. "I'm thankful for the coaches and my teammates who put me in the right position to make plays."
That Franklin was able to make such a large impact in his fifth NFL season in 2022 is highly unlikely for most players, simply due to his draft position and the Colts' deep talent pool at linebacker during his time in Indy. Franklin, a seventh-round pick by the Colts out of Syracuse in 2018, was initially counted on to be a special teams standout, while others, including Leonard, 2019 third-round pick Bobby Okereke, and Anthony Walker (now with the Cleveland Browns), took a majority of the snaps at linebacker on defense.
Heading into this season, however, with a new defensive coordinator in Gus Bradley, Franklin was able to earn a starting linebacker role from Week 1, mostly playing alongside Okereke and E.J. Speed with Leonard limited to just three games due to injuries.
Franklin rewarded Bradley's confidence in him by playing like one of the league's top linebackers all season, using his instincts, speed, and striking ability to make play after play, week after week. Not to be lost either is the performance this season by Okereke, whose 149 total tackles are the ninth most by a defender in a single season in Colts history.
And now, Franklin, who will almost certainly finish the season in the top five in the league in total tackles, will assuredly take a brief break to start his offseason before setting his sights on making even more plays for the Colts' defense next season.
"It's been a journey," Franklin said. "I'm just thankful that I was able to prove myself in the league this year and stamp myself as a true player in this league and playmaker. And this record is just the icing on top."
COLTS SINGLE-SEASON TACKLES LEADERS
1. Zaire Franklin (2022): 166
2. Shaquille Leonard (2018): 163
3 (t). Jeff Herrod (1991): 160
3 (t). Mike Peterson (2000): 160
5. Jeff Herrod (1990): 155
6. Jeff Herrod (1989):154
7 (t). Quentin Coryatt (1993): 150
7 (t). D'Qwell Jackson (2015): 150
9. Bobby Okereke (2022): 149
10. Pat Angerer (2011): 148