INDIANAPOLIS — What a way for the Indianapolis Colts' first division game of the season to develop.
After taking their opening drive of the game 75 yards down the field for a touchdown, the Colts' offense sputtered mightily against the Houston Texans, their next six drives resulting in the following: fumble lost (for a defensive touchdown), punt, punt, punt, punt, fumble lost.
Quarterback Andrew Luck would call the offense's shortcomings during that point of the game "a comedy of errors."
However, the Colts would catch a bit of momentum on their next drive — their final one of the first half — as Adam Vinatieri would knock in a 42-yard field goal, to cut the Houston lead to 11, 21-10.
The Texans would get one more touchdown on the board — but then the Colts stepped on the gas.
Over the final 20 or so minutes of the game, Indianapolis would mount an inspired rally against their AFC South rivals, going on a 21-3 run and tying the game at 31 to force overtime.
From there, it was anybody's game. Both teams would exchange field goals, but it was the Texans who would come out on top, using a Ka'imi Fairbairn 37-yard field goal to head home with a 37-34 victory at Lucas Oil Stadium.
"The guys played hard — right to the bitter end," Colts head coach Frank Reich told Colts.com's Caroline Cann after the game. "And I love that about this team. I love our players — everything about it. It just hurts to come up short."
After a strong first half, the Texans (1-3) would see much the same to start the second half, getting the ball to open the third quarter and capitalizing with a 15-play, 79-yard drive that are 8:21 off the clock. It culminated in a five-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Deshaun Watson to wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
From there — down 28-10 — the Colts flipped a switch. They answered Houston's touchdown with one of their own, a 14-yard strike down the right side from Luck to Nyheim Hines, who was split out wide on the play against Pro Bowl safety Tyrann Mathieu. After the game, Hines joked that maybe his leaping catch will boost his Madden attributes a little bit.
In all, the Colts would score on five of their next six drives following Houston's second-half opening score, outscoring the Texans 24-9 the rest of the way.
With 2:58 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Colts would need to lean on that momentum. Coming off of a 40-yard Fairbairn field goal that made gave the Texans a 31-23 lead, the Colts would engineer one of their most clutch drives in recent memory.
They would march 85 yards down the field in nine plays, punching the ball into the end zone with another Hines touchdown catch — this time on a nine-yard angle route where the running back got popped as he entered the end zone, but held on.
Next would come a critical two-point attempt, which the Colts converted when Luck slung a pass low to where only Chester Rogers could get it.
The Colts' defense was then able to do enough to make the Texans attempt a long, 59-yard field goal attempt, missing wide right with six seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. That would then force the Colts into their first overtime game of 2018.
"We got it going," Reich said of the second-half run for his offense. "We came out and we just had a bunch of miscues early — had a couple turnovers and some drops. But it wasn't any one person. We said, 'Let's just make the plays that come to us.' We thought some things were there, we just had to make the plays, and then we started doing that in the second half."
The Colts won the coin toss in overtime, electing to receive the kickoff. The momentum from the end of regulation seemed to be carrying over, as Indianapolis moved the ball 50 yards in 13 plays, though the drive would end with a 44-yard Vinatieri field goal to put all of the pressure on Houston to answer with any sort of score.
The momentum began to shift back Houston's way from there, however, as the Texans answered with their own field goal drive, spanning 59 yards in 12 plays and tying the game at 34.
The Colts would begin what was ultimately their final drive with 1:50 remaining in overtime. It started out well, gaining 21 yards in the first two plays. However, a holding penalty followed by a loss of 10 on a sack backed the Colts into a corner.
On 3rd and 21 from their own 26-yard line, the Colts picked up 17 yards on a pass from Luck to Mo Alie-Cox, the first reception of the tight end's career. That set up 4th and 4 from the Colts' 43-yard line.
Knowing he needed to get rid of the ball quickly facing Houston's vaunted pass rush, Luck's pass traveled just short to Rogers, hitting the turf and putting the fate of the game in the talented Watson's hands on the following drive.
With 24 seconds remaining, Watson delivered a strike down the middle of the field to receiver DeAndre Hopkins, picking up 24 yards and setting Houston up for a 37-yard field goal attempt with a few ticks remaining on the clock.
Fairbairn's kick was pure down the middle, ending the Colts' valiant comeback effort.
"We're gonna play for a win, not for a tie," Luck said of the approach on that final fourth down play. "(I) didn't throw a good enough ball to give Chester a chance at the end there. We'll live to fight another day, and we've gotta learn from it."