HOUSTON — The Indianapolis Colts today defeated the Houston Texans, 24-21, at NRG Stadium.
What's top of mind for the Colts as they improve to 7-6 on the season?
The Houston Texans' impressive win streak started with the Indianapolis Colts.
But the Colts sure as heck made sure it ended with them, too.
With an at-times dominant performance by its defense, and then seeing the light bulb finally turn on for the offense, Indy escaped NRG Stadium Sunday with a 24-21 victory that not only snapped their AFC South Division rival's lengthy nine-game win streak, but also kept the Colts, at 7-6, right smack dab in the middle of the playoff picture.
It was a terrific bounce-back performance for a Colts team that saw its defense come to play last week on the road against the Jacksonville Jaguars, but the offense really struggled, and Indy flew home with a 6-0 shutout loss, ending its own five-game win streak.
That wouldn't be the case today, however. After a relatively slow start — the Colts didn't get a single first down in the first quarter, and Houston (9-4) jumped out to a 7-0 lead.
But things would settle on from there for the Colts — thanks in large part to Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton, as well as a swarming defensive effort from Denico Autry & Co. — and, this time around, Indy will be celebrating on the flight home.
Ahh. That's more like it.
The Colts' offense came into Sunday's game against the Texans struggling a bit on offense — a bit surprising considering the team's offensive firepower it displayed during its five-game win streak. And that trend continued through the first quarter and a half against Houston.
But Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton did what they do to get everything back on track.
After Denico Autry sacked Deshaun Watson on third down to force a Houston punt, the Colts — trailing 7-0 — took over, 1st and 10 from their own 36-yard line with 7:32 left in the second quarter.
Luck immediately went for the jugular, however, launching a bomb Hilton's way on the very first play of the drive — and, of course, The Ghost had broken wide open down the middle of the field. Hilton caught the ball and was brought down at the Houston 4-yard line, completing the 60-yard play.
The pressure now off, the Colts' offense could just play ball.
On the very next play, Luck would hand it off to running back Marlon Mack, who punched it in from four yards out for the game-tying touchdown, and the Indy offense would be able to open things up a bit from there.
The touchdown was the first for the Colts in six quarters, and was Mack's fifth rushing score of the season.
PLAY OF THE GAME
Jumpin' Jadeveon put the Colts in victory formation.
While the Colts were able to establish a 10-point lead over the Texans for much of the second half on Sunday, Houston, of course, wasn't going to just give up. And with 2:44 left in the fourth quarter, Deshaun Watson scrambled to find his top receiver DeAndre Hopkins, for a seven-yard touchdown in the back of the end zone, cutting Indy's lead to just three, 24-21.
A defensive stop for Houston, and maybe they could do what Indianapolis was able to do back in Week 4: force overtime. From there, anything could happen.
And, three plays into that ensuing Colts drive, there was the Indianapolis offense, facing a 3rd and 1 from its own 48-yard line.
There's pretty much one rule as a defender in this scenario: Do. Not. Jump. Offsides.
Andrew Luck certainly tried as he went through his cadence a few times.
But Jadeveon Clowney just couldn't resist. With the play clock winding down, Luck had one more convincing "hut!" call, forcing Clowney to jump across the line.
The resulting neutral zone infract penalty on the Texans was all the Colts needed from there. Three kneels later, and Indy had wrapped this thing up.
How about Denico Autry?
The Colts thought they were getting the type of interior defensive lineman that, with the right opportunities, could absolutely wreak havoc against the quarterback when they signed him in free agency in March.
They were right.
Last week against the Jaguars, Autry absolutely went off, logging three sacks and two forced fumbles, and on Sunday, it was much of the same: he finished with four tackles (two for a loss), two sacks and two quarterback hits, as Deshaun Watson never was able to feel any sort of comfort in the pocket all day.
Autry has missed four games on the season with various injuries, but he's showing exactly what he's able to do when healthy. He's up to 8.0 sacks on the season — a very solid number for an interior defensive lineman.
WHAT WENT RIGHT:
• Adding to Autry's play, the Colts' defense, particularly up front, was outstanding on Sunday. The team logged five sacks — two from Autry and one each from Margus Hunt, Darius Leonard and Kenny Moore II — as well as nine tackles for loss. The pressure on the quarterback nonwithstanding, the Texans — who had found all sorts of success running the ball during their nine-game winning streak — were mostly stuffed on the ground on Sunday. They finished with 25 rushing attempts for 89 yards — an average of 3.6 yards per carry.
• T.Y. Hilton certainly went right for the Colts on Sunday. He continued his dominance in Houston with nine catches for 199 yards, averaging 22.1 yards per grab, and making big plays all over the field for Luck and the Colts' offense. He had catches of 60, 34, 29, 28 and 19 yards, as the Texans' secondary struggled to do anything to stop him. Hilton's 199 receiving yards, by the way? Second best performance of his career. His best, of course, was a nine-catch, 223-yard, one-touchdown performance in Houston, of all places, on Oct. 9, 2014.
• Andrew Luck started the game completing 8-of-16 passes for 72 yards and an interception, a play made by safety Andre Hal with 9:41 left in the second quarter with the Colts trailing, 7-0. The rest of the game? Luck completed 19-of-25 passes for 327 yards with two touchdowns and no picks. Not much else to explain here.
WHAT WENT WRONG:
• The Texans have one of the best run-stopping defenses in the NFL, but the Colts really wanted to come out and establish something on the ground on Sunday. That didn't end up panning out, however. A combination of an impressive effort by the Houston defensive front, coupled with the momentum of the Colts' passing game really didn't help in those efforts, as Indy finished with 23 rushing attempts for just 50 yards — an average of 2.2 yards per carry.
• This is nitpicky considering the way the Colts played on Sunday, but the team failed to earn a takeaway on defense for the first time all season. The Colts entered the game the only team in the NFL to have forced at least one turnover in all 12 games. Again, the way the defense played in general, this wasn't an issue. But defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus will certainly study the couple of close calls from today's game to figure out where his unit could've gotten the ball back for its offense.
— Right guard Mark Glowinski twice left Sunday's game with an ankle injury, so we'll see later this week if he's able to get back in time for next week's clash against the Dallas Cowboys. Also, T.Y. Hilton seemed like he hobbled off the field after his big 60-yard reception in the second quarter, and even was off the field for a few offensive plays, but he was able to return. Frank Reich confirmed after the game it was an ankle issue, but that Hilton was able to toughen it out.
The Colts' playoff hopes stay alive for another week, but another tough opponent comes calling next Sunday. That's when the NFC East-leading Dallas Cowboys travel to Lucas Oil Stadium for a 1 p.m. ET kickoff. The Cowboys entered this afternoon's game against the Philadelphia Eagles with a 7-5 record, winners of four straight. While Dallas has been inconsistent at times on offense — they are 24th in the league at 331.8 yards per game — its defense has been lights out. The Cowboys allow just 318.2 yards per contest, which ranks fourth in the league. They're solid against the pass (226.9 yards allowed per game average, ranking seventh), but they're even better against the run (91.2 yards per game allowed, ranking fourth). Their 18.6 points allowed per game figure, meanwhile, ranks second in the league.
See all the action on the field at NRG Stadium as the Indianapolis Colts face the Houston Texans in a pivotal AFC South showdown.