INDIANAPOLIS — When the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans get together, you just know it's going to come down to the wire.
Two weeks ago, the Texans seemed poised to score a go-ahead touchdown with about a minute left when quarterback Deshaun Watson, on 2nd and Goal from the 2-yard line, couldn't handle a low snap from center Nick Martin; the ball squirted away and was eventually recovered by linebacker Anthony Walker, sealing a 26-20 Indy road victory.
Exactly 14 days later, this time at Lucas Oil Stadium, it seemed as if the Texans, down seven, were going to mount a game-tying drive with less than two minutes to go.
Again, the Colts' defense answered the bell inside the 5-yard line.
With 28 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Watson found wide receiver Keke Coutee, who approached the end zone when linebacker Darius Leonard punched the ball out of his grasp at the 2-yard line; linebacker Bobby Okereke fell on the loose ball six yards deep in the end zone for a touchback, sealing yet another thrilling Colts victory, 27-20.
It's the Colts' 10th win of the season, and represents Indy's first season sweep over the Texans since 2017.
"A great team win, really proud of the guys," Colts head coach Frank Reich said. "We know these division games are always going to be tough. We have a lot of respect for this team and they have great players, so it was a tough contest.
"That's what playing December football (means)," Reich continued. "That's meaningful, that's what it takes to continue to build the DNA and who we are and where we believe we are going."
The Colts looked like they were going to make a laugher out of Sunday's game to start. The offense was humming — both with the run (Jonathan Taylor five-yard touchdown run) and the pass (Philip Rivers 11-yard touchdown throw to Zach Pascal) — and the defense was swarming Watson, and the result was a 14-0 lead heading into the second quarter.
The second quarter was a completely different story, however. The Colts' offense began to stall, and Watson took advantage of some busted coverage on one play — resulting in a 38-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Chad Hansen — to get red hot from there on out.
By halftime, the Texans had cut the Colts' lead to 14-10.
The two teams traded field goals in the third quarter, and then Rodrigo Blankenship nailed another kick — a career-long 53-yarder — four plays into the fourth quarter to give the Colts a 20-13 lead.
Watson stayed hot, however, leading the Texans on a 10-play, 80-yard drive, capped by a nine-yard touchdown pass to Coutee to tie the game at 20 with 7:30 left in the fourth quarter.
Now it was on the Colts' quarterback(s) to get the job done on their end.
Rivers completed four of his first five passes for 26 yards on the ensuing drive to get to the Houston 36-yard line, but his final pass of that sequence, a six-yard completion to Michael Pittman Jr. on third down, was one yard short of the first-down marker.
On 4th and 1, the Colts brought backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett onto the field as part of his special short-yardage package; he was able to get enough push up the middle on the QB sneak to move the chains.
But Pittman Jr., trying to free up T.Y. Hilton on a rub route, was then flagged for offensive pass interference. With Rivers off the mark to Pittman Jr. down the left side of the field on the following play, that set up 2nd and 20 from the Houston 44.
Most teams in that down-and-distance, from that spot on the field, in a tie ballgame, are simply looking to get back into field goal range.
But, then again, most teams don't have a 17-year veteran at quarterback who can trust a nine-year veteran at wide receiver to make a huge play deep down the field.
Rivers, who got the look he was wanting, launched the ball deep down the middle of the field, where he found Hilton, who had beaten linebacker Tyrell Adams in coverage to get open over the top. The 41-yard connection set up 1st and Goal from the 3-yard line, and now all of a sudden, the Colts were cookin' once again.
Two plays later, Rivers found Pascal, who stretched out for the pylon for his second receiving score of the day, this time from five yards out, to give the lead back to the Colts, 27-20, with 1:53 left in the fourth quarter.
