INDIANAPOLIS -- The onslaught began with a blocked field goal attempt, a football bouncing off the left elbow of leaping Indianapolis Colts defensive tackle Denico Autry. It ended with the Dallas Cowboys blocked to the point of being totally blanked.
The Colts delivered their most impressive effort of the season in Sunday's 23-0 home shutout of the Cowboys at Lucas Oil Stadium. A tale of two teams exiting at 8-6 saw the Cowboys' five-game win streak snapped by a Colts team that has won seven of eight.
The Cowboys must wait another week to clinch the NFC East title. The Colts kept their hopes alive for an AFC playoff spot.
Considering how the Colts played, it was understandable to look at the big picture after staying tied for the sixth and final AFC postseason berth.
"It would be a damn shame if this team did not make the playoffs," Colts left tackle Anthony Castonzo said. "This is a good team. If we can get there, we can do some stuff."
Told of Castonzo's "damn shame" assessment, center Ryan Kelly added, "It would be. These are a vitally important [next] two games."
The Colts return home next week against the New York Giants (5-9) and then travel to AFC South rival Tennessee. The Ravens and Titans are tied with the Colts for the final playoff spot and Baltimore has the tiebreaker at the moment. But a lot can change two weeks from now.
The Colts reminded everyone what they are capable of against a quality opponent. The Cowboys were shut out for the first time in 15 years.
"This is one of the most complete games I've been a part of in eight years here," Castonzo said.
Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott said, "That was just a very embarrassing performance by us. In all phases of the game, we got beat."
It started with Autry's block on special teams. It included a strong dose of running back Marlon Mack behind outstanding blocking against the NFL's No. 2 scoring defense.
But it mostly relied upon on a bend-but-don't-break defense that kept making key plays when it mattered most.
"It felt good," Autry said of the block, "but it got me right on the arm there, though. Ow, man. It stings."
It stung the Cowboys more.
"Huge tone-setter," said Autry, who also had his sixth sack in the last three games.
The Colts thought they had a touchdown return off that block from rookie linebacker Darius Leonard, but he was ruled down upon further review. No matter, the home team drove 44 yards in eight plays -- with Mack supplying 33 of those, including the final yard for the game's opening touchdown.
Mack outperformed Elliott, the NFL's leading rusher, with 139 yards on 27 carries and two touchdowns. Elliott, who entered with 1,262 yards rushing, managed 87 yards on 18 carries in addition to seven receptions for 41 yards.
"Ultimately, it wasn't a good game for us in any phase of our team," Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said.
The Colts, who entered with the league's No. 8 run defense, are one of three teams to not allow a 100-yard rusher this season.
The Colts also clamped down on Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper. One week removed from 10 receptions for 219 yards and three scores, he was limited to four catches for 32 yards. His longest reception was 11 yards.
"It's never a good feeling," Cooper said.
Dallas certainly didn't lack for scoring opportunities. The Cowboys drove into enemy territory to the Colts' 30, 3, 37, 41, 39, 46 and 26.
And yet they came up empty each time. For a loud and vocal contingent of Cowboys fans, it was inexplicable.
The Cowboys killed themselves with drive-stalling penalties. The Colts also forced the issue defensively as rookie defensive end Tyquan Lewis had two sacks and safety George Odum caught a tipped pass for an interception.
Leonard, despite being deprived of a touchdown, had his usual standout game with a team-high 11 tackles, one for loss and two passes defended. He leads the NFL in total tackles by a wide margin with 146.
One of those passes defended came on a fourth-and-1 play at the Colts' 39-yard line to start the fourth quarter as Leonard knocked it down.
"Hopefully, I can get [a TD] before the season ends," Leonard said. "Hopefully, we can keep this up and keep this train going."
If there's anything more rare than a shutout, it's one where the Colts prevail when quarterback Andrew Luck passes for less than 200 yards without a touchdown. He completed 16-of-27 passes for 192 yards. Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott was 24-of-39 for 206 yards.
In the end, it became a Colts offensive lineman's dream. Kelly, who missed the previous three weeks with a left knee injury, was particularly delighted.
"Man, running the ball and really imposing your will and playing physical is what we want to do," Kelly said. "That was a lot of fun."
As much as Autry's blocked field goal attempt was the ideal jump start, there was another key play early on.
The Colts led 7-0, but the Cowboys were threatening with what would turn out to be their best scoring chance. They had at fourth-and-1 at the Colts' 3.
Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, the Cowboys' linebackers coach the previous six seasons, had his unit sell out on another Elliott run. As "Flus" did much of this day, he guessed correctly.
"They won the line of scrimmage," Garrett said of the Colts.
Defensive lineman Margus Hunt stunted inside to get the first backfield hit on Elliott. Before the runner could get started, linebacker Matthew Adams was also there. Cornerback Pierre Desir arrived, the football popped out and it was recovered at the 5-yard line by the Colts' Jabaal Sheard.
"That was huge," Colts first-year head coach Frank Reich said. "You know 'Zeke' doesn't get stopped too many times in that situation."
The last time the Colts had a home shutout was 27-0 over Cincinnati in 2014, when Hunt was with the Bengals.
"Oh, yeah," Hunt said with a hearty laugh. "That's a good one. Remember that vividly."
He'll remember this shutout more. Nobody was expecting it, right?
"I am," Hunt said, smiling. "I mean, they can't win if they can't score points."