INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts improved to 10-4 on the year on Sunday with their 27-20 victory over the Houston Texans in their 2020 Week 15 matchup at Lucas Oil Stadium.
In yet another game that went down to the wire between these two AFC South Division rivals, the Colts were clinging to their seven-point lead with less than a minute to go when Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson found wide receiver Keke Coutee, who hauled in the pass around the Indy 8-yard line, turned, and had his sights set on the end zone.
But just before he got there, linebacker Darius Leonard punched the football out of his grasp, and after a brief scrum it was fellow linebacker Bobby Okereke coming up with the ball. Game over. Colts get to 10 wins on the season with two games left to go.
"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."
Here are the FIVE THINGS LEARNED from Sunday's win over the Texans:
» DOWN TO THE WIRE: While the Colts started off hot, leading 14-0 heading into the second quarter, Deshaun Watson wasn't going to be held down much longer. 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 Keke Coutee to tie the game at 20 with 7:30 left in the fourth quarter. It was now up to Philip Rivers and the Colts' offense to put together one more huge drive to take control. Twelve plays, 75 yards and five minutes and 38 seconds later, they did just that, as Rivers found wide receiver Zach 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. There were two key plays before that Pascal TD. The Colts faced 4th and 1 from the Houston 36-yard line, and backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett came on for the sneak to move the chains. Two plays later, after an offensive pass interference penalty, Rivers, on 2nd and 20, chucked it deep down the middle of the field to a wide open T.Y. Hilton, who beat linebacker Tyrell Adams over the top for a 41-yard gain to the Houston 3-yard line. "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,'" Reich recalled of that huge play.
» DEFENSIVE HEROICS: The Colts have seen their defense step up time and time again in crucial situations throughout the 2020 season, and that's exactly what ended up panning out late in Sunday's game. After the touchdown pass to Zach Pascal gave the Colts their seven-point lead with 1:53 left, it was Watson's turn to try to lead a potential game-tying drive. He marched the Texans right down the field. The ballgame eventually 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 Keke 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 Darius 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. Ballgame. "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."
» BUCKNER BATTLES: There was serious doubt that star Colts defensive tackle DeForest Buckner was even going to be able to play in Sunday's game against the Texans. He suffered an ankle injury in Thursday's practice, and then was unable to practice the following day — usually not a great sign when it comes to your playing status two days later. But Reich said Buckner did absolutely everything he could possibly do to find a way onto the field Sunday, and although he played a much more limited role than usual — Buckner logged 35 defensive snaps, or 51 percent, mostly playing passing situations and in the red zone — he absolutely made the most of his opportunities. Buckner finished the day with four tackles (two for a loss) with three sacks, four quarterback hits and a forced fumble recovered by Justin Houston, and even could've had a fourth sack if not for an offsides penalty called on Houston. "He just wasn't going to be denied," Reich said of Buckner playing on Sunday. "You could just tell the last 24 hours that he was going to play but we really took it up to the last minute. We worked him out today at 10 o'clock and he had a good workout, so we just wanted to limit him really from himself more than anything. Just put him in on pass rush situations, put him in on red zone and key situational things, just a credit to DeForest the leader that he is, the kind of player and just how tough he is."
» PLAYOFF IMPLICATIONS: The Colts' dramatic win over the Texans — their third straight win and seventh victory in their last nine contests — keeps them firmly in the driver's seat for a spot in the postseason. At 10-4, the Colts remained tied atop the AFC South standings with the Tennessee Titans, although Tennessee currently owns all tiebreakers with two games left to play. Heading into Monday night's games, Indy is currently the sixth seed in the AFC playoff picture; according to fivethirtyeight.com, the Colts have a 91-percent chance of making the postseason, and a 40-percent shot at wining the division. If Indy can find a way to beat the 11-3 Pittsburgh Steelers — who take on the Cincinnati Bengals tonight on Monday Night Football — next week at Heinz Field, the Colts' playoff chances jump into the high-90s percentage-wise. Keep in mind: the Colts have losses to the current No. 5 seed Cleveland Browns and the Baltimore Ravens, who at 9-5 are currently on the outside looking in at the No. 8 seed. So the Colts need to keep taking care of business over their final two games to officially punch their ticket into the playoffs.
» NOTES OF INTEREST:
— Running back Jonathan Taylor (16 carries, 83 yards, TD vs. Texans) has rushed for at least 80 yards in four consecutive games and is only the third NFL player this season to do so, joining Dalvin Cook and Nick Chubb. He is the first Indianapolis player to accomplish the feat since Joseph Addai (2007) and the first NFL rookie to do it since Saquon Barkley (2018).
— Defensive tackle DeForest Buckner is one of four players this season to record at least four tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks and one forced fumble in a single game, joining Justin Houston, Aaron Donald and Haason Reddick.
Click here to check out more stats and notes from Sunday's loss to the Titans, courtesy of Colts Communications.
Colts fans can catch the re-air of Sunday's Week 15 win over the Houston Texans on WTTV4.2 this Wednesday at 8pm presented by POWERHOME SOLAR.
See all the action on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium as the Indianapolis Colts host the Houston Texans in Week 15.