INDIANAPOLIS -- It’s inexplicable, really.
Lose 13 in a row and look terrible while doing so. Then, follow it up with two wins in five days.
What the Colts have done is write just the sort of improbable storyline that makes us love the league.
Playing as they so often have with Peyton Manning engineering end-of-game magic, Indianapolis forged a penalty-aided 12-play, 78-yard touchdown drive in just 1 minute, 37 seconds that resulted in a 19-16 win over the Texans. The new AFC South champions from Houston had their best chance ever to win in this city, and they had a lead until the clock showed 19 seconds.
“I couldn’t be prouder of the way the men on this team played,” Colts center Jeff Saturday said. “You start out spotting them seven points, they’re the AFC South champions, they’ve got everything to play for and people would think we’ve got nothing. But the men on this team just kept fighting. We knew if we kept it close we’d have a chance late.”
Saturday, defensive end Robert Mathis and receiver Reggie Wayne played what could have been their last game as Colts in Indianapolis. Mathis had two sacks, forcing and recovering a fumble on one. And Wayne pulled in eight passes for 106 yards, including the 1-yard touchdown pass from Dan Orlovsky that won it.
It leaves Houston, 0-10 on the road against the Colts, in need of a good bit of help to fare better than the third seed in the AFC playoffs.
“We get some time here to regroup and go back home,” Texans tight end Owen Daniels said. “One more game left here and hopefully we can get some momentum back. It’s not a good feeling. There were a lot of opportunities for us to seal the game up offensively.”
“It’s a loss,” defensive end J.J. Watt said. “It’s a very, very tough loss. But at the end of the day, we’re still in the playoffs. We’re still going to make a very, very strong push in the playoffs. It’s tough. We’re going to learn from it. And then we’re going to move forward. It’s all we can do.”
The result may scramble the top of April’s draft order, and could have implications around the league for more than a decade if it helps St. Louis or Minnesota gain the first overall pick -- expected to be used on Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. The Colts sit at 2-13, while the Rams and Vikings are at 2-12.
Before the game, owner Jim Irsay said on the NFL Network that provided Manning is healthy, he will be playing for the Colts in 2012. The team will also not hesitate to select a great young quarterback in the draft, Irsay said.
If they fall out of the first pick and lose their chance at Luck, the Colts will likely also miss out on Matt Barkley, who announced Thursday he’ll play his senior year at USC.
Saturday said he was glad to know Irsay said Manning would be in Indianapolis, health willing. Beyond that, all the speculation will come from beyond the Colts’ locker room.
“I ain’t worried a bit about the draft or any of it,” Saturday said. “I’ll let the Polians worry about that, that’s their job. My job is to win football games, that’s all I care about and that’s all they tell us to care about. I’ve never heard one person in this organization ever talk about what our draft is going to be the next year. Those guys plan for it, they’re going to do their best to get the best players in here. You’ll see what you get.”
Colts vice chairman Bill Polian talked in the last week about needing an infusion of young playmakers.
In a second consecutive game, this defense looked like it already has some of them.
Though the Colts allowed Arian Foster to romp for 158 rushing yards on 23 carries, including four runs of 18 yards or more, they did well bottling a lot of other things up. The Texans converted only 1 of 10 third downs, when just one more might have iced the game or positioned them to put it out of reach.
That one conversion was a fluke, too. Rookie quarterback T.J. Yates threw behind intended receiver Kevin Walter, who reached back for it but couldn’t pull it in. It bounced off safety Antoine Bethea’s back or shoulder not once, but twice, before Jacoby Jones plucked it for a 5-yard gain with less than 3 minutes remaining.
As it did in its 27-13 win over Tennessee, Indianapolis’ defense benefitted from overly conservative play-calling. The Colts saw a division opponent wary of their pass rush. Houston tried to win by playing it safe, and the Colts blew up that plan.
“The whole season we’ve kept on fighting, there was never a sense of giving up or a sense of backing down,” cornerback Jacob Lacey said. “We’ve rallied around each other.”
Big changes are still ahead, even if the Colts go to Jacksonville and win another game on New Year’s Day. With Christmas weekend free thanks to the schedule-makers, they can savor this one before thinking about that one and all that’s beyond it.
“I hope it’s not, but you never know,” Saturday said about the possibility it was his last game as with the Colts at home. “What a great night tonight with those guys. You don’t get many like this. So I’m treasuring it.”