Colts Rally to Beat Houston Texans, 31-27, at Reliant Stadium in Houston
HOUSTON, Texas – They spent their bye week focused on basics and fundamentals, seeking the consistency that eluded them early in the season.
Tony Dungy wasn't quite sure the Colts found it Sunday afternoon. And the club's seventh-year head coach said the team for a long, long time didn't play with the necessary passion, either.
And then, suddenly – miraculously – the Colts did.
They found the passion.
They made big, improbable plays.
And they somehow, some way, found a way to win.
The Colts, the five-time defending AFC South champions, fell behind by 17 points in the fourth quarter before rallying for a second improbable victory in three games, scoring 21 points in a late fourth-quarter span of 2:10 for a 31-27 victory over the Houston Texans in front of 70,118 at Reliant Stadium Sunday afternoon.
"That game certainly ran the whole gamut of emotions for us," Dungy said. "I've never been involved in one quite like that where we played the first 10 minutes pretty well, not too well in between, then the last four we played with some passion and intensity and got some breaks to win it. . . .
"The one thing that was positive was we hung in there. We played all the way through. That's what the NFL is all about. You have to play 60 minutes."
The Colts (2-2), who in Week 2 rallied from a 15-0 third-quarter deficit for an 18-15 victory over Minnesota, forced three turnovers in the game's final four minutes Sunday, scoring on a defensive touchdown and two touchdown passes by eight-time Pro Bowl quarterback Peyton Manning to stay within two-and-half games of unbeaten Tennessee (5-0) in the AFC South.
"We were fortunate," said Manning, who completed 25 of 34 passes for 247 yards and two touchdowns with an interception for a 101.0 passer rating.
"It certainly feels a lot better (to be 2-2 rather than 1-3). I go back to what Ebbie Calvin LaLoosh said in Bull Durham: 'I love winning. It's like . . . you know, better than losing.' It's a pretty brilliant quote on his part. You don't take winning for granted. I know how that team feels in the other locker room. They played a heck of a game and didn't get the win. That's football a little bit. . . .
"I was proud of the guys for never giving up and fighting until the end."
The Colts trailed, 27-10, after Texans rookie running back Steve Slaton's 1-yard run with 8:18 remaining. Indianapolis still trailed, 27-17, after Manning passed six yards to rookie tight end Tom Santi with 4:04 remaining.
Then, the defense began to make big plays. And the momentum changed drastically.
Following an unsuccessful onside kick, Texans quarterback Sage Rosenfels rushed for seven yards on 3rd-and-8 from the Colts 39. As he was about to be tackled, he leaped into the air, was hit by Colts cornerback Marlin Jackson, then defensive tackle Raheem Brock's hit separated Rosenfels from the ball.
Colts middle linebacker and defensive captain Gary Brackett returned the fumble 68 yards for a touchdown to make it, 27-24, Texans with 3:36 remaining.
"We definitely didn't want to be down 1-3," Brackett said. "That's not something we imagined going into the season and we were facing it. Fifty-six minutes into the ball game, we were facing being down 1-3. One thing we said after we came up with that last touchdown was, 'Don't give up.' . . . As long as there's time on the clock, you have a chance to win the game."
On the Texans' next series, Rosenfels scrambled to his left and Colts defensive end Robert Mathis sacked him from behind, stripping the ball away and recovering the fumble.
"That was huge," Brackett said.
"I was hoping he would just hold onto the ball," Mathis said. "Somebody had to make a play. That's just the bottom line."
Two plays later, Manning threw a fade pass to two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Reggie Wayne (seven receptions, 97 yards), who touched his shin down just in bounds.
Colts 31, Texans 27.
"I just had to make a play," Wayne said. "Peyton threw the ball and I just had to do my job, and that's to catch it."
One minute, 54 seconds remained, and on the sixth play of the ensuing drive, Colts second-year safety Melvin Bullitt intercepted Rosenfels to preserve the victory.
"You get to the point where you feel like it's not going to happen," Dungy said. "We just were not sharp, but we gave ourselves a chance to win at the end.
