Colts end Texans winning streak to stay alive in AFC playoff race

Going into this game, I didn’t feel very confident in Indianapolis. In fact, I picked Houston to win. After coming off of a rough shutout loss in Jacksonville last weekend, the offensive struggles continued for the first quarter of this week. The Colts stumbled out of the gate with four consecutive 3-and-outs, then an interception on the fifth series. This certainly didn’t leave Indy fans with much optimism, but luckily the Indianapolis defense did show up to keep the game interesting. Forcing several punts, and getting to quarterback Deshaun Watson 5 times was a huge difference maker on the way to Indianapolis’ victory.

The Colts forced two 3-and-outs to begin the game, before giving up the first touchdown of the day late in the first quarter (Alfred Blue 1yd rush). The 7-0 score would stand until 6:33 left in the second quarter, when Colts’ running back Marlon Mack punched it into the end zone from 4 yards out. The Mack touchdown was set up by a beautiful 60 yard strike from Andrew Luck to T.Y. Hilton on the previous play. Hilton would go on to have a monster day with 9 receptions and 199 yards receiving. The next Texans series was again a 3-and-out, as the Indianapolis defense got the ball back into Andrew Luck’s hands in time for another Colts touchdown drive.

Indianapolis would start the next drive on their own 34 yard line, but quickly advance field position on a nice connection from Luck to Eric Ebron for 23 yards to the Houston 43. Two plays later, Luck would find wide receiver Zach Pascal for a big 28 yard chunk. After a one yard loss on a Nyhiem Hines stretch play, Luck connected with Ebron again, as the tight end extended into the end zone to put the Colts ahead. Ebron’s touchdown set a Colts franchise record for single season receiving touchdowns by a tight end with 12. The record was previously held by Dallas Clark. The Adam Vinatieri point after attempt, gave the Colts a 14-7 lead with just under 3 minutes left in the first half, but second quarter points party wasn’t done yet! After the Colts defense forced yet another punt, the Indy offense took control with 1:14 left in the half, which was just enough time to get in range for a 54 yard Adam Vinatieri field goal, and take a 17-7 lead into the halftime break.

Coming out after halftime, the Colts defense was a bit sluggish. Houston’s offense managed to orchestrate a 16 play, 75 yard scoring drive (Lamar Miller 1 yard rush), and close Indianapolis’ lead to just 3. The offensive mishaps from the first quarter would not return for the Colts though; as they would answer on a 12 yard passing touchdown from Luck to Pascal. This pushed the Indy lead back to 10 by a score of 24-14. That score stuck until late in the fourth quarter, as Deshaun Watson made a spectacular throw, finding an open DeAndre Hopkins in the back of the end zone for a Houston touchdown. With just 2:37 left to play and 2 timeouts, the Texans chose not to attempt an onside kick. Instead, they attempted to halt the Colts’ potent offense. On a 3rd and 1 after the two minute warning, Andrew Luck would pull out the hard count, and managed to get Texans’ linebacker Jedeveon Clowney to bite. This gave Indianapolis a first down, and allowed them to kneel and close out the win 24-21.

Final Thoughts: This was by all accounts a playoff game for Indianapolis. They absolutely needed this win to keep in contention for a wildcard spot, and rose to the occasion. At 7-6, they are tied with the Ravens, Dolphins, and Titans for the 6th seed. Indianapolis gets a two game home stand against the Cowboys (8-5) and the Giants (5-8), before traveling to Nashville for an AFC South showdown against the 7-6 Titans. Not an easy schedule for the Colts to get through, but not impossible either. Indianapolis’ road to the playoffs means winning out. I think to be a #6 seed, 10-6 will be the record to get to, and that still may not be enough. The Colts “one game at a time” and “obsession to finish” mantras need to resonate in the minds of Colts’ players now, more than ever, because one loss may put an end to the Colts 2018 campaign.

For Houston, they can’t let off the gas too much either. With their upcoming opponents having a combined record of 14-25, the Texans schedule seems favorable; However, playing the Jets in the Meadowlands and the Eagles in Philadelphia could produce a couple of hiccups for an indoor team forced to play in the elements. Then, a final test in week 17 against a Jaguars team that would love to spoil the end of their rival’s season is no gimme either. At 9-4, the Texans control their own playoff destiny. Win 2/3 and they’re in for sure. Win out, and they might find themselves with a first round bye.

Photo Credit Tim Warner/ Getty Images

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