INDIANAPOLIS – Their backs were against the wall from the opening possession, but thanks to a "We aren't going to let this happen again" mentality, the Colts defense rose to the occasion in putting together one of their best performances of the season.
An early Colts turnover gave the Texans a short field. Houston took full advantage of as running back Arian Foster scored from nine yards out on the second play of the drive. Less than 60 seconds into the game and the Texans were up, 7-0.
As the Colts defense headed to the sidelines players thought back to week one where early scores by the Texans led to a 34-7 defeat in the opener.
Determined not to have a repeat in the home finale on Thursday, the unit came together and did not allow another touchdown the rest of the evening.
"Here we go again," defensive end Robert Mathis said of what he felt after the first drive. "We just had to make up in our minds that it's not going to end like it did in September."
It was Mathis who got things started for the defense. On the next Texans possession he stripped quarterback T.J. Yates of the football and pounced on the fumble to setup his offense with a short field.
Mathis said he "saw a pot of gold" in Yates' hands, and it was the first of two sacks the Pro Bowl end had on Thursday night.
That stop by the defense started a streak of seven drives in which the unit allowed just three points and three Texans first downs the rest of the half.
The story of the night on defense was getting key stops on third down. For the game, the Texans were 1-of-10 on third down, with their only conversion coming with under four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
"We've been talking about third down all year and just trying to get off the field," defensive end Jamaal Anderson said. "Initially, it didn't really seem like they wanted to pass. I think they were just nervous with our front four and because of that they ran. Our linebackers were playing fast and were able to step up and stop them on third down."
Anderson returned to the lineup after missing the Tennessee game due to injury and was able to get the taste of victory while contributing four tackles and a sack. His two tackles for losses were part of eight the defense had on Thursday and he talked about the importance of making things difficult against a rookie quarterback like Yates.
"We put a lot of pressure on us this week," Anderson said of the defensive line. "If we played well upfront and had the opportunity to rush the passer, then we would take advantage of it."
The defensive line produced a season-high four sacks against Yates as defensive tackle Fili Moala had one of his own to go along with two tackles for losses. In the box score, it will say that the line accounted for all four sacks but the USC product was quick to credit all three units.
"Every level of defense depends on the next," Moala said. "We depend on the coverage. The coverage depends on us to get there, and the backers underneath us it's important they break on the ball. It's a total team effort. Fortunately, we were able to get to (T.J.) Yates and get him down, but without the coverage and without the linebackers back there it doesn't happen."
Ironically enough, the only third-down conversion for the Texans came on their final scoring drive when a Yates pass over the middle was batted up in the air by a Colts defender before wide receiver Jacoby Jones caught the carom to convert the first down.
The play kept the drive alive for the Texans and ate up another minute off the clock but the Colts defense forced a Neil Rackers field goal, which gave the offense a chance for the eventual game-winning drive.
"Plays like that crazy one at the end when Jacoby (Jones) caught that tip sometimes those will break a defense's spirits," Moala said. "But we were able to tighten up and make a play for our offense to get back on the field."
The past two weeks the Colts have allowed their season lows in points with 13 and 16 respectively.
Safety Antoine Bethea led the defense with nine tackles on Thursday and the veteran voice in a banged up Colts secondary said the game plan has been pretty simple – more blue shirts around the ball.
"Just talking about running to the ball," Bethea said of the changes. "Sometimes this year we really didn't do that for a whole game and I think this past week we've been flying around and hitting for 60 minutes."
One of the brightest smiles in the Colts locker room Thursday evening belonged to linebacker Ernie Sims. Signed during training camp, Sims led the defense with 15 tackles last week against Tennessee and once again started in place of the injured Philip Wheeler at outside linebacker.
Sims was a member of the Detroit Lions 0-16 team in 2008 and along with quarterback Dan Orlovsky, perhaps no Colt appreciate these two victories more than they.
"It's beyond by imagination. It's so special," Sims said. "Just speaking with a couple of guys who've been here through all the Super Bowls and everything, out of all the memories…this is one of the best. You take for granted the wins, but this one right here is a great way to start off my Christmas weekend."
With opposite end Dwight Freeney going up against Houston double-teams, Mathis wreaked plenty of havoc for the duo.
His two sacks gave him 14.5 in his career against the Texans, and the stoic Mathis couldn't help but crack a huge smile when asked what this win means for the Colts players.
"As you could hear the noise in the locker room guys couldn't be any more excited," Mathis said. "Very proud, very pleased with this victory so I'm just going to enjoy it."
For the past two weeks, the Colts have avenged a pair of AFC South losses they suffered earlier in the year and will try to complete the sweep on Jan. 1 against Jacksonville.
Heading into the final three games of the season, many wrote off the Colts and talk of next year was being thrown around. After back-to-back wins, they have a chance to take the momentum form how they ended 2011 into the new year.
"We could have tucked our tail, hung our heads and gave up on the season but the fans they stuck with us, everybody in the locker room stuck together," Bethea said. "I think if we get this last win, it will just do a lot for our morale going into next year."