"It wasn't one of those things where you said, 'Hey, if we can just get one play we're going to win this game.' It was a credit to our guys. They continued to fight. That's about all you can say."
The Colts scored on each of their first two possessions, taking a 10-0 lead after the first quarter. It was the Colts' largest lead of the season and the first time in four games this season the Colts had scored on their first two possessions.
The Texans, playing without starting quarterback Matt Schaub – hospitalized with an illness Saturday night – scored on five of their next seven possessions, but committed turnovers on their last three drives.
Rosenfels completed 21 of 33 passes for 246 yards and a touchdown, and Slaton rushed for 93 yards and two touchdowns. Wide receiver Andre Johnson, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, caught nine passes for 131 yards and a touchdown.
The Colts, a playoff team the past six seasons, were in danger of being tied with the Texans (0-4) for third place in the four-team South. The Texans entered the game 1-11 against the Colts, with their previous victory in the series coming in December 2006, 27-24, on a last-play field goal.
"Halfway through this game, you look at it and say, 'If we lose this game we're in last place – somewhere I can't remember us being other than my rookie year – in 2001," Wayne said. "You just keep scratching and biting, doing whatever it takes to try to pull it out. We've been here before, down to the last seconds of a game. It's worked in our favor and it hasn't. It worked out for us today. You can't ever be angry at a win, but we have to figure it out."
The game was imant, Wayne said, because it was the difference between "last place and not last place.
"You never want to lose, period," Wayne said. "If we lose this game, we're in last place. That's a hard hole to climb out of with Tennessee doing their thing and Jacksonville and everybody winning. We just wanted to do whatever we could to win this game."
The Colts took a 3-0 lead with 9:42 remaining when kicker Adam Vinatieri converted a 46-yard field goal, ending a nine-play, 45-yard drive on the game's opening possession.
After forcing a Texans punt, Indianapolis drove 64 yards on nine plays, taking a 10-0 lead on a 1-yard touchdown run by third-year running back Joseph Addai with 2:16 remaining in the quarter.
The Colts converted 4th-and-1 situations en route to each first-quarter score. On the first drive, Addai gained six yards on a run to the right on 4th-and-1 from the Texans 41.
On the second drive, Manning threw deep to Wayne on 4th-and-1 from the Texans 45. Wayne caught the pass just in bounds at the Houston 9.
The Texans cut the lead to three with a one-yard touchdown run by Slaton, a play that capped a nine-play, 71-yard drive with 12:06 remaining in the second quarter. After a Colts three-and-out and a punt, the Texans drove 49 yards to tie the game, 10-10, with a 37-yard field goal by Kris Brown.
Vinatieri missed a 49-yard field goal on the possession after Brown's field goal, after which Houston drove quickly to take its first lead, with Johnson catching a 5-yard touchdown pass from Rosenfels.
Johnson's touchdown came with :27 remaining in the quarter, and Texans linebacker Zac Diles intercepted Manning to end the Colts' last drive of the half.
After 27 first-half points, neither team scored for the 14:39 of the third quarter.
That changed with 21 seconds remaining in the quarter when Brown converted a 43-yard field goal to cap a 15-play, 67-yard drive that consumed 8:47.
The field goal extended the Texans' lead to 10.
The Texans pushed the lead to 17 on a 1-yard run by Slaton with 8:18 remaining, giving the Texans 27 consecutive points.
"It was one of those things that was quite a shock," Dungy said of the Texans turning a 10-point deficit into a 17-point lead, adding of the ensuing rally, "It was really just unbelievable. They scored to go up 27-10, and you're just disappointed we didn't stop them. You're feeling like we just didn't do the job on defense. Then, with our offensive guys you know you can score quickly. It's a matter of, 'Are you going to get the ball back?' It was quite the range of emotions.
"We can play a lot better than we've played these first four weeks and hopefully, in this second quarter of the season we'll do that."
Said Brock, "It was close, but it's never over. Young guys needed that experience. It was a big game. A real big game for us. We needed that. It was in the division and a lot of things could go different it we'd lost the game, but we stepped up in those last couple of minutes."