BACK IN FIRST

The Colts on Monday moved into sole possession of first place in the AFC South with a 30-17 victory the Houston Texans at Lucas Oil Stadium.

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Colts Move Into Sole Possession of First Place With Prime-Time Victory over Houston

INDIANAPOLIS – The Colts modified the motto a bit on Monday.

All season – much, much longer really – the Colts have emphasized the phrase, 'Next Man Up,' the idea being that reserves must play well in place of unavailable starters.

On Monday night, in front of a national television audience, 'Next Men Up' was more appropriate.

Either way, it was about a Colts victory.

Not to mention first place in the AFC South.

The Colts, with an offense missing several key players and a defense turning in one of its most complete performances of the season, took an early lead on AFC South rival Houston, then held on for a 30-17 victory in front of 66,363 at Lucas Oil Stadium on Monday night.

"It's a great team effort and a great team win," Colts quarterback Peyton Manning said after completing 26 of 45 passes for 268 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions for a passer rating of 89.9.

"Everybody is dealing with injuries. I'm not going to beat the point in. Whoever is in there has to somehow find the way to do the job. It's not always going to be pretty or perfect. You have to keep grinding.

"That is kind of the word we use, just keep grinding and make some plays."

The Colts, after taking a 17-3 halftime lead, got a quick touchdown in the third quarter on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Manning to Reggie Wayne, and the Texans never again got closer than 13.

Defensive end Dwight Freeney secured the victory with a sack/fumble with :57 remaining that defensive tackle Eric Foster recovered at the Indianapolis 19.

"We just looked at it like it was another game, but it was a must-win for us," said Colts cornerback Kelvin Hayden, whose 25-yard interception return for a touchdown in the second quarter gave Indianapolis a 14-0 lead.

"We responded, and we responded well."

The Colts played without not only Pro Bowl tight end Dallas Clark, out for the season with a wrist injury, but running back Joseph Addai, wide receiver Austin Collie, cornerbacks Jerraud Powers and Jacob Lacey and defensive tackle Antonio Johnson.

"It's one of the things we talk about year in and year out, week in and week out," Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said. "You are going to get an opunity somewhere along the line, and we need every guy on our team, the 53 and the practice squad, to always be ready.

"It's something we talk about and we expect. We certainly don't talk about drop-offs and insufficient play."

Mike Hart, starting in place of Addai, rushed for 84 yards on 12 carries, and tight end Jacob Tamme – playing in place of Clark – caught six passes for 64 yards and a two-yard first-quarter touchdown.

The six receptions matched Tamme's career total.

Wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez, playing for the first time since the regular-season opener, caught four passes for 55 yards.

"It was a pretty good day for a lot of young guys," Caldwell said.

The victory moved the Colts into sole possession of first place for the first time this season.

The Colts and Texans entered the game 4-2, and with the Tennessee Titans losing to the San Diego Chargers, 33-25, in San Diego on Sunday, the Colts are now a half game ahead of Tennessee (5-3) and a full game ahead of the Texans (4-3).

Jacksonville beat the Dallas Cowboys, 35-17, to move to 4-4.

"One, it was huge because it was a divisional game," Colts linebacker Gary Brackett said. "If we would have gone two games down to these guys it would have been tough to get back into the divisional race. Now, we still control our destiny, and that's the way we like it around here.'

The Colts, who have won 12 or more games an NFL-record seven consecutive seasons, have won six of the last seven AFC South titles. They won the South from start to finish in 2003, 2005-2007 and 2009, beginning each of those seasons 5-0 or better – 5-0 in 2003, 13-0 in 2005, 9-0 in 2006, 7-0 in 2007 and 14-0 last season.

This season the Colts have been within a game of first place the entire season, but until Monday, never had held sole possession.

The victory also allowed the Colts to avert a season sweep by Houston. Because they swept the Colts this season, having beaten Indianapolis in the regular-season opener in Houston, a victory would have given Houston a critical tiebreaker advantage over the Colts had the teams finish the regular season tied.

The Colts had not been swept in the division since 2002.

The Titans swept the Colts that season en route to the AFC South title.

The Colts took control with a complete first half in which they led by 14 points at halftime after outgaining the Texans, 165-89.

The Colts, after two solid defensive series – the first of which included a spin-move sack by Freeney, scored first to take a 7-0 lead.

And they got big contributions from reserves on the drive.

The Colts drove 78 yards on seven plays, taking a touchdown lead with 6:59 remaining in the first quarter when Manning passed two yards to Tamme on 3rd-and-goal from the two. A 35-yard run by Hart gave the Colts a first down on the Houston 44.

Tamme caught a 26-yard pass from Manning to give the Colts 1st-and-goal at the 7.

The Colts pushed the lead to 14-0 on the second play of the second quarter, when Hayden stepped in front of a short pass by Texans quarterback Matt Schaub to wide receiver Kevin Walter and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown.

The Texans made it 14-3 with a 53-yard field goal by Neil Rackers that hit the upright and bounced through with 12:00 remaining in the half.

A 48-yard field goal by Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri capped a 13-play, 36-yard drive that consumed 4:59 and gave the Colts a 17-3 lead with :53 remaining in the second quarter.

The Colts, leading by 14 points at halftime, extended the lead early in the third quarter with an efficient, lead-extending drive, moving 70 yards in 10 plays and 3:30.

Manning connected with Wayne for a 15-yard touchdown to give Indianapolis a 24-3 lead with 11:30 remaining in the third quarter.

Schaub, after passing for 37 first-half yards, passed 28 yards to wide receiver Andre Johnson on the ensuing series to pull the Texans back to within 14 points, 24-10.

The Colts drove to the Texans one on the ensuing possession and a 23-yard field goal by Vinatieri pushed the lead to 17 with a minute and a half remaining in the third quarter.

Houston pulled back to within 10 with a 6-yard touchdown run by running back Arian Foster with 12:22 remaining, and a 36-yard field goal by Vinatieri pushed the lead back to 13, 30-17, with 7:23 remaining.

The Colts visit the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday.

"Every week you have to go out and prove yourself and it's tough in this league," Caldwell said. "You get by with a win one week and you can celebrate for a little bit and then you have another one coming up that's going to be equally as tough.

"I do think our team is fighting back and getting ourselves in position to once again be close to the top. It's a long season, seven down with nine to go, and we have a tough battle ahead of us."

Said Brackett, "I like our chances. It's tough to win at this level, but despite our injuries, we still have to go out there and play winning football."

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