"I really credit Nick (Sirianni) and the offensive staff. That's a play that we had put in, trying to get against the coverage that we ended up getting, and unfortunately, we were in a long-yard situation. It was just a gut feeling that we had to make a play and had to take a shot," Reich said of the deep pass play on 2nd and 20 to Hilton. "There was one thought to just try to get back in field goal range, but I really was just trusting Philip, trusting T.Y. — 'Hey, let's take the shot if it's there. Let's see if we can get the coverage we want and get T.Y. isolated like we wanted to and if it's there, let's take it and if not let's work underneath, try to get some yards and get back in field goal range if that's what we have to do."
But the Colts still had to fend off a red-hot Watson. Accordingly, the fourth-year Clemson product, looking to potentially send the game into overtime, marched the Texans right down the field.
On 2nd and 10 from the Houston 25, Watson scrambled for nine yards, and took a late hit out of bounds from cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who was flagged for unnecessary roughness, adding 15 yards to the end of the play. All of a sudden, the Texans were at midfield with plenty of time, 1:36, left.
Watson then completed his next three passes for a combined 31 yards to get to the Indianapolis 20. A sack by defensive tackle DeForest Buckner — his third of the day, all while playing on a bum ankle — set the Texans back to the 26, and then a false start penalty put Houston at the 31.
After getting a combined 16 yards back on the next two plays, both passes, the ballgame came down to this: 4th and 5 from the Indy 15-yard line. Watson, lined up in the shotgun, took the snap and had a quick three-step drop before delivering a pass to the middle of the field to Coutee, who made the catch just out of the reach of safety Khari Willis at the Indy 8.
Coutee turned around and had the end zone in his sights. Safety Julian Blackmon was unable to bring the receiver down around the 5-yard line, but he slowed him down just enough to allow Leonard to come charging in from behind and punch the ball out of his hand two yards shy of pay dirt. There was a mad scramble for the loose football, but ultimately it landed in Okereke's grasp for the touchback.
Another crazy finish — another Colts win.
"Every last series in practice we always talk about finish the practice because if you finish the practice, you finish the game," Leonard said. "I'll always say pressure does two things: bust pipes or make diamonds. I'm the type of guy that when it is time for pressure to be there, I want the pressure on me. I want to be the one to make the play and luckily today, I was in the right position to make the play."
The win for the Colts (10-4) keeps them tied atop the AFC South Division standings with the Tennessee Titans, who defeated the Detroit Lions, 46-25, today also improve to 10-4 on the year. While the Titans currently have the advantage in all tiebreaker scenarios with two games left, Indianapolis remains in control of a Wild Card spot, and headed into the late games tonight as the fifth seed in the AFC.
The Colts had 350 yards of total offense on the day today; converting 6-of-11 (55 percent) opportunities on third down. Rivers completed 22-of-28 passes for 228 yards with two touchdowns and no picks for a QB rating of 124.4; he was sacked just once on the day.
Taylor had another strong outing on the ground for the Colts, as he finished with 16 rushing attempts for 83 yards (5.2 avg.) and a touchdown, becoming the first Colts player since Joseph Addai in 2007 to rush for 80 yards in at least four consecutive games. Nyheim Hines also added five rushing attempts for 43 yards (8.6 avg.).
Pascal led the way with five receptions for 79 yards and two touchdowns, tying a single-game career-best. Hilton added four receptions for 71 yards.
Buckner led the way for the Colts' defense with his three sacks; he had four tackles in all (two for a loss) with four quarterback hits and a forced fumble. Leonard had a team-best 12 tackles and a forced fumble, while defensive tackle/end Denico Autry had four tackles (one for a loss) with 1.5 sacks and two quarterback hits.
The Colts, winners of three in a row and seven of their last nine, look to keep the late-season momentum going next Sunday, when they travel to take on the AFC North-leading Pittsburgh Steelers (11-2) — currently the conference's No. 2 seed — at Heinz Field. The Steelers take on the Cincinnati Bengals (2-10-1) this week on Monday Night Football.
See all the action on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium as the Indianapolis Colts host the Houston Texans in Week 15.