INDIANAPOLIS – Since the NFL realigned divisions in 2002, the Colts have had more than a few battles with the Houston Texans.
Though the series is one-sided in appearance with Indianapolis winning 16 of 19 previous meetings, many games in the series have been tightly-contested affairs.
The teams meet twice each season, with this Thursday night in Indianapolis closing the season series against the Texans. Two previous series renewals in past seasons found Indianapolis making comebacks from double-digit deficits to gain victories.
The second meetings with the Texans in 2003 and 2009 held different meanings for Indianapolis, and they were compelling wins.
In the season finale on December 28, 2003, the Colts needed a fourth-quarter rally and all 60 minutes to clinch the AFC South Division title. Indianapolis needed the win to finish ahead of Tennessee. Both teams entered the final game with 11-4 records, and the Colts would take the division if both teams finished tied, based on a sweep of the Titans. Tennessee won earlier in the day, so a victory for the Colts was essential.
After a scoreless first 19 minutes at Houston, kicker Mike Vanderjagt got things started with a 39-yard field goal early in the second quarter.
The Texans answered immediately with an eight-play, 68-yard drive capped off when running back Domanick Davis scored on an 11-yard run.
Quarterback Peyton Manning was intercepted on the next Colts possession and after a facemask penalty on the return, Houston was set up at the Indianapolis 19-yard line. Texans quarterback David Carr appeared to have hit wide receiver Andre Johnson on an 18-yard scoring pass, but replay overturned the call and Houston settled for a field goal and a 10-3 lead at the break.
Indianapolis had 172 net yards in the half, with Manning hitting 14-of-21 passes and running back Edgerrin James rushing for 66 yards, but the 5-10 Texans led the 11-4 Colts.
Coming out of the break, the Texans wasted no time adding to their lead by scoring on their first possession. Davis tallied on a 13-yard run to end a 63-yard drive.
After an exchange of punts, Indianapolis started its move from a 14-point deficit. The Colts took the last 5:33 off the third-period clock in starting from its 33-yard line. Four James rushes for 45 yards, one for 26 yards on first-and-20 to start the possession, along with three Manning completions, one converting a third down, placed Indianapolis at the Houston six-yard line for the opening play of the fourth quarter. James burst across to cut the margin to 17-10.
A James fumble at the Houston 30-yard line moments later ended an Indianapolis threat, then Vanderjagt pooch-punted to the Houston four-yard line on the next possession to pin the Texans deep in their territory with 5:22 to go.
Still needing another touchdown to tie the game, cornerback Donald Strickland intercepted Carr with 4:04 remaining and returned the theft 19 yards to the Texans' five-yard line.
From there, Manning found wide receiver Brandon Stokley for a five-yard score tying the score at 17 with 3:50 remaining. Tennessee was watching while the Colts had their eyes glued on trying to win the division.
The defense quickly forced a three-and-out and the offense took over at its own 10-yard line with 2:40 remaining.
Manning would lead the offense on a 12-play, 65-yard drive that ate up the entire clock. James rushed twice for 23 yards, while Manning kept twice himself. He also hit two-of-four passing on the drive before kneeling at the Houston 24-yard line to set up a division-winning 43-yard attempt for Vanderjagt with five seconds remaining. Vanderjagt booted the field goal at the gun to hand Indianapolis the division title.
Vanderjagt set an NFL record with his 41st consecutive made field goal. Pacing the way for the offense was a 27-carrry, 171-yard effort by James. The Colts out-gained the Texans, 418-204, and had 17 more first downs than Houston.
However, it was the defense that made the stops in the second half to allow the offense to get its chance to win the game. The defense held the Texans to two-of-11 on third downs and forced seven punts to go along with the vital interception by Strickland.
The Colts had won the first of an eventual five straight division titles.
The teams met in Reliant Stadium again on November 29, 2009.
Looking to record a franchise record with their 20th consecutive regular-season victory, the 10-0 Colts once again needed to rally from a double-digit deficit.
The Texans jumped on the Colts from the start by scoring a pair of touchdowns in the first quarter before Kris Brown added a field goal early in the second for a 17-0 lead.
Quarterback Matt Schaub hit running back Vonta Leach on a seven-yard pass for the first score, then the Texans tallied on a short run to push the lead to 14-0. Indianapolis punted, then turned the ball over before Brown added the 35-yard field goal for a 17-0 lead 19 minutes into the game.
Determined to make a comeback, the Colts answered the Brown field goal as Manning and wide receiver Pierre Garcon got the scoring started with a nine-yard touchdown connection on the following possession.
Brown would tack on another field goal and the Texans took a 20-7 lead into halftime.
Houston dominated the first half statistically, out-gaining the Colts, 242-127. Houston had 16 first downs and 90 rushing yards, while Schaub was 14-of-17 passing for 152 yards and one score. Manning, though picked off twice, hit 12-of-15 passes for 110 yards. Houston held the ball for almost 20 minutes of the half.
The Colts struck on the first drive of the second half as Manning and the offense went 80 yards in nine plays. Wide receiver Reggie Wayne caught a four-yard touchdown pass to end the drive.
The scoring would quiet down over the next 15 minutes before the Colts' onslaught started in the fourth quarter.
Before then, Schaub was picked off by Colts safety Antoine Bethea, but Indianapolis punted once before kicker Matt Stover missed from 32 yards out on a field goal attempt early in the final quarter.
With a major winning streak on the line, Manning would throw his third touchdown of afternoon with 8:24 remaining as tight end Dallas Clark hauled in a six-yard score to put the Colts ahead, 21-20.
Two plays later the defense would get into the scoring act as linebacker Clint Session intercepted Schaub and return the takeaway 27 yards for a touchdown. It was Indianapolis ahead, 28-20, with 8:09 left in the game.
The defense was not done. On the next possession defensive end Robert Mathis forced a Schaub fumble and defensive end Raheem Brock recovered at the Houston 37-yard line.
The Colts put the game out of reach four plays later when running back Chad Simpson scored on a 23-yard touchdown run with 2:52 to play.
The Texans scored a final touchdown with 25 seconds left to make the final score 35-27.
Indianapolis clinched the AFC South title, joining San Francisco (1997), Philadelphia (2004) and New England (2007) as then the only teams since 1990 to clinch a division crown after 11 games. Indianapolis was wire-to-wire division winners in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2009.
The Colts set a league record with their fifth straight fourth-quarter comeback victory. Indianapolis extended its franchise record with a 20th consecutive regular-season victory and became the second team to earn a streak of 20 consecutive regular-season victories (21, New England, 2006-08). Indianapolis won its next three outings to establish a new league record with 23 straight wins. The win at Houston marked then 14th 11-0 start in NFL history, the second for the club in the last five years (13-0, 2005). The victory marked the seventh consecutive season the Colts won 11 games, surpassing the record of six it shared with Dallas (1976-81).
Jim Caldwell surpassed Wally Lemm (10, Houston, 1961; St. Louis, 1962) for the most consecutive wins to start a career. He also became the only coach ever to start 11-0 when succeeding a head coach who won 100 games (139, Tony Dungy). Manning (27-35-244, 3 TDs/2 ints.) surpassed QB-John Elway (4,123) for 3rd-most completions in NFL history. It was the fifth time Manning directed the club to victory from 17 -point deficit, then the most times by any NFL QB.