27-24. Indianapolis is now 19-4 all-time against the Houston Texans.
Welcome to one of the weirdest Colts games in recent memory. Strange penalties, strange no-calls, four missed field goals (three by Houston), a scary moment for Texans coach Gary Kubiak, and the Colts themselves, who appeared to wait until the third quarter to return from their bye week.
The first game in the history of this rivalry without Reggie Wayne on the field (though he did fly down with the team) would end in familiarly classic fashion, as Indy stormed back in the second half for a 27-24 victory.
Houston came out of the gate on fire, in front of a roaring home crowd, and wearing their Battle Red (or Beat the Colts Red) uniforms. They converted 4-8 third downs in the first half, outgaining Indianapolis 294 yards to 102 and headed to the locker room with a 21-3 lead.
Andrew Luck, fighting through pressure, sacks, drops, and his first game without Reggie, had only three completions for 56 yards in the first half (44 of those came on an early pass to Coby Fleener), and threw eight consecutive incomplete passes at one point. Meanwhile, Houston QB Case Keenum alternated between making great decisions and just chucking it – both strategies worked very well for him to the tune of 198 yards, a 136.8 QB rating, and three first half touchdowns to Andre Johnson.
After Keenum’s first bomb, a 62-yard TD to Johnson, Adam Vinatieri had an easy-looking 42-yard field goal blocked by J.J. Watt. With nary a Colts player visible on the TV screen and a Texans TD imminent, Pat McAfee charged in to rip Houston’s D.J. Swearinger down from behind.
The Indy defense forced a punt (great tackling by Bethea, Jean Francois, and Redding), but with the offense stymied, the Colts punt team trotted back onto the field. McAfee had a bad snap/catch/fumble/something, recovered the ball, evaded a couple defenders, then made the most impressive running 55-yard punt – in heavy traffic – you will ever see.
Indianapolis had an illegal man downfield (Andy Studebaker, who wouldn’t have been if not for the botched punt), and re-kicked, this time for just 29 yards as a Houston defender got away with a roughing the kicker violation.
Houston scored again to make it 14-0. After a nice 34-yard punt return by T.Y. Hilton in the second quarter, a pass interference penalty on Kareem Jackson, who grabbed a streaking Darrius Heyward Bey inside the 20, set up a field goal to cut the lead to 14-3.
Andy Studebaker and LeVon Brazill teamed up to force a fumble on the ensuing kickoff, and, just as things appeared to be falling into place for Indy, the officials reversed the call, saying Brazill’s foot touched the ball as he went out of bounds.
This set up the third Houston TD. To Andre Johnson.
And now the happy part. The Colts’ dramatic comeback came about in fits and starts. The Colts taking possession after the break, David Reed (Remember David Reed?) returned the kick 39 yards to the Indy 42.
The Colts came out in the shotgun, calling nine straight passes and running some no huddle. Luck went just 3-8 on the drive and took a sack, but thanks in part to a 15-yard personal foul penalty on safety Ed Reed, Vinatieri booted in a 35-yard field goal.
The Texans answered back with a field goal of their own, as Darius Butler, not known for his tackling, wrapped up Ben Tate for a 2-yard loss on third and 11.
With the Texans up 24-6 and Luck’s receivers continuing to struggle, it felt in no way as though any type of comeback had commenced. Houston, however, would not score again.
Indianapolis’s next drive started out shaky. Andrew Luck deftly dodged a defender, powered his way out of a would-be sack (a defender was holding onto his leg) and threw…right into the leaping J.J. Watt, who batted it into the air.
Quietly, Luck and the Colts began converting first downs (they were 0-6 in the first half and 1-7 at this point), the first a one-yard pass to Stanley Havili on, you guessed it, third and one. Then on third and 10, Luck hit T.Y. Hilton, who had struggled to that point, for 48-yards over Jonathan Joseph.
A light came on. They were on the same page. The offense began to click, and Luck grew increasingly confident in his receivers, who to that point had given him no reason to trust them. 9-yards to Griff Whalen, who made a nice turnaround after a miserable first half. 18 yards to Fleener, and after another penalty, a roughing the passer on Houston, Luck found T.Y. Hilton in the left corner of the endzone for a 10-yard touchdown. Pagano, knowing a two-point conversion could help, made a gutsy call to go for it early. It failed, but the confidence he showed in his offense had a positive effect. Suddenly, the Texans’ early blowout had become a tenuous 24-12 lead.
