Forty-five players took the field wearing Indianapolis Colts (5-2) uniforms on Monday night. Thanks to a rash of injuries, fans were unfamiliar with 40 of them. But as the Colts often do, when their backs were against the wall, and the odds seemed stacked against them they rose to the occasion and beat the Houston Texans (4-3) to claim a one-game lead in the AFC South.
Because of the 30 points on the scoreboard, the offense may be the headliners of the win, but the tone was set from the start by an energized defense. The Texans elected to receive the opening kickoff, but only made it to midfield before being forced to punt. A quick Colts 3-and-out seemed to open the door for the Texans, but the defense responded with another stop. The Colts took the lead on the ensuing drive and never looked back.
The defense even helped put points on the board, courtesy of an interception for a touchdown by much-maligned cornerback Kelvin Hayden. Texans’ quarterback Matt Schaub was hurried on the play and threw a pass to his third option. Hayden immediately recognized the route and jumped in front of the Texans’ receiver and returned the ball 24-yards for the score.
Once the Colts had a two-score lead their defensive line took over, harassing Schaub for the rest of the game. The pressure became so intense that even in the waning moments of the game, when the Texans desperately needed a big play, Schaub was constantly forced to check down to short routes. Fittingly, the game was sealed by a Dwight Freeney sack-fumble that was recovered by partner in disruption, Robert Mathis.
On offense there were two major stories for the Colts. First, Manning’s ability to continue to move the ball despite missing his two best players in Joseph Addai and Dallas Clark. Mike Hart and Jacob Tamme filled in admirably, contributing multiple big plays including a 35-yard run by Hart and a 2-yard touchdown by Tamme. Hart also did a great job in pass blocking, an area where Addai excelled.
The other story will be injuries. Once again the Colts suffered a rash of them. First, the aforementioned Hart rolled his ankle in the second half and didn’t return. Backup running back Donald Brown also left in the second half with an undisclosed injury. Tight end Brody Eldridge left in the first half with a rib injury and did not return. Finally, wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez, who played for the first time since injuring his ankle in week one, left in the second half with an injury to his right knee. Gonzalez slammed his knee hard into the turf on a late hit that went uncalled.
It was an important win for the Colts who already had two conference and division losses. They take the lead in the division and stay at the top of a tightly-packed AFC playoff picture. Their next game will be on the road against the Philadelphia Eagles. Hopefully some of their walking wounded will be able to drop the wounded tag in time for the game.