They held on to beat the Colts, 20-17, Thursday night in Houston in a showdown for first place.
“It’s about the playoffs,” Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson told Fox after the game, “about the future of the season. [There’s] still a lot more of the season to go. But we definitely needed this one.”
A game that was a bit sleepy for much of the night provided some intrigue in the final minutes. Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett was stopped a yard shy of a first down on a fourth-and-seven scramble with just less than three minutes remaining. Coach Frank Reich opted for the fourth-down try from the Houston 47-yard line instead of punting, pinning the Texans deep in their own territory and relying on his defense to make a stop. Even worse, the Colts used a timeout before the failed fourth-down play.
“They played a coverage where they were trying to force me to run,” Brissett said at his postgame news conference. “I thought I had a chance to get it, and the guy made a good play.”
Reich’s choice perhaps mattered little, since his defense couldn’t keep the Texans from running out the clock. But that didn’t happen in routine fashion. In an NFL season that has been filled with officiating controversies, there was a minor furor, relatively speaking, over a ruling in the game’s final minute.
Watson fumbled and the football, the Colts contended, was recovered by Indianapolis linebacker Darius Leonard. But the officials ruled on the field that the Texans had recovered the fumble. The Colts’ pleas to be awarded possession via an instant replay review went nowhere, not even a formal stoppage of play for a review that would have had to have been initiated by the replay booth.
“That was a fumble,” Leonard said afterward, according to The Athletic. “I had it.”
Reich said he was told the play was reviewed by the NFL’s officiating department in New York and was allowed to stand as called on the field.
“I was trying to get them to review it,” Reich said at his postgame news conference. “But the officials on the sideline told me it was being reviewed. And then the Texans called timeout ... so that gave them in New York even more time to review it. So obviously they saw it and didn’t think it was a fumble.”
The NFL’s officiating department said in a written statement posted on Twitter that “officials on the field ruled a fumble recovered by the offense. There was no clear visual evidence of a recovery by the defense.”
Under replay rules, there would have had to have been a clear recovery by the Colts for them to have been awarded possession. It’s debatable whether such incontrovertible video evidence of a recovery by Leonard existed. And even if the Colts had been awarded possession, they would have had the ball at their 35 with 50 seconds left and no timeouts, needing Brissett to make some clutch throws and perhaps Adam Vinatieri to connect on a big kick. But at least they would have had another chance.
The Texans rebounded from Sunday’s unsightly defeat in Baltimore in which they had no answers for Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, permitted 263 rushing yards, were sacked seven times and didn’t score until they trailed by 34 points midway through the fourth quarter.
But they’d vowed to move on quickly from that 41-7 loss, and that’s exactly what they did. Watson threw a pair of touchdown passes to wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins as the Texans improved to 7-4, putting them a game in front of the 6-5 Colts.
“We kept fighting,” Watson said. “We knew that Sunday wasn’t our best day. We didn’t come out to play. But it’s in the NFL. It happened. Baltimore’s got a great team. But we knew that this game was very important. It’s always on to the next one, the next one. And that’s what we did.”
The Colts had a pair of workmanlike touchdown drives on which they ran the ball, combined, 17 times on 18 plays. Brissett scored on a quarterback keeper in the second quarter and tailback Jonathan Williams bounced off a would-be Houston tackler on a third-quarter touchdown run. But Brissett managed only 129 passing yards, and things didn’t go the Colts’ way down the stretch.
November 21, 2019 at 11:08 PM EST
Colts fail on fourth and seven
Jacoby Brissett was stopped a yard shy of a first down on a fourth-and-seven scramble. Coach Frank Reich opted for the fourth-down attempt from the Houston 47-yard line rather than punting the ball away and counting on his defense to make a stop. Even worse, the Colts used a timeout before the failed fourth-down play. (Texans 20, Colts 17 with 2:49 left in the 4th quarter)
November 21, 2019 at 10:40 PM EST
The Colts didn’t leave DeAndre Hopkins all alone this time, but he still caught his second touchdown pass of the night from Deshaun Watson. Hopkins got past cornerback Pierre Desir and made a nice grab for the 30-yard touchdown. Carlos Hyde had a 33-yard run on the Houston scoring drive. (Texans 20, Colts 17 with 12:34 left in the 4th quarter)
November 21, 2019 at 10:25 PM EST
Texans get bank-shot FG
The Texans drew closer with a 36-yard field goal by kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn on which the football caromed off an upright and through. Wide receiver Will Fuller had a 51-yard catch on the drive and has five catches for 122 yards tonight. (Colts 17, Texans 13 with 2:43 left in the 3rd quarter)
November 21, 2019 at 10:16 PM EST
Colts lead 17-10
The Colts have the lead back in the third quarter in Houston, thanks to a grind-it-out touchdown drive on which they ran the ball on 10 of 11 plays. Jonathan Williams bounced off a would-be Texans tackler on his way to the end zone on a 13-yard touchdown run. (Colts 17, Texans 10 with 5:36 left in the 3rd quarter)
November 21, 2019 at 10:05 PM EST
Texans fail on fourth down
Coach Bill O’Brien passed up a 52-yard field goal attempt and left his offense on the field for a fourth-and-three try from the Indianapolis 34-yard line. He might wish he hadn’t, as Deshaun Watson threw an incompletion. Earlier on the drive, Watson made an accurate throw to wideout Will Fuller for a 44-yard gain along the sideline.
