INDIANAPOLIS — Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers never saw this one coming.
Green Bay had an 18-point halftime lead and seemed to be in control Sunday afternoon.
Then, suddenly, Andrew Luck, Reggie Wayne and the rest of the emotionally-charged Colts turned things around on one of the league’s marquee franchises.
Playing for an ailing coach Chuck Pagano, Luck rallied the Colts in the second half, throwing for a career-high 362 yards and a 4-yard TD pass to Wayne with 35 seconds to go, giving Indy a stunning 30-27 victory.
“Obviously, a tough week for them. They played with a lot of emotion, a lot of energy,” McCarthy said. “Frankly, I’m more focused on my football team and my football team is not playing the way we are capable of playing.”
Clearly, these are not the same Packers that spent most of last season chasing a perfect record and a second straight Super Bowl title.
Green Bay (2-3) faces an uphill climb in the NFC North.
They’re still struggling to find an offensive rhythm, though it looked as if they might break out of their funk in the first half when Rodgers was 11 of 17 for 122 yards with two touchdown passes to take a 21-3 lead.
But nothing worked in the second half.
Mason Crosby missed a 52-yard field goal in the third quarter and a 51-yarder to the right with 3 seconds left in the game — a kick that could have forced overtime.
The Packers’ defense failed to stop Indy on three third-down conversions during their final drive.
And the only score the Packers mustered over the final 30 minutes came on an 8-yard TD toss from Rodgers to James Jones with 4:30 left in the game, which gave them a 27-22 lead.
Rodgers finished 21 of 33 for 243 yards with three touchdowns, an interception and a big dose of frustration.
“We just didn’t make any plays,” the league’s reigning MVP said. “They got a little more aggressive in the second half, we turned the ball over and got them into a two-score game and then we kind of got back mentally into the game.”
By then, it was too late to stop a team that had a wild emotional ride, starting with Monday morning’s announcement that Pagano had been diagnosed with leukemia after players left for their bye week.
Interim coach Bruce Arians acknowledged he was fighting back tears when he spoke to reporters. From the sounds of it, so were Luck and Wayne.
“I’m sure we were all lying to everybody the whole week, trying to downplay it,” Luck said after throwing for a career-high 362 yards. “I think we all went out there wanting to do it for Chuck more than anything else. To see all the emotions on Mr. Irsay’s face, BA’s, everyone in there, I think it’s one of the greatest athletic moments I’ve ever been a part of.”
The sometimes emotional team owner, Jim Irsay, sniffled as he spoke inside a silent locker room before dashing off to the hospital where Pagano is undergoing treatment for leukemia. He wanted to personally deliver the game ball to Pagano, who celebrated his 52nd birthday Tuesday.
Pagano made it perfectly clear Friday, in an emotional email to players and coaches, that he didn’t want guys playing for him; he wanted the Colts (2-2) to play for themselves and match last season’s victory total.
Turns out the players wanted this one even more for Pagano than he wanted it for them.
“I’ve got 12 years of (special) games,” said Wayne, who has known Pagano since the two were at the University of Miami together in the late 1990s. “But this did mean a lot, just with the whole deal with how the week’s been going. You know, I talked to coach Pagano and he wanted us to win so bad. Is it a high? Yeah. I don’t necessarily have one other than the Super Bowl game. But it’s up there.”
Team officials honored Pagano by hanging signs that read (hash)Chuckstrong behind each goal post and wore lapel pins with orange ribbons on a white background.
Luck and Wayne showed their support in another way.
The No. 1 draft pick was 31 of 55 with two touchdowns and one interception, and ran for a TD, too.
Wayne finished with 13 receptions for a career-high 212 yards — the second-highest total in Colts history behind Hall of Famer Raymond Berry in 1957.
And Wayne wore the orange gloves, instead of the traditional pink ones for breast cancer awareness month, because that’s the color for leukemia patients.
“I just wanted to do something, you know, for Chuck,” Wayne said. “I had some equipment guys make some calls. If they (NFL officials) fine me, they fine me, I really feel like that would be a terrible thing to do, but if so, so be it, I’ll go ahead and take the fine and do it for Chuck.”
The Colts dominated the second half.
Luck threw an 8-yard TD pass to Dwayne Allen and set up Adam Vinatieri for a 50-yard field goal to make it 21-13 midway through the third quarter. He then ran it in from 3 yards with 18 seconds left to go in the quarter to get the Colts within 21-19.
A few minutes later, Vinatieri hit a 28-yard field goal to give Indy its first lead, 22-21.
But Rodgers got Green Bay’s offense back in sync in a hurry.
Alex Green ran 41 yards on the Packers’ first play, and Rodgers threw an 8-yard TD pass to James Jones on the next one to give the Packers a 27-20 lead with 4:30 to go.
All the Packers had to do was stop Luck one more time to clinch it.
Luck and Wayne wouldn’t allow it.
“Chuck’s instilled a lot in us,” Wayne said. “His whole motto since day one, the first meeting has been team team, team, team. Nothing else. So we’ve wanted to do it every week as a team. That’s all we practice, that’s all we preach.”
Notes: The Packers lost three starters during the game — running back Cedric Benson (ankle), defensive tackle B.J. Raji (ankle) and tight end Jermichael Finley (right shoulder). McCarthy did not have immediate updates after the game. ... Colts defensive end Robert Mathis left with a knee sprain and did not return after trying on a brace. ... Wayne has catches in 100 consecutive games and passed college and pro teammate Edgerrin James for No. 2 on the Colts career list for yards from scrimmage. ... Packers receiver Donald Driver played in his 197th career game Sunday, breaking a tie with Bart Starr for second in team history.