If you thought the Green Bay Packers' injury-depleted secondary should be purchasing some flame-retardant uniforms for their matchup with Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning, receivers Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison, and the rest of the high-octane Colts offense, you weren't alone.
But this is a season in which nothing is as it seems and you never know what you're going to get. Except maybe surprised. So, two weeks after getting shamed by the Atlanta Falcons and rookie signal-caller Matt Ryan at Lambeau Field, the Packers made Manning and the Colts look like … well, a rebuilding team with a rookie signal-caller.
It wasn't just that the Packers beat the Colts 34-14 to improve to 4-3 heading into their bye week; it was how the beating occurred. Wayne and Harrison combined for just four catches, 35 yards and no scores. Manning completed just 50 percent of his passes for 229 yards, with a 46.6 quarterback rating and no touchdowns. Nota. Zip.
"They're great players," Collins said, "But we had the opportunity to make plays tonight and we made them."
Did they ever.
With the Colts running their no-huddle offense to start the third quarter, they had just crossed midfield with designs on cutting a 17-7 halftime margin to three points. But on third-and-6 at the Packers' 48-yard line, Manning took the snap from the shotgun, looked to his left and fired a pass to Wayne that flicked off his fingertips. A soldout Lambeau Field crowd held its collective breath as the ball hung in the air, then exhaled as Collins came swooping in with arms out and made the pick.
Collins avoided the desperation dive of Harrison , ran up the Packers' sideline, made an ankle-breaking cut to the middle of the field near the 25-yard line and left Colts guard Jamey Richard with an arm full of crisp October air, then outran receiver Anthony Gonzalez to the end zone for a 62-yard touchdown. It was Collins' second interception return for a score this season, having taken one back in Week 2 at Detroit , and this one broke the game open.
"Once I got the ball in my hands, I knew I was going," Collins said with a big smile. "Like I was telling everyone, I used to play running back in high school, so I know what to do with the ball."
Known as a good player but not necessarily a playmaker – he wasn't involved in a turnover-making play all of last season, but has four interceptions this season match his career total from the previous three years – Collins had another key stop on the Colts' next possession that made sure the momentum he built off that interception return stayed intact.
On second-and-9 from the Packers' 27-yard line, Manning fired a deep shot to Harrison, who appeared to have nickel corner Will Blackmon beat on the play, but Collins came flying across the field and tipped the ball away. Manning would throw incomplete to Wayne on third down, and Adam Vinatieri's 45-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Johnny Jolly on the next play.
"They were trying to get that play all night," Collins said. "Wayne was in the slot. Harrison was on the outside. Wayne bends over the middle, they look me off and try to bait me and throw to Harrison . But I did a nice job of staying square and making a play on the ball. That's what I'm back there for, to make big plays. And this year, I'm doing a great job of that.
"It feels great. It feels real great."
Not wanting to be left out, Rouse made a pretty special play of his own. A record-setting sort of special play. Looking to at least salvage something out of a horrendous offensive showing, Manning and Co. were set up at the Packers' 6-yard line with 4:43 left in the game. Once again going no-huddle out of the shotgun, Manning faked a handoff to running back Dominic Rhodes, glanced quickly to his right, then stared a hole through Anthony Gonzalez, who made a quick curl and hip-checked Packers cornerback Tramon Williams at the 1-yard line.
But as Manning fired, Rouse flashed in front of Gonzalez and raced 99 yards for his first career touchdown, a play that tied former Packer Tim Lewis for the longest interception return in Packer history, and pushed the score to an improbable 34-7 mark. Rouse to the house gave the Packers a league-leading six returns for touchdowns this season.
"I got a good read on Peyton just from watching film all week long," said Rouse, filling in for the injured Bigby. "Once I saw that he was going to go outside to the corner, I made a break on it.
"I see all that real estate in front of me. Green grass. I'm gone, baby!"
After dropping a potential interception earlier in the drive and hearing about it from veteran cornerback Charles Woodson, the team's resident ball thief, Rouse more than made up for it.
"They're playing well," Woodson said, with the nod of a proud papa. "I think I'm teaching them too well how to go after that ball. But they're getting it. The game, I think, is slowing down for them. They're going out there and making some unbelievable plays. Messing around in my yard a little too much, but they're playing well and I'm very impressed with them."
Though not as eye-catching, the job cornerbacks Woodson, Williams and Blackmon did was just as impressive and made possible the days of Collins and Rouse. Woodson took on Wayne, nickel back Blackmon drew Harrison and Williams got Gonzalez.
While Gonzalez finished with seven catches for 72 yards — second on the team behind tight end Dallas Clarks eight catches for 81 yards — 34 yards of that total came on a garbage time reception on the Colts final drive. And Wayne and Harrison, two players with more Pro Bowls between them than the entire Packers roster, were clamped down from the first snap and frustrated to the point of being non-factors — a seemingly impossible thought until you saw it with your own eyes.
"We mixed it up," Williams said. "It was a well-called game and we executed. I think we got them out of their rhythm, and then they were just looking for the little throws because there was really nothing downfield for them to get. We kind of got them to play our game. We got in their face and took away their timing. They get frustrated when the corners are in their face the whole game. But that's what teams are going realize when they play the Green Bay Packers. We're going to be in front of you on every play no matter what, and receivers don't like that, but that's what we do."
And if they can do it against the Colts, you have to like their chances of doing it against anyone.
W. Keith Roerdink has covered the Packers for Packer Report since 1995. E-mail him at email@example.com.