Colts Turn Efficient Second Half Into 33-27 Victory over Houston
INDIANAPOLIS – On a mid-November afternoon, in the middle of a playoff chase, the Colts found a way to be efficient offensively, and found a way to overcome an early deficit yet again.
They also found something far more imant.
They found a way to win.
The Colts, seeking their first three-game winning streak of the season, got it on Sunday afternoon, and did so with one of their best offensive performances of the season, rallying from first- and second-half deficits for a key 33-27 AFC South victory over the Houston Texans in front of 66,201 at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis.
"It was a big win for us," Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said. "It was a good one to get. It's very difficult to beat a team twice. We were able to do that."
The Colts (6-4), who have lost just once to the Texans in the series' seven-year history, in October beat Houston, 31-27, becoming the first team in NFL history to win in regulation after trailing by 17 points with less than five minutes remaining.
Sunday's victory wasn't as historic for the Colts, or quite as dramatic.
But it was no less significant.
"It's the start of a good thing," Colts right tackle Ryan Diem said. "We want to continue to build on that."
The Colts, who entered the game ranked 22nd in the NFL offensively at 310.8 yards per game, not only produced a season-high 474 yards offense, they also produced season-highs in points (33), rushing yards (154) and first downs (30).
"Obviously, it's all about winning," said Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, who completed 30 of 46 passes for 320 yards and two touchdowns and did not throw an interception for a third consecutive game.
"It (the offensive performance) came at a good time to have this game and hopefully, we can build off of it."
For the Colts, it wasn't just the third consecutive victory in Lucas Oil Stadium after losses in the first two games, it was their first three-game winning streak since a six-game streak late last season.
"We're on a three-game streak now," Dungy said. "We hadn't gotten one all year. November is the time to get them."
The Colts (6-4), after losing back-to-back road games by double digits in late October, are 3-0 in November, with all three victories coming by less than a touchdown. They beat the New England Patriots, 18-15, at home on November 3, and won in Pittsburgh, 24-20, last week.
That's three conference victories in as many weeks, and the run has left the Colts very much in contention in a tight AFC playoff chase.
"Getting back in the race was big for us," Dungy said.
"That's when they count, baby," Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne said. "You don't win titles in September and October. Coach Dungy always says that. We'd love to have gotten off to a quick start, but that wasn't the way the ball bounced for us. We have an opportunity to control our own destiny. Today was a good start."
The Colts, the five-time defending AFC South champions and a playoff team the past six seasons, trail Tennessee (10-0) – a 24-14 winner over Jacksonville Sunday – by four games in the South. They are tied with Miami (6-4), New England (6-4), Baltimore (6-4) and Denver (6-4), a game behind the Jets (7-3) and the Steelers (7-3), who lead the AFC East with the conference's second-best record.
The Colts, the Jets, Denver, Pittsburgh, Miami, New England, Baltimore are among 10 teams in the AFC with between seven and four victories with six games remaining. The others: Jacksonville (4-6), San Diego (4-6) and Buffalo (5-4).
Buffalo will play host to Cleveland Monday.
The Colts will play continue a seven-game stretch against AFC teams the next three weeks, playing at San Diego and Cleveland (3-6) before playing host to Cincinnati (1-8-1).
"November and December – everybody knows that's the time when the good football teams step up," Colts running back Dominic Rhodes said. "Usually, in November and December we play pretty well. We're doing that again. It's at the right time. We just have to keep pushing on.
"The good teams step out in November and December. That's what this game's all about."
The Colts, after scoring field goals on three of four first-half possessions, scored touchdowns on their first three second-half possessions, a stretch in which they turned a 13-9 halftime deficit into a 30-20 lead.
"Touchdowns instead of field goals," Wayne said. "We kind of left some plays on the field in the first half. We were able to come in at halftime, make some adjustments and come out and start turning those points into touchdowns."
The Texans took a quick lead on their first possession, with kicker Kris Brown capping a 10-play, 70-yard drive with a 28-yard field goal, and the Colts drove quickly to tie on the game's second possession. Chad Simpson, a rookie running back, returned the kickoff following Brown's field goal 46 yards to give Indianapolis 1st-and-10 at the Houston 49.
Nine plays later, Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri's 40-yard field goal tied it, 3-3.
The Texans inched ahead again on the ensuing possession, 6-3, with Brown's 34-yard field goal capping a 56-yard drive. Texans quarterback Sage Rosenfels threw a 61-yard pass to wide receiver Kevin Walter to give Houston 1st-and-10 at the Colts 11, but Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney sacked Rosenfels on 3rd-and-9 from the Indianapolis 10 to force the field goal.
The Colts used 13 plays to drive for the game-tying field goal, reaching the Houston 21, where they faced 3rd-and-5. Manning threw to an open running back Joseph Addai, who dropped a pass on the right side of the field. Vinatieri's 39-yard field goal on the next play tied it, 6-6.
After an exchange of punts, the Texans took the lead with the game's first touchdown, with running back Ahman Green's 1-yard run making it, 13-6, Texans. But the Colts drove 66 yards on 13 plays on the half's final possession, twice converting third downs of more than 12 yards en route to a 32-yard field goal by Vinatieri with :05 remaining in the quarter.
"We moved in the first half," Dungy said. "We just didn't finish the drives off."
The Colts took their first lead early in the third quarter, with Manning passing 23 yards to Addai for a 16-13 Indianapolis lead.
On the third play of the ensuing series, Texans rookie running back Steve Slaton's 71-yard touchdown – the longest scoring run in franchise history – gave Houston a 20-16 lead.
"Someone got cut out of their gap, but then you have to make the tackle," Dungy said. "It has to be a 16-yard run, not 70. He got through. He has given them that ability. That deflated us for a little bit. We have to make that tackle, make them line up and go again."
Indianapolis continued its efficiency on the ensuing drive, with Addai capping a seven-play, 80-yard drive with a 7-yard touchdown for a 23-20 lead.
"Houston, you have to give them a lot of credit," Dungy said. "Our offense played really well in the second half, but they responded every time."
The lone exception came on the drive after Addai's touchdown run. The Colts forced a punt, after which they drove 73 yards on 11 plays, taking a 10-point lead when Manning threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Marvin Harrison.
The Texans cut it to 30-27 with a 2-yard touchdown by Green with 8:54 remaining in the game, and after a 31-yard field goal by Vinatieri with 1:52 remaining, the Texans had a final chance. But Indianapolis safety Melvin Bullitt intercepted Rosenfels on the Colts 35 to end the the threat.
"I thought we fought," Dungy said. "For how many guys we had out of practice early in the week, we bounced back and did pretty well. Defensively, I know our guys aren't pleased, but that's what happens sometimes. Last week (against Pittsburgh), our defense got the takeaways, and made a couple of big plays and allowed us to be in the game.
"This week, it was our offense that kind of saved us in the second half with those long drives and the touchdowns. All in all, a good win for us. Now, we have to turn our focus to San Diego."