After dominating the AFC South over the previous eight seasons, the Peyton Manning-less Indianapolis Colts have given way to the Houston Texans.
Even though these teams’ most recent efforts more resembled previous seasons than the current one, this may be Houston’s best chance to finally win in Indianapolis.
Most sports books monitored by the SportsOptions odds product have installed the Texans as six-point road favorites, with the total set at 40.
Looking to regroup from their first defeat in more than two months, the division champion Texans visit a Colts team looking to build on its first win of the season Thursday night.
With Manning under center, Indianapolis had won seven of the past eight South titles and made the playoffs in all nine years since the division was created in 2002 – Houston’s inaugural season.
The Colts had been 15-1 in this series before losing two of the last three meetings, including a season-opening 34-7 defeat at Houston on Sept. 11. However, the Texans are 0-9 all-time at Indianapolis, giving up an average of 32.6 points, but this is the first time they’ve played there without having to face Manning.
Then again, Indianapolis (1-13) is coming off its first win, shocking Tennessee 27-13 on Sunday.
“I think (the Colts are) feeling very good after what happened last week,” Kubiak said. “… You know, the Thursday night game gets a lot of attention. We know they’ll play well. Like I said, our history in that building hasn’t been very good, so we’re going to have to go change that and play much better.”
The Texans secured their first postseason berth and division title in Week 14. They entered Sunday having won a franchise-record seven straight and coming off a last-second 20-19 victory over Cincinnati, but they lost 28-13 at home to a sub-.500 Carolina team.
Houston had been tied for the conference’s best record but fell one game behind New England and is now one of three AFC teams at 10-4.
“It is a wake-up call, and it’s up to us as leaders to let our team know what exactly this game is,” defensive end Antonio Smith told the team’s official website. “I wouldn’t say it has to happen, but if it does happen, it’s needed for you to be battle-tested in a situation like this, for us to grow as a team. You got to take your (knocks). You got to take your hits on the chin.”
“When you become ‘the team,’ just like when we face teams that people give high praise, you got the underdog coming to knock you right off the pedestal.”
The Texans find themselves in a similar situation Thursday and likely know better than to overlook a Colts team that has plenty to celebrate following an 0-13 start.
Indianapolis rallied in the second half to defeat the Titans, posting its first victory without Manning in more than 14 years.
“Any time you get a win, it’s good, and these guys have been working hard,” coach Jim Caldwell said. “The guys haven’t been complaining, they’ve worked together, they’ve fought together, so it’s good to get a good result. I think it gives our guys a little bit of a lift.”
Making his third consecutive start, Dan Orlovsky was just 11 of 17 for 82 yards but threw for the go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter, and no Colts passes were intercepted for the first time since Week 5. Donald Brown carried 16 times for a career-high 161 yards, including an 80-yard TD run late in the fourth.
“It means a lot (to win), but we’re a proud ball club so one game out of 13 or 14, we still have a ways to go,” defensive end Robert Mathis said.
A big reason Indianapolis dominated this series was the Texans weren’t very good defensively, but they’ve made major strides this year, ranking second in total yards allowed at 277.9 per game and fifth against the run (96.8 ypg). However, they gave up a season-worst 166 yards on the ground Sunday and two rushing TDs, one more than they surrendered during the seven-game win streak.
Rookie T.J. Yates, thrown under center with season-ending injuries to Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart, also had a forgettable performance as he went 19 of 30 for 212 yards and two interceptions.
“We’ve got a lot of things to fix and maybe just a quick turnaround is the thing,” Kubiak said.
With Yates still getting accustomed to his new role, the offense continues to lean on Arian Foster. The Pro Bowler had his fifth 100-yard rushing effort and eighth touchdown in eight games Sunday, running for 109 yards and catching five passes for 58.
In two career meetings with Indianapolis, Foster has totaled 405 yards from scrimmage and four TDs. He rushed for a career-high 231 yards and three scores during a 34-24 win Sept. 12, 2010.
All-Pro wideout Andre Johnson will miss a third straight contest and ninth this season due to a hamstring injury. It’s unknown if defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, who went on medical leave after undergoing kidney and gall bladder surgery last week, will be available to coach.