November 21, 2019 at 9:45 PM EST
Halftime in Houston
The Colts tied the Texans at 10 on a 36-yard field goal by kicker Adam Vinatieri as time expired in the first half. The Texans, coming off a lopsided defeat Sunday in Baltimore, did not get the fast start they’d wanted at home, as the two teams went scoreless in a sleepy first quarter. The Colts converted an interception thrown by Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson into a touchdown on a five-yard quarterback keeper by Jacoby Brissett. But the Indianapolis secondary left Houston wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins completely uncovered to catch a 35-yard touchdown pass by Watson. The second half will decide first place in the AFC South. (Colts 10, Texans 10 at halftime)
November 21, 2019 at 9:33 PM EST
Watson connects with Hopkins for long TD
The Indianapolis secondary inexplicably left DeAndre Hopkins, one of the NFL’s top wide receivers, completely uncovered, and the Texans took advantage of the blown coverage to retake the lead. Deshaun Watson found the wide-open Hopkins for a 35-yard touchdown to cap a 75-yard drive. (Texans 10, Colts 7 with 1:53 left in the 2nd quarter)
November 21, 2019 at 9:23 PM EST
Colts go ahead with Brissett TD
The Colts converted an interception of Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson into the game’s first touchdown. Jacoby Brissett reached the end zone on a five-yard quarterback keeper, completing the 42-yard drive after the turnover. (Colts 7, Texans 3 with 4:28 left in the 2nd quarter)
November 21, 2019 at 9:19 PM EST
Watson throws interception
The Colts needed something to go their way, and it happened when cornerback Kenny Moore II intercepted a pass over the middle by Deshaun Watson. Indianapolis takes possession at the Houston 42-yard line. (Texans 3, Colts 0 with 7:55 left in the 2nd quarter)
November 21, 2019 at 9:15 PM EST
Colts sputtering on offense
The Colts have had three possessions and have punted all three times. They have only 66 yards of total offense and trail the Texans by a field goal as the midway point of the second quarter nears. This is against a Houston defense, remember, that surrendered 263 rushing yards Sunday in Baltimore in a 41-7 loss to the Ravens. The Texans recovered their own fumble on the most recent Colts’ punt. (Texans 3, Colts 0 with 8:01 left in the 2nd quarter)
November 21, 2019 at 9:03 PM EST
Texans strike first
The Texans took the lead on a 35-yard field goal by kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn. Deshaun Watson had a pair of third-down completions to keep the drive going (see one of them below) but it stalled at the Indianapolis 17-yard line. The Colts’ Darius Leonard leaped over line of scrimmage on the field goal and landed on his feet, then jumped again to try to block the kick but failed to do so. (Texans 3, Colts 0 with 13:42 left in the 2nd quarter)
November 21, 2019 at 8:55 PM EST
Scoreless first quarter
The Colts and Texans, playing for first place in the AFC South, are scoreless after one quarter in Houston. The Colts had the ball twice and punted both times. The Texans punted on their first possession but are on the move now, with a first down at the Indianapolis 23-yard line as the second quarter begins. They got the ball at their 46-yard line after pinning the Colts at their own 1-yard line on a punt, then forcing a punt. (Colts 0, Texans 0 after the 1st quarter)
November 21, 2019 at 4:33 PM EST
How to watch tonight’s game
When: Thursday at 8:20 p.m. Eastern
Where: NRG Stadium in Houston
Streaming: Amazon Prime, Yahoo Sports
November 21, 2019 at 4:30 PM EST
Texans try to bounce back
“It happens,” Watson said after that game. “It’s the NFL. It’s one of those games.”
It was an ugly performance by the Texans. The Houston defense had no answers for Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, who threw four touchdown passes and added several dazzling runs. The Texans surrendered 263 rushing yards. On offense, the Texans couldn’t protect Watson, who was sacked five times in the first half and six times overall before giving way to backup AJ McCarron, who was sacked once during his mop-up duty. The Texans didn’t score until they trailed, 34-0, midway through the fourth quarter.
Watson remained in the game Sunday after having his right leg bent awkwardly beneath him on a sack late in the first half. He said afterward he was “fine” and would be “ready to go Thursday.”
Said Watson: “It’s another opportunity. It’s the NFL. If you play in the NFL, you know that every week is different and every game is different. You can’t dwell on a loss or even a win. ... That’s what we’re gonna do, flush it and move forward.”
The Colts have remained in the division race even after quarterback Andrew Luck stunned the football-watching world by announcing his abrupt retirement just before the season. Frank Reich has done a masterful coaching job and the Colts have relied on quarterback Jacoby Brissett, who has played very well with 15 touchdown passes, four interceptions and a 97.5 passer rating.
Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton is listed as questionable for this game because of a calf injury. He hasn’t played since Week 8. Tight end Eric Ebron is questionable with an ankle injury. The Colts will be without tailback Marlon Mack, who underwent surgery for a broken hand suffered during Sunday’s victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. Jonathan Williams filled in and ran for 116 yards on only 13 carries against the Jaguars.
Indianapolis is ranked 11th in the league in total defense. The Colts have played well on defense since second-year linebacker Darius Leonard returned from missing three games because of a concussion.