INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts today fell to the Houston Texans, 37-34, in overtime in their 2018 regular season Week 4 matchup at Lucas Oil Stadium.
What's top of mind for the Colts as they move to 1-3 on the season?
A gutsy comeback. A gamble. And, in the end, a crushing loss.
That was the theme on Sunday for the Colts, who fought all the way back from an 18-point deficit more than halfway through the third quarter to force overtime against the Texans, and then trade field goals with their AFC South Division rivals during that period.
But on the Colts' final possession — next score wins — head coach Frank Reich elected to go for it on 4th and 4 from the Indianapolis 43-yard line, with just 27 seconds left on the clock.
If you don't move the chains, then the Texans take over on downs with a chance to get at least one or two quick plays before attempting a game-winning field goal.
Quarterback Andrew Luck, lined up in the shotgun on the fourth down play, fired a pass to the right to wide receiver Chester Rogers, whose heroics were key to Indy's big comeback to that point. But the ball fell to the turf, and Houston didn't take long to pounce from there.
On the very next play, quarterback Deshaun Watson found his top target, DeAndre Hopkins, for a 24-yard pass play to the Indianapolis 19-yard line. He spiked the ball with three seconds left, and Ka'imi Fairbairn came on to connect on a game-winning 37-yard field goal to give Houston the 37-34 overtime victory.
Pundits are questioning the decision to go for it there on fourth down, on your own side of the field, but Reich said after the game he'll go for it there 10 times out of 10. With the way the offense was rolling down the stretch, it could be hard to disagree with that.
But now the Colts have to put it all in the past — and now — because they head into a short week against the defending AFC champions. Indy travels to take on the New England Patriots on Thursday Night Football.
Nothing seemed to be going right for the Colts after a successful first drive that ended with a four-yard touchdown to wide receiver Zach Pascal.
Receivers were dropping passes. The Houston defensive front was humming. The Texans' offense was capitalizing on prime field position, despite another spirited effort by the Colts' defense.
Then Luck went to work.
Down 18 points, 28-10, after a five-yard touchdown run by Watson with 6:45 left in the third quarter, Luck would lead the Colts on a 21-3 run over the next 21 or so minutes, and by the end of regulation, the two teams were somehow tied at 31.
The revealing moment, however, came on the impressive drive that ended up tying the game and forcing overtime.
After the Texans finally were able to get back on the scoreboard with a 40-yard Fairbairn field goal with 3:02 left in the fourth quarter, Luck and the Colts' offense took the field down eight, 31-23, with 2:53 left in the period.
Key plays: Luck to Chester Rogers down the middle on 3rd and 3 from their own 22, 22 yards. Luck to Pascal, right side of the field, 17 yards. Luck to Ryan Grant, 13 yards. Luck to Rogers for 10 yards to the Houston 9-yard line.
Then, on 1st and Goal from the 9, Luck found his tough rookie running back Nyheim Hines in the middle of the field for a touchdown — the rookie's second receiving score of the day.
But Indy needed a two-point conversion to force overtime.
On that play, Luck faked a handoff and then immediately fired a pass to Rogers, who came down with yet another tough grab in the end zone, officially tying the game with 45 seconds left.
Luck was tremendous on what ended up being a career-best day for completions (40), attempts (62) and yards (464), while he finished with four touchdown throws.
PLAY OF THE GAME
Hines might be just 5-foot-9, but the N.C. State product certainly didn't look it on his first touchdown reception of the day on Sunday.
With 5:21 left in the third quarter, and the Colts trailing by their biggest deficit, 28-10, Hines lined up as a receiver on the right side of the field by the numbers, in one-on-one coverage against Pro Bowl safety Tyrann Mathieu.
On 1st and 10 from the Houston 14-yard line, Luck, lined up in the shotgun, had a quick three-step drop, quickly scanned his options, and then fired a pass towards the right edge of the end zone.
Hines was able to get his body under control, leap up and grab the pass at its highest point over Mathieu, which is impressive enough, but then he also was able to stay in-bounds to complete the catch and the touchdown — the rookie's first NFL receiving score. He'd add the aforementioned second touchdown catch later in the day.
We had heard all about Hines' abilities as a pass catcher coming out of college, and had seen some flashes during training camp and early in the season. But nothing looked like what he was able to do out in space against a top-of-the-line safety on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Don't forget about Denico Autry.
The fifth-year veteran signed with the Colts as a free agent this offseason, and was seen as an ideal fit both inside and on the edge for Indy's new 4-3 defensive approach.
Offseason and training camp practices only confirmed those thoughts for the Colts' coaching staff, who loved what Autry was brining to the table — particularly at the three-technique spot inside.
But after getting the start Week 1 against the Cincinnati Bengals, Autry suffered an ankle injury in practice the following week, and would miss the next two games.
He re-introduced himself to Colts fans loud and clear on Sunday.
Autry finished his day with nine total tackles — four of which were for a loss — and had two sacks, his first as a member of the Colts.
