HOUSTON — The Indianapolis Colts advanced to the Divisional Round of the 2018 playoffs with their 21-7 victory over the Houston Texans Saturday at NRG Stadium.
The Colts, the sixth seed, might’ve been the underdog in the AFC bracket against the third-seeded Texans, but having already played their AFC South Division rivals twice during the regular season, getting the win on the road back in Week 14, Indy knew what it would take to come out victorious in this one: winning in the trenches.
And, boy, did the Colts do that.
On offense, Indy ran for a postseason franchise record 200 rushing yards, with a single-game postseason record 148 of them coming from Marlon Mack.
On defense, the Colts limited the dangerous Deshaun Watson and his All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. The Indy defense finished the day with 3.0 sacks, 3.0 tackles for loss, eight quarterback hits, four passes defensed and one interception, and held Hopkins to five receptions for 37 yards and no touchdowns.
“Just a great team win,” Colts head coach Frank Reich said. “That’s all we talk about, just play as a team. Playoff football. We came in to this game saying we need to dominate up front, we need to play, we need to run the football, and we need to stop the run.
“A great team win.”
Here are the FIVE THINGS LEARNED from Saturday’s victory over the Texans:
• MACK TRUCK: Reich said he had a feeling the Colts would perform well in the run game on Saturday, but coming into the game, the numbers certainly didn’t back up his premonition. The Texans had the stingiest run defense in the league during the regular season, allowing an NFL-low 3.4 yards-per-carry, and gave up just 41 and 50 rushing yards, respectfully, to the Colts in their first two matchups this season. But with center Ryan Kelly back in the mix after missing a game with a neck injury, Indy had its preferred offensive line in place to start the playoffs, and Anthony Castonzo, Quenton Nelson, Kelly, Mark Glowinski and Braden Smith put in work on Saturday against one of the best defensive lines around, and Mack did the rest from there, gashing Houston up and down the field. “We had a good week last week against a good defense. We’ve had multiple good weeks. There was just a real strong conviction this week, for us as a team, that this is what it’s going to take to make some noise in the playoffs,” Reich said after the game. “We know we have an elite quarterback, and we can throw it for 400 (yards) and win when we have to. But what we talked about is the margin for error in playoff football when you try to do it that way is very thin. It’s a very thin margin of error. But when you can win like this, when you can win running the football and stopping it, that’s just everything.”
• SWARM TO THE BALL: The Texans have proven that with Deshaun Watson at quarterback, they have the ability score points with anybody in the league. The Colts know first-hand just how dangerous the second-year Clemson product can be, whether it’s with his arm or making plays happen with his legs. And while Watson did lead the Texans in rushing on Saturday — he had eight carries for 76 yards — the Colts’ defense was able to limit his effectiveness through the air. Watson finished his day completing 29-of-49 passes (59 percent) for 235 yards with one touchdown and one interception apiece, for an overall quarterback rating of just 69.7. Indy also stepped up when it mattered most on third down (the Texans were just 3-of-13), on fourth down (Texans were 2-of-5) and in the red zone (Texans scored a touchdown in just 1-of-2 trips there). “We talked about it all week – being physical and winning up front,” said linebacker Anthony Walker, who had six tackles on the day. “That’s where the game will be won and lost at, so we went in knowing that we had to stop the run, and we wanted to play on that line of scrimmage the majority of the game.”
• CLOWNING AROUND: T.Y. Hilton saves his best football for the fine folks at NRG Stadium, where he came into Sunday’s game averaging about 133 receiving yards and a touchdown in his seven career games there. When he had 199 receiving yards back in the Colts’ Week 14 victory in Houston, Hilton joked that NRG Stadium was like his second home. Asked about that comment this past week, Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph replied, “Nah, man, that’s for clowns,” in reference to Hilton. So what does Hilton do? He shows up to NRG Stadium wearing … a clown mask. And then he backs it up on the field once again, particularly on the Colts’ all-important first drive of the game, when he hauls in two huge third-down receptions and then gets to the Houston 6-yard line on a 38-yard reception from Luck. On the next play, Luck finds tight end Eric Ebron for the six-yard touchdown, and the Colts wouldn’t look back from there. Hilton, who continues battling through a painful ankle injury, finished his day with five receptions for 85 yards. “Chatter’s chatter, man,” Hilton said of Joseph after the game. “We’re just two guys that’s competing, but I wanted to go out there and start fast. I knew it was going to be a hostile crowd. We didn’t have a lot of guys that made the playoffs so the guys that made the playoffs I wanted to go out there and set the tone early, try to get the crowd out the game. That’s what we did.”
• KANSAS CITY HERE I COME: The Colts’ win advances them to the Divisional Round of the playoffs, where the AFC’s No. 1 seed, the Kansas City Chiefs, await. The Colts and Chiefs kickoff from Arrowhead Stadium at 4:35 p.m. ET next Saturday, Jan. 12, in a game televised on NBC. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know the Chiefs are led by the league’s top offensive unit, and are headlined by league MVP favorite Patrick Mahomes, who completed 383-of-580 passes (65.9 percent) for 5,381 yards with 50 touchdowns to 13 interceptions. But the chink in Kansas City’s armor during the regular season was its defense, which ranked 31st in the league in yards, 32nd in first downs, 22nd in passing touchdowns, 27th in rushing yards and 31st in rushing average allowed. But, again, after starting 1-5 and winning 10 of their next 11 games to make the playoffs, and then advance to the Divisional Round, the Colts and Reich are sticking to the “1-0” mindset. “That’s what happens when you believe in each other, and you work hard every day and you just get a little bit better. One percent better every day, that’s what we talk about. Just get one percent better. As the season goes on, that’s a long climb. If you can keep getting better throughout the season with the players that we have, I believe we’re right where we should be.”
• NOTES OF INTEREST:
— The Colts shut out the Houston Texans in the first half. It is the first time the Colts have shut out an opponent in the first half of a playoff game since 1/8/11 vs. the New York Jets.
— Since 1994, Darius Leonard’s 13 tackles are tied for second in team history in a playoff game, trailing only Jerrell Freeman’s 15 vs. Cincinnati on 1/4/15.
— Adam Vinatieri, who went a perfect 3-for-3 on PATs on the day — joined George Blanda as the only players to appear in a playoff game at 46 years or older.