HOUSTON —The Indianapolis Colts on Sunday afternoon defeated the Houston Texans, 20-14, in their Week 9 matchup at NRG Stadium.
What's top of mind for the Colts after improving to 3-6 on the year?
In a true roller-coaster of a game for the Colts against the Texans, all that ever ends up mattering is the final result.
Photos from the week 9 game at NRG Stadium against the Houston Texans
And on Sunday, that result was a win. Through cycles of solid play, and then struggles, from the Colts' offense throughout the day, they fly home victorious for the first time in 2017.
There was the first 1 3/4 quarters, which was all Colts. Then the Texans stole the momentum in the final minutes of the second quarter. Then came an uneventful third quarter — until T.Y. Hilton was able to make the eventual game-winning play late in the period after diving at the Houston 35-yard line, going untouched, getting up and jogging into the end zone from there. And then came another interesting fourth quarter, in which the Colts certainly had their chances to really put the game away, but just couldn't, and then they saw Texans backup quarterback Tom Savage — in for the injured Deshaun Watson — drive his team to the Indianapolis 6-yard line for one final chance to get in the end zone and come away with an improbable win, only to see Jabaal Sheard break through for a huge game-sealing strip sack.
It's OK. You can breathe now.
It's the Colts' first win in the AFC South Division, and it's much needed with the always-tough Pittsburgh Steelers coming to Indianapolis next Sunday, followed by a late-season bye week.
Down 20-14 with 3:10 left in the fourth quarter, Savage trotted out onto the field with a chance to drive 80 yards down the field, find a way to get the ball into the end zone, and rip the Colts' hearts out with another Texans improbable come-from-behind home victory.
The Texans got as far as the Indianapolis seven-yard line. On First and Goal from the seven: incomplete pass to wide receiver Bruce Ellington. On Second and Goal: incomplete to tight end Stephen Anderson. And on Third and Goal: incomplete to DeAndre Hopkins.
So on 4th and Goal from the 7, the Texans had one more shot.
But Jabaal Sheard was having none of that.
Sheard, who had gotten a strip sack of Savage earlier in the game, saved his best for last, as he battled past left tackle Chris Clark and rammed into the quarterback once again, forcing the ball out and into the safe hands of fellow outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo.
Sheard now owns the team-lead in sacks (4.5) and is tied with Darius Butler for the team lead in forced fumbles (two).
PLAY OF THE GAME
Can anyone say Marvin Harrison?
Remember in the 2003 playoffs against the Denver Broncos, when the future Hall of Fame receiver caught a slant pass across the middle of the field, fell to the turf, but has the presence of mind to get right up and sprint into the end zone after nobody from the Denver defense thought it would be a good idea to touch him down?
We had a similar situation in Houston on Sunday.
After an uneventful first 13 minutes of the third quarter for both teams, the Colts faced a 3rd and 9 from the Indianapolis 20 when quarterback Jacoby Brissett found his No. 1 receiver for the first down — and more. Hilton tip-toed down the left sideline to the Houston 35-yard line, where he dove back towards the field of play towards Texans cornerback Kareem Jackson, who reached out to try to touch Hilton down as he fell to the turf.
The only problem? Jackson didn't touch Hilton at all. So after playing possum for a couple seconds, Hilton got up and jogged into the end zone to complete the 80-yard touchdown play — his second TD of the afternoon — to put the Colts up 17-7 heading into the fourth quarter.
Hilton, who had just five catches combined in his previous three games, had five catches in all on Sunday for 175 yards and two touchdowns. That's an average of 35 yards per reception — not too shabby.
In the first three weeks of the season, Vontae Davis, the Colts' No. 1 cornerback, was unable to play due to an injured groin. In his absence, Rashaan Melvin moved into Davis' spot, but three different cornerbacks would end up starting as the team's second corner.
With Davis kept home this weekend due to what head coach Chuck Pagano said was a coaching decision, Melvin, again, moved over to the No. 1 corner spot, while the defense had a fourth different cornerback start in his place: Pierre Desir.
Desir had certainly filled in admirably in spot duty prior to Sunday's game — collecting 11 tackles and one pass defensed — but he stepped up in a big way against the Texans, who feature Hopkins and Will Fuller V, each of whom came into the game tied for the league lead with seven receiving touchdowns.
Desir had a game-best three passes defensed on the afternoon, and he also finished with three tackles, as Fuller V was held to two receptions for 32 yards.
Whatever happens from here with Davis, the Colts know that, like last year with Melvin, they have a veteran presence they can plug in when needed to play a critical role for their defense.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
• After spending most of the week preparing for a dynamic, athletic quarterback in Watson — who ended his season as the co-league leader with 19 touchdown passes, but also was always a threat to run the ball — the Colts' defense had to quickly shift its focus to a Savage, who brings a more traditional, dropback approach. And, really, until that final drive, the Indy defense had its way against Savage, who would end up completing just 43.2 percent of his passes (19-of-44) for 219 yards with a touchdown. The Colts would break up 10 of Savage's pass attempts, with inside linebacker Jon Bostic (two) and Desir (three) getting multiple deflections.
• The start of the game couldn't have gone better for the Colts, who limited the Texans to just one first down before forcing a punt on Houston's first possession, and then going 92 yards in seven plays on Indy's first possession, culminating in a beautiful 45-yard, over-the-top touchdown pass from Brissett to Hilton, to give the Colts an early 7-0 lead. Fast start indeed.
• Brissett had perhaps his best overall day of the season for the Colts, completing 20-of-30 passes for 308 yards and two touchdowns. After throwing multiple touchdowns for the first time in his career last week against the Cincinnati Bengals, Brissett did it again on Sunday against the Texans.
• Sheard was an obvious monster throughout the game for the Colts — he had a game-best four quarterback hits on the day — but Bostic also put in a solid day of work for the Indy defense. He finished with six tackles, two quarterback hits and two passes defensed, meaning he was able to make an impact both behind the line of scrimmage and in the secondary, which is just what the unit needs out of its inside linebacker.
WHAT WENT WRONG
• The big plays helped, obviously, but the Colts (17) would end up having fewer first downs than the Texans (19) on the day, and both teams struggled on third down, as each were just 4-of-14 (29 percent).
• For the sixth time this season, the Colts' offense surrendered a defensive touchdown. This time, with just 56 seconds left in the second quarter, Texans safety Eddie Pleasant rocked Brissett on his blindside, sending the ball backwards and right into the hands of outside linebacker Lamarr Houston, who runs 34 yards to the end zone for the defensive touchdown, cutting Indy's lead to 10-7. Indianapolis opponents have now had four pick-sixes and two fumble returns for touchdowns on the year.
• Despite struggling all afternoon to connect on much of anything, Savage was able to work some magic on the final drive of the game, connecting on passes of 16, 14, 6 and 10 yards to get to the Indianapolis 7-yard line. Ideally, the defense wouldn't wait until the final play of the ballgame to earn the victory like it did, but a win is a win.
• The Colts' offense wasn't ever really able to get much of a run game going, as they finished with 92 yards on 28 carries — an average of 3.3 yards per carry. Frank Gore had 17 rushes for 51 yards (3.0 YPC), Marlon Mack had nine carries for 29 yards (3.2 YPC) and Brissett had two carries for 12 yards (6.0 YPC).
• Pagano reported no major injuries to his players after the game.WHAT'S NEXT
The Colts head back home next Sunday, when they play host to the Steelers. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. ET on CBS.