Autry's first sack came with 9:36 left in the first quarter, on 1st and 10 from the Indianapolis 39-yard line. Houston was looking to answer the Colts' touchdown on their opening drive, but the sack on Watson — and another sack on the ensuing play by rookie Darius Leonard, his fourth of the season — took the Texans out of field goal range.
Autry's second sack, meanwhile, came at the start of the fourth quarter, and also eventually forced a punt. The Colts would turn that drive into a five-yard touchdown pass to tight end Eric Ebron to make the score 28-23 with 7:45 left.
Autry was already known as a solid run defender, but in this 4-3 system he's also unleashed as a pass rusher. With the ability to line up inside or on the edge, he's a useful weapon for defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus.
WHAT WENT RIGHT:
• The Colts' defense had seven sacks on the day. Autry had two; Leonard, Anthony Walker, Margus Hunt, Jihad Ward got one apiece, while Jabaal Sheard and Kemoko Turay split a sack. The Colts also had nine total tackles for loss on the day, and limited the Texans to a 3.4 yards-per-carry average on the ground. The Texans' offense, for the most part, took advantage of some tremendous field position, while the team also scored a defensive touchdown on a botched snap, so don't overlook the way the Indy defense came to play on Sunday.
• Situationally, the Colts were much better on offense on Sunday. Last week against the Philadelphia Eagles, Indianapolis converted just 2-of-12 (17 percent) attempts on third down, and scored touchdowns on just 1-of-5 trips to the red zone. Against the Texans? They were 10-of-17 (59 percent) on third down and scored touchdowns on all four trips to the red zone.
• Pascal is one tough son of a gun. He made the Colts' initial 53-man roster after an impressive training camp and preseason, but was mostly utilized as a kickoff returner on special teams and as an occasional piece in the passing game the first three weeks of the season. That all changed on Sunday, particularly when top receiver T.Y. Hilton suffered a couple of injuries, the second of which a hamstring injury that knocked him out of the game. The first-year Old Dominion product, who spent much of last season on the Tennessee Titans' practice squad, finished with six receptions for 56 yards and his first-career touchdown, hauling in a four-yard touchdown from Luck on the Colts' opening drive of the ballgame. Whether or not Hilton is good to go for the short-week matchup against the Patriots, Pascal certainly is doing what he needs to do to earn more targets and opportunities moving forward.
WHAT WENT WRONG:
• The Colts had a couple key turnovers that immediately led to Texans touchdowns on Sunday. The first came at the 5:30 mark of the the first quarter, as the Colts, backed up to their own two-yard line, had a botched snap from center Ryan Kelly, and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney fell on it in the end zone for a touchdown to tie the game at 7. Then, at the 1:53 mark of the second quarter, Luck dropped back and was sacked by J.J. Watt, who stripped him of the ball, which was recovered by the Texans' Duke Ejiofor at the Indianapolis 8-yard line. Two plays later, Watson found Hopkins for a five-yard touchdown pass to go up 21-7 with 1:13 left in the first half. Indy hadn't really been hit hard with the turnover bug prior to today, so the team will hope those issues are just a blip on the radar by season's end.
• Speaking of Watt and Clowney — they did what Watt and Clowney do, especially late in the first quarter through early in the third quarter. The Colts were able to put the clamps on from that point for the most part, but not before each finished the day with two sacks. Watt had two forced fumbles, while Clowney had four tackles for loss in all. Not all of those are directly on the Colts' tackles, but the team was playing on Sunday with backups at left tackle (Le'Raven Clark) and right tackle (Denzelle Good), who, again, did a nice job rebounding later in the game, but had tough matchups all day on Sunday.
• The Colts had several self-inflicted wounds on Sunday, finishing with 10 penalties for 85 yards. The ones in critical situations always seem to sting more, obviously, and Indianapolis had a huge one on what ended up being their final drive. The team faced a 2nd and 1 from its 46-yard line when it seemed to convert on a one-yard run by Hines. But tight end Mo Alie-Cox was called for holding on the play, setting up 2nd and 11 from the Colts' 36 instead of 1st and 10 from the 46. On the very next play, Luck was sacked by Clowney for another loss of 10 yards, and any momentum the team was building had faded. After a 17-yard pass play to Alie-Cox, that's when Reich elected to go for it on 4th and 4 from his own 43. We all know what happened next.
— The Colts saw two major contributors exit Sunday's game with injuries: cornerback Kenny Moore II (concussion) and wide receiver T.Y. Hilton (hamstring). Hilton, who battled back through a chest injury suffered earlier in the game, could be on the outside looking in when the team takes on the Patriots on Thursday. We'll get an official update from Reich tomorrow.
Fortunately for the Colts, they don't have much time to dwell on today's loss. The team travels to Foxboro, Mass., in just three days to take on the reigning AFC champion Patriots in a nationally-televised matchup on Thursday Night Football. The Patriots defeated the Miami Dolphins, 38-7, today at Gillette Stadium to even their record at 2-2.
See all the action as the Colts face the Texans at Lucas Oil Stadium.