The victory was inspirational for the Colts who celebrated the return of head coach Chuck Pagano in style. They dictated the pace of play the entire game and beat up the favored Texans in all three phases of the game.
The Colts opened the game strong with a 13-play, seven-minute drive ending with an Andrew Luck to Coby Fleener touchdown.
The Texans responded with a nearly eight-minute drive of their own, but it ended with a field goal. That became a repeated theme of the day for Houston. The Texans settled for three field goals in four attempts as they were unable to punch the ball home in the red zone against a normally generous Indy defense.
Despite trailing 14-6 at halftime, the Texans ripped off 10-straight points to take a brief lead.
It lasted 12 seconds.
After a Shayne Graham field goal nudged the Texans ahead 16-14, Deji Karim of the Colts ran back the ensuing kickoff 101 yards, running virtually untouched in a straight line up the left hash mark the entire way.
The Colts would never trail again.
Houston did drive deep into Indianapolis territory early in the fourth quarter, but a third-down sack of Matt Schaub by Lawrence Guy pushed the Texans to outer limits of Graham's range. Gary Kubiak reacted to the potential 53-yard field goal try with confusion. He called timeout, then unwisely sent Graham out to kick.
The predictable miss set the Colts up with prime field position. After two runs netted a loss of three yards and a penalty wiped out a big first-down pass to Reggie Wayne, Luck went to work with the throw of the year.
On 3rd-and-23, he found T.Y. Hilton up the seam for a spectacular 70-yard touchdown pass putting the Colts up 12 with 11 minutes to play. Hilton finished the year with 50 catches and 861 yards, among the best rookie marks in franchise history.
The Texans again went to work, and moved the ball with ease, as Schaub kept feeding the ball to Andre Johnson. Johnson again plagued the Colts to the tune of 12 catches and 141 yards, but with Texans already at the Indy 30-yard line, the Colts finally figured out a way to stop him.
Vontae Davis played a deep ball toward Johnson perfectly, intercepting Schaub in the end zone. It was his second pick of Schaub, and as it turned out he never got another look at a third.
With 9:46 to play in the game, the Colts took over at their own 20 and never gave the ball back to Houston.
Their final drive covered 64 yards and featured three third-down conversions, the last of which was a six-yard toss from Luck to Reggie Wayne that allowed the Colts to kneel three times to end the game.
Pagano cited the drive as a key to the game.
Being a defensive guy and working on the defensive side of the ball my whole life, it’s glorious. It’s unbelievable to watch because you don’t have to go back out there.
They just kept grinding it out and grinding it out and I’m talking about against a front seven that there was a bunch of tough yards. Vick Ballard and that offensive line and those tight ends and those wide receivers blocking downfield for them, to be able to run the football and take time off the clock.
There are a lot of situations where you hope to get out of a ball game with three-and-a-half, four minutes. But to have nine minutes and then take that off the clock and get down on a knee and have the game end and have those moments that we were all able to have while we were out there taking that knee, it was just a tremendous play by our offensive guys.
It was easily the most complete game the Colts had put together all year. In front of a raucous crowd, they offered up their best defensive performance and sprinkled in enough big plays on offense to stun the visiting Texans.
Luck narrowly avoided any major mistakes in cobbling together his best effort in a month. His penchant for third-down conversions helped the Colts overcome the fact that Houston out-gained them by nearly 100 yards.
For Houston, the loss was devastating. It dropped them to 12-4 and likely cost them not only home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, but could send them to an unexpected first-round matchup against Cincinnati next weekend.
Should the Texans be fortunate enough to win in the first round of the playoffs, their reward will be a trip to Foxoboro to play the New England Patriots.
The Colts finished the year 11-5, 7-1 at home and 4-2 in the AFC South. Their win over Houston kept the Texans winless in Indianapolis over the life of the franchise dating back to 2002.
Indianapolis will take on the slumping Baltimore Ravens in the first round in what now appears a winnable game.
Of course the way the Colts are playing now, all their games appear winnable.
Quotes courtesy of the Indianapolis Colts PR department via press release.