INDIANAPOLIS –When the Colts report to work today, one opportunity that existed on Sunday is gone, but the big picture remains intact.
With its 29-17 loss, Indianapolis failed to extend the divisional race against Houston. A longshot scenario having the Colts win three games and Houston lose repeatedly is over, but the Colts maintain control of their playoff fate.
The Colts are the lone non-division-leading AFC team at 9-5. Three divisions are clinched, the East (New England), South and West (Denver).
Baltimore has clinched a playoff berth at 9-5, but has not sewn up the North. Cincinnati trails by one game and hosts Baltimore in the finale. Pittsburgh is 7-7, and the 6-7 New York Jets, 35-9 victors over the Colts in October, play tonight at Tennessee.
Interim Head Coach Bruce Arians said Sunday the post-season sights are reset, as is the approach to play smartly like the team has done most of the season.
"We can't come into a stadium like this and beat ourselves, have them block kicks, one-for-eight on the third down and one-for-three in the red zone," said Arians. "The penalties hurt us, and we beat ourselves in some areas.
"We (went there) with one idea, and that was to win the division and we're not going to win the division. They did it, and my hat is off to (them)."
Indianapolis battled a double-digit deficit most of the way, cutting it to 23-17 late in the third quarter. What seemed like the comeback theme prevalent this season dissolved as Houston owned the final period.
"It was exactly what the feeling was on the sideline. There was a great sense of confidence on our sideline when we got it back to within one (score)," said Arians.
An offense that had scored five straight touchdowns in the red zone over the last three wins converted one-of-three chances on Sunday. Eight penalties contributed to the loss, as did a special teams miscue. Houston gained 143 of its 178 rushing yards in the second half, including 79 in the fourth quarter.
Indianapolis had 272 net yards, its second-lowest seasonal total behind 269 against Tennessee a week ago. Andrew Luck was 13-of-27 for 186 yards, with two touchdowns. It was his seventh multiple-touchdown game this year, but it was his third straight game completing fewer than half of his attempts. Luck also has been sacked 11 times in 115 attempts during those games.
"They did a great job defensively of never letting us establish a rhythm," said Luck. "We knew they're a phenomenal defense with great players. They definitely brought the pressure to us as opposed to us bringing it to them and forced us into some bad decisions.
"We occasionally shot ourselves in the foot, but I think that's a credit to their defense putting the pressure on us and us not rising up to the occasion. For our defense to keep us in the game and then us not really take advantage of those opportunities when they showed was a killer for us."
Indianapolis visits Kansas City with a chance to clinch a playoff spot and earn a 10-win season. The Colts will be trying for a fourth road win, and competing consistently away from home has been a maturation process.
"Yeah, I think so," said Luck. "I think we're better prepared for every game just by virtue of having the young guys get more experience. So, I do think so.
"Obviously, we don't want to lose. We do realize there is a chance to still make the tournament, and we'll fight for that. We'll move on to the (Kansas City) Chiefs next week and see how we can do."