The Houston Texans had the officiating mini-controversy in the game’s final minute go their way. They thwarted the Indianapolis Colts’ fourth-down gamble with the outcome in the balance. And they showed that, even after failing to demonstrate four days earlier that they’re among the league’s elite teams, they nevertheless are the class of the AFC South.

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.

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