With 20 seconds to go and a Leonard Fournette touchdown forcing the Colts to find a hero, Frank Reich turned to his second-year cornerback, who was about to take the field to receive the ensuing kickoff.
“It’s time,” Reich told Isaiah Rodgers. “Let’s go score.”
With the green light to take the kick out of the end zone, Rodgers nearly was that hero. Had it not been for the sound discipline and good angle of Buccaneers safety Mike Edwards, Rodgers’ 72-yard kickoff return would’ve gone for a touchdown and sent last Sunday’s game at Lucas Oil Stadium into overtime.
Still, Rodgers’ 72-yard return was the second longest with fewer than 30 seconds left in a game since 1994, per Pro Football Reference. It gave the Colts one last shot at the end zone, one they wouldn’t have been afforded had they taken over at their own 25 or 30-yard line.
“It was big to know that they had that faith in not only me,” Rodgers said, “but in the unit to actually get the key blocks and actually trust me with the ball in my hands.”
That kick return was hardly the only play Rodgers made in Week 12. The Tampa native did an impressive job in coverage on a Tom Brady deep shot to Scotty Miller, tracking the ball and flipping his hips like a center fielder to come down with his second interception of the season.
Before the play, cornerback Kenny Moore II told Rodgers to stay high on Miller – a technique the Colts have worked on with Rodgers since picking him in the sixth round of the 2020 NFL Draft.
“When I first got here, (defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus) preached a lot to me about changing a lot of different techniques,” Rodgers said. “And that was one from playing off and being able to actually stay on top and not jump on routes because a guy like Scotty, you never know, he’s gonna run. I think just harping on the techniques he taught me played an effect in that play.”
Rodgers’ speed, athleticism and talent have always been there, but in Year 2, the Colts are seeing him marry those traits with an improved understanding of coverages and where he fits in Eberflus’ defense. He’s become a valuable member of the Colts’ cornerback rotation and has played about half of the team’s defensive snaps over the last four weeks, a testament to his growth in his second season.
“He’s obviously making plays on the ball, he’s a really good athlete,” Eberflus said. (He’s) got tremendous ball skills. He’s super fast, he’s understanding his technique within the defense in terms of all the calls.
“When he’s playing a rolled-up corner, when he’s playing a quarters corner, when he’s playing three-deep, when he’s playing pressure coverage, he’s understanding all those things now and he feels more comfortable. You can certainly see that. You can see that with his play, with his confidence and how he’s growing in front of our eyes. So, we’re pleased with where he is.”
Thursday’s practice report