Colts Still Not at a Loss
INDIANAPOLIS - The Indianapolis Colts overcame an imperfect week to maintain their spotless record.
The 5-4 Houston Texans? They blew a chance at a breakthrough win against a division rival.
The Colts improved to 8-0 for the third time in five seasons, remaining the AFC's only unbeaten club and one of two in the NFL, along with the New Orleans Saints. The Colts extended their franchise record regular-season winning streak to 17 games by vexing the Texans 20-17 when Kris Brown's last-second field goal attempt went wide left Sunday.
"Huge win. Great effort," said Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, who passed for 318 yards and a touchdown, achieving more career milestones in the process.
The Colts' record remains unblemished even though they placed safety Bob Sanders (biceps), cornerback Marlin Jackson (knee) and linebacker Tyjuan Hagler (biceps) on injured reserve in the last week. Starting cornerback Kelvin Hayden could also miss up to a month with a knee injury. Hagler had been the team's starter on the strong side; Sanders, the 2007 NFL defensive player of the year, and Jackson, both players who had been on the road back from previous injuries before new ones shelved them, also were expected to return as defensive mainstays.
"There's a lot of injuries back there (the secondary)," said free safety Antoine Bethea, the lone projected starting defensive back who's still standing. "The guys stepping in, they're doing a great job."
The Colts boasted the seventh-ranked pass defense at kickoff even though two rookie cornerbacks, Jerraud Powers and Jacob Lacey, had been pressed into starting roles. Powers made 10 tackles and intercepted Texans quarterback Matt Schaub. Lacey made nine stops.
"I'm the vet, but I can't take all the pressure (off the new starters)," said Bethea, in his fourth year. "The young guys are doing a great job. Those guys aren't playing like rookies."
The Indianapolis offense also has been robbed of playmakers, though No. 2 wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez (knee surgery) and rookie running back Donald Brown (shoulder) are expected back later this season.
It seems they've barely been missed as the Colts continue to churn out 400 yards a game thanks to a top-rated passing offense that's being executed as well as ever by Manning, who might be on track for a record fourth league MVP trophy.
The Colts have excelled without many of their key players, however the win vs. the Texans marks just the second against a team with a winning record. The other was a 31-10 victory vs. the Arizona Cardinals.
A true test might come Sunday night, when the Colts will host the New England Patriots (6-2), who lead the AFC East. With Tom Brady and Manning as starters, Brady leads Manning 6-3, including playoff games.
'Painful' loss for Texans
After a listless first half, Houston had a chance to send the game into overtime, but Brown's 42-yard field goal sent them home losers.
"It's another one of those games we should've won," said Houston Pro Bowl defensive end Mario Williams, who finished with one sack.
"We need to start winning games we definitely should have won, we just didn't. It came right down to the end, and we didn't get it done.
"It's very painful."
The Texans were foiled by their AFC South nemesis yet again, losing for the 14th time in 15 meetings with the Colts. Houston remains winless in its eight trips to Indianapolis.
"I take a lot of pride in coming through for this team, especially in those situations," Brown said. "To have that happen with the way our guys played, for me is very disappointing."
The Texans had hoped to enter their bye week with a win, even if their near-miss might have been a bit of a moral victory.
"We'll be sitting on this loss for two weeks," said Houston receiver Kevin Walter, who made five catches for 67 yards.
The Texans largely were scuttled by their 13 penalties (103 yards) and three turnovers, the most crucial coming with two minutes to go in the first half when running back Ryan Moats was tackled near the sideline at the Colts 1-yard line and fumbled out of the end zone for a touchback, giving Indianapolis the ball.
Colts coach Jim Caldwell, the first rookie head coach to start his career 8-0 in the Super Bowl era, wisely assessed Moats' fumble during the two-minute warning - he was originally ruled down - and successfully challenged the call before play resumed.
"I thought I was out of bounds," said Moats, who started in place of Steve Slaton who had lost a league-high five fumbles.
"Turnovers are what get you beat," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said.
Houston was attempting to move three games above .500 for the first time in franchise history in a bid to finally reach other long-sought benchmarks: a first winning season and first playoff berth.
The Texans' third-ranked passing attack sputtered badly in the first half without tight end Owen Daniels, who went down for the season with a torn knee ligament last Sunday at the Buffalo Bills.
Schaub, who had passed for an NFL-high 2,342 yards entering the game, did seem to adjust to the Colts, throwing for 235 yards in the second half while engineering two touchdown drives that staked Houston to a 17-13 fourth-quarter lead before Manning and running back Joseph Addai drove Indianapolis for the winning touchdown.
"It is disappointing to know that we were right there and were not able to get it done," said Schaub, who passed for 311 yards. "It was a missed opportunity. It is frustrating."
Houston's defense, which imported linebacker Brian Cushing (team-high 12 tackles) in the draft to help established stars in Williams and linebacker DeMeco Ryans, has shown recent signs of catching up to its prodigious offense, allowing 260.4 yards a game over its previous five contests after permitting 436.3 in the first three. Houston leads the NFL, forcing 37 three-and-out drives.
But the unit appeared anesthetized in the first half as the surgical Manning dissected it for 264 yards. The Texans held the Colts to 114 yards the rest of the way and limited them to 21 second-half snaps on offense.
"I respect the heck out of (Houston)," said 11th-year Colts center Jeff Saturday, who has been in the NFL three years longer than the Texans.
"These guys have built over time and built the right way, and they give us a game - every year, it could go either way.
"They're a great division opponent and one we're going to have to reckon with for a while."
Ground game comes through
On a day when Manning threw 50 passes, 40 in the first half, Addai and the Colts' often invisible ground game - it ranked 30th entering Sunday - came through in the clutch. Addai rushed for 23 yards, including the decisive 2-yard touchdown run on a draw, during Indianapolis' go-ahead fourth-quarter drive.
"Any way to get the lead - catching the ball, running the ball, whatever they want us to do, that's how we're gonna do it," said Addai, who also caught a 7-yard scoring pass from Manning on Sunday and threw a TD pass to Reggie Wayne in last week's win vs. the San Francisco 49ers.
Wayne tried reprising Addai's role against the Texans but was picked off by Bernard Pollard while trying to throw the ball away.
"Next time, I'll aim for the blonde in the front row," said Wayne, who caught eight passes for 64 yards.
"Just threw a bad ball. That's another mistake on my end."
Minus Addai's efforts on the game-turning drive, the Colts rushed for 49 yards the rest of the day as Manning aired it out, logging his seventh 300-yard effort of the season, the most in NFL history through a team's first eight games. He also became the first quarterback to pass for 40,000 yards in one decade (40,299).
Colts tight end Dallas Clark established a career high with 14 catches (119 yards), tying Marvin Harrison's club mark.
"Houston played well, and they have an excellent team. Fortunate to win and certainly always want to win those divisional games, especially the ones at home," said Manning, who lamented two missed Indianapolis opportunities in the red zone.
The Texans' adjustments on both sides of the ball could portend a different outcome when the teams meet again in Houston in three weeks.
"I think the Texans are getting better. Next time around, I think we'll have to buckle down and bring our 'A' game," Addai said. "We've got to be ready the second time around."
"You could tell they were a much better team," he said. "We know when we go back out there in a couple weeks, you know it's going to be a fight in their house.