By Rob Hunt
Photograph by Chelsea Hugunin.
With so much speculation about Reggie Wayne’s future, the Colts made sure that last night wasn’t his final home game in an Indianapolis Colts uniform.
Despite a sluggish offense, the Colts did just enough to hold off the Houston Texans 17-10 and clinch their second straight AFC South division title. The win gives the Colts a 22-4 all-time record against the Texans, including 13-0 at home and ensures that Indianapolis will host a divisional playoff game at Lucas Oil Stadium next month.
The Texans defense held Andrew Luck in check for much of the day. The Colts quarterback entered the game averaging over 320 yards passing per game but was held to just 187 yards on 18 of 34 passing and did throw two touchdowns. Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano credited the Texans defense with the offensive problems for his team.
“It was a hard fought football game,” he said. “Credit the Texans, they’ve got one heck of a football team. We struggled offensively. We made just enough plays. It was enough, just enough.“
It was an early errant throw from Luck that gave the Texans an early advantage.
After both teams were forced to exchange punts on their first two possessions, the Colts started their third drive at their own 15 yard line. On third and nine, his pass intended for tight end Coby Fleener was a misfire and wound up intercepted by Texans safety Kendrick Lewis. Lewis then returned the pick 27 yards for a touchdown and the Texans had the lead at 7-0 with just over six and a half minutes remaining in the first quarter.
Following another exchange of punts, Luck and the Colts got the offense in gear. He was able to find Wayne, wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and running back Boom Herron on five passes, including a 20 yard pass play to Hilton to put the Colts into Texans territory. On the first play of the second quarter, Luck found Hakeem Nicks over the middle and, after evading several Texan defenders, Nicks was able find the end zone to even things up at 7-7.
Disaster struck the Texans (7-7) on their ensuing possession.
On a second and six, Houston quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick scrambled for an innocent looking two yard gain, but was injured on the play. The 10 year veteran was unable to stand and was loaded onto the cart immediately and taken to the locker room. It was revealed later that he had broken his leg on the play.
The Texans, who had already lost another QB in Ryan Malette two weeks ago, were forced to turn to rookie Tom Savage. While he completed his first pass for a first down, the rest of the game was a struggle for the first year player out of Pitt.
The Texans were unable to move the ball further and were forced to punt. The Colts drove into Houston territory, but on the seventh play of the drive, Wayne fumbled after catching a short pass from Luck and Houston took over in good field position.
Wayne, who has been rumored to be mulling retirement following the season finished the game with four receptions and 24 yards. Wayne set a pair of Colts records by playing in this game, it was his 209th game and 142nd win in a Colts uniforms, both marks surpassed the records previously held by current Broncos quarterback, Peyton Manning. Wayne seemed to show some emotion following the game when talking about this season and the future.
“We’re all excited man,” he said. “This (winning the division) isn’t an easy task. We hope to continue the hot streak, and roll into the playoffs with that. I don’t have time to sit back and take it all in, maybe I’ll do that this offseason. Then maybe I’ll be able to put things in perspective. The Colts organization and Mr. Irsay and his family have been outstanding helping me with my career and giving me an opportunity. It’s humbling, I’m truly grateful.”
Houston’s good fortune was short-lived, however, as Savage mishandled the handoff to running back Arian Foster and, following the recovery by defensive end Bjoern Werner, the Colts were in business at the Houston 40 yard line.
Luck and the Colts wasted little time taking advantage. Following a penalty and a 13 yard run by Herron, Luck found Nicks again for 18 yards to Houston’s three yard line. Tight end Dwayne Allen was open in the middle of the end zone on the next play and Luck found him for his second touchdown pass of the quarter and Allen’s 8th receiving score of the year.
Neither team could get much going the remainder of the first half. But that’s not to say there wasn’t any excitement.
The Texans faced a fourth and one on the Indianapolis 40 yard line with just over a minute left before halftime. Coach Bill O’Brien decided to go for a fake punt rather than attempt to gain the yard conventionally with Arian Foster and the offense on the field. Alfred Blue, however, was stuffed on the play for a two yard loss by Andrew Jackson and the Colts took over.
Three plays later, the Colts provided some fireworks before halftime.
Luck hit Donte Moncrief on a tipped pass for an apparent 48 yard touchdown with 44 seconds left in the half. However, a holding penalty nullified the play and following a J.J. Watt sack to drop the Colts deep in their own end of the field, Indianapolis chose to let the clock run out and take a 14-7 lead into the locker room.
Watt, perhaps a league MVP candidate, was kept under control for the first quarter, but began exercising his muscle in the second period with four tackles, two sacks and a pass deflection.
The third quarter was very quiet, offensively, as both teams exchanged punts for much of the period. But the Texans put together one of their better drives of the game late in the third and into the fourth quarter and faced another fourth and one at the Colts 25 yard line. Again, the Texans went for it and Arian Foster swept around the left end for a touchdown, but a holding penalty took the six points off the board and the Texans had to settle for a field goal try. Randy Bullock was good from 53 yards away, and the Texans had cut the lead to 14-10.
Again, the Colts offense was ineffective and was forced to punt, giving Houston the ball at their own 14 yard line and still plenty of time left, just over 12 minutes.
Savage, who completed 10 of 19 passes for just 127 yards and an interception, drove the Texans into Colts territory, but again, the drive bogged down at the 42 yard line and, on fourth down, the rookie’s pass attempt was errant.
Pagano praised his defense for shutting down the Texans passing game and also holding Foster to 99 tough yards on 26 carries.
“The defense was phenomenal,” he said. “Everybody came up big. Big time players made big time plays”.
The Colts offense was finally able to put together some consistent offense and drive down the field and consume much of the remaining clock in the process. Relying mainly on the running of Herron, the Colts drove inside the Houston 10 yard line. But, on third and one, a Luck scramble was stopped for a loss and Indianapolis had to settle for an Adam Vinatieri 29 yard field goal to give the Colts a 17-10 lead.
Herron, who led the team in rushing with 60 yards on 11 carries, was happy to get the opportunity to carry the ball at such a vital part of the game for his team.
“Well, it was definitely an honor,” he said in a happy Colts locker room after the game. “I was just thankful that the coaches gave me an opportunity and that they decided to give me the ball in that situation”.
Vinatieri’s 28th consecutive successful field goal on the season capped a 10 play, five minute drive that left just over two minutes remaining for the rookie Savage to try to bring the Texans back.
He was only successful briefly. Following an initial first down, Savage’s fourth down pass attempt was intercepted by Vontae Davis and returned to the Houston 40 yard line to seal the win with just 1:34 remaining and no Texans time-outs remaining.
Wayne will, in fact get to play at least one more game in Indianapolis. This is not unfamiliar territory for the future hall of fame wide receiver who, during the 2011-12 season was heading into free agency and an uncertain future. He stayed, however, and has been a vital part of Andrew Luck’s development during his first three seasons in the NFL.
“I’ve been down this road before,” he said. “That feeling was going through my head the whole game (three years ago). But right now, I’m so locked into what is going on here with this team. This team is special, we can do special things”.
One negative from the win for Indianapolis was an injury to Hilton, who left the game in the second half with an apparent hamstring injury. Pagano wouldn’t speculate on the outlook, but did say he would be evaluated Monday.