Enter the defense. Houston’s next drive would be crucial. The Colts shook off a 31-yard pass by Keenum, bottled up Ben Tate (great tackles by Pat Angerer and Cassius Vaughn, who had surrendered the big pass play), and forced a field goal. Wide Right. Rough night for Randy Bullock.
Down by 12 with 10:32 left in the game, the Colts offense faced a crucial drive of their own. Luck hit Trent Richardson for a hard fought 9-yard catch and run, then Hilton blew the top off the defense for a 58-yard touchdown catch over the middle. Hilton, after only a 6-yard catch in the first half, was suddenly playing lights out. 24-19, Texans. A stunned and quiet crowd looked on.
The Colts defense came out looking energized. Redding and Angerer stopped a run for 3 yards. Little used rookie Montori Hughes stopped a run short, and Angerer blew up a short pass play for no gain.
Chuck Pagano challenged what would have been Houston’s first third down completion of the half and won. Shane Lechler’s punt then took a huge bounce in the Colts’ favor – netting just 19 yards despite 4.8 seconds of hang time.
Quietly, gradually, fortunes had reversed. The Texans had led a charmed first half. Now everything was going the Colts’ way.
Luck stood in the shotgun at the Colts’ 48-yard line with 6 minutes left in the game. The offense that had looked so lost without their leader and mentor (Wayne) now had the Texans reeling. Whalen made a difficult 17-yard catch over (or through?) Ed Reed, and Richardson racked up some more yards after the catch with a 24-yarder to the Houston 11.
After a short pass to Fleener, Luck threw to Hilton in the right flat and watched as the speedy receiver juked a defender and rocketed into the endzone for the score. Up by one, Pagano again elected to go for two, and Coby Fleener made an absolutely improbably catch despite very good looking coverage for the deuce. 27-24 Colts.
With 4:00 left, the defense held. Pat Angerer was superman, stopping Keenum cold for a 3-yard loss on a keeper (didn’t count as a sack), and drilling him as he threw for an incompletion on third down. Angerer finished with 12 tackles while LaRon Landry and Antoine Bethea had 9 and 8 respectively.
The Colts burned up Houston’s timeouts, and Pat McAfee came through with a 56-yard punt, but Keenum had just a little more left the tank with 1:43 left. He drove the team into range for a 55-yard field goal, but Bullock saw yet another kick sail wide, this time to the left.
The Colts needed to learn how to follow up big wins. They had fallen hard after wins over Green Bay and Houston in 2012 and Seattle in 2013, and it looked like it was happening again. This young team grew up a little tonight.
A few notes, in no particular order:
- Gary Kubiak is conscious and in the hospital with his family. It wasn’t a heart, but they are being cautious. Our thoughts and prayers are with him.
- Houston left nine points on the field with their missed field goals, but the officials may have robbed Indianapolis of a possession on an overturned call (to be fair, it was surely a tough call to make).
- T.Y. Hilton stepped up to the plate in the second half. He finished with 7 catches on 12 targets for 121 yards and all three Colts touchdowns (6 for 115 in the second half)
- Andrew Luck shook off one of his worst halves and a 46.5 rating to finish at 92.8.
- Luck finished 18/40 for 271 yards. He was 15/28 in the second half.
- At one point, Keenum surveyed the defense, saw the safety blitz, found the single coverage, and completed a deep pass over Cassius Vaughn. On another play, he used a weird cadence to get the Colts to show their hand on a blitz, and then still threw to a running back behind the line of scrimmage on that side. He made some plays, but the jury’s still out.
- The Colts without Wayne: Hilton 7 catches on 12 targets for 121 yards and 3 TDs, Fleener 3/5 for 64, Richardson 2/3 for 33, Whalen 3/9 (1/5 in the first half) for 32, DHB 1/6 for 11, Brazill 1/2 for 9. Havili caught one pass for one yard on one target for one very important first down, and Brazill had a 9-yard reception.
- Reggie Wayne flew to the game and was on the field for the coin toss. If he does that in a home game, there will surely be a Reg-gie chant.
- Indy continues to own the fourth quarter. They outscored Houston 15-0 in fourth (and 24-3 in the second half).
- I'll leave you with this awesome shot of Fleener catching the two point conversion: