INDIANAPOLIS – Coach Chuck Pagano's highly-anticipated return to the Colts sideline ended with a 28-16 victory over the Houston Texans Sunday afternoon at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The Colts, who finish the regular season with 11 wins, will travel to Baltimore next weekend for an AFC Wild Card matchup.
Cornerback Vontae Davis intercepted Matt Schaub twice, rookie sensation T.Y. Hilton recorded his seventh receiving touchdown of the season and Deji Karim returned a kickoff for a touchdown en route to the Colts' fourth AFC South win of the 2012 season.
"We were very emotional," Davis said after the game. "We knew this was a big game for us. We wanted to get the win. When you're going against guys like Andre (Johnson), you have to have a short-term memory. He's going to catch his plays. He's a competitor."
The Colts were forced to overcome a lot of Arian Foster and Johnson, who finished the regular season of this Pro Bowl campaign with twelve receptions and 141 yards.
Foster's 13-yard touchdown run and kicker Shayne Graham's 37-yard field goal gave the Texans their first lead at 16-14 lead with just more than five minutes remaining in the third period.
When it looked like Houston might try to close the door on the Colts, momentum shifted in Indianapolis' favor for good. Karim notched a 101-yard kickoff return for a touchdown immediately following Graham's field goal, and the Colts never looked back.
On the following series, Hilton capped off a 1:51 scoring drive with a 70-yard touchdown reception from fellow rookie Andrew Luck, who set the record for most completions by a rookie in franchise history. Luck eclipsed Peyton Manning's milestone of 326 recorded in 1998.
"They called the play for me," Hilton recalled. "It was a straight up seam route. The linebacker buzzed me. I looked up and I was running wide open. Andrew made a beautiful throw. (There was) a lot of emotion. We didn't want to let Coach Pagano down."
The win may have come at just the right time for the Colts, who have now made the playoffs in 10 of the last 11 seasons. It is a familiar feeling for veterans including Reggie Wayne, Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis and Antoine Bethea.
However for the rookies and new additions to the Colts' roster this season, it is a new experience.
"We wanted to go out there. We wanted to fight so we could roll into the playoffs," Bethea said. "This game meant a lot for this team. We still have some things that we need to get corrected. (There's) a lot to look forward to going into the playoffs. I think we're doing a great job peaking and playing well. Of course, whoever we have to go against, we'll be ready."