Colts wrap up ninth AFC South title

Another slow start, but Andrew Luck throws two TD passes and defense makes it stick for ninth crown in 13 years.

One Sunday home victory earned the Indianapolis Colts another date at Lucas Oil Stadium come January.

The Colts’ 17-10 home victory over the rival Houston Texans not only clinched a second consecutive AFC South Division title, it assured the team of at least hosting a wild-card playoff game on Jan. 3 or 4.

It will be the third consecutive postseason for the Colts, who lost in the second round at New England last season and in the first round at Baltimore two years ago.

It seems unlikely the Colts (10-4) would vault past New England (11-3) or Denver (10-3) for one of the top two AFC seeds, although it’s still mathematically possible. The Colts lost to both the Patriots and Broncos, so they don’t have the tiebreaker.

The Colts, on a four-game win streak, have claimed the AFC South nine times in 13 years — 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2013 and 2014.

Houston (7-7) saw its playoff hopes all but disappear. The Texans extended a winless Indianapolis stretch to 0-13.

The Colts still made it interesting with another first-quarter turnover as the Texans celebrated a touchdown off an interception. But Andrew Luck responded with two touchdown passes and the home team relied on its defense for much of the remainder of the game.

The Texans were already without star wide receiver Andre Johnson, scratched due to a concussion suffered last week. In the second quarter, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick suffered a left ankle injury. He suffered a broken leg, according to an report that cited a team source.

That meant sustaining a playoff false fell upon rookie quarterback Tom Savage, who completed his first pass to convert a third down but showed his inexperience soon thereafter. He went to hand off to a running back who wasn’t there on one play and then didn’t complete a hand-off to Arian Foster on another, and the Colts recovered the fumble.

But Savage eventually settled down and gave the Texans a chance. A lengthy drive resulted in a field goal early in the final quarter. Then Houston drove into Colts territory again midway through the fourth.

A third-and-4 pass sailed long and incomplete in an apparent miscommunication between Savage and DeAndre Hopkins. On fourth down from the Colts’ 42, Savage again wasn’t on the same page as Hopkins as this time the throw was short and incomplete with 7:14 remaining.

As a result of the stop, the Colts turned to their run game and drove to their own field goal. Dan Herron ran five times for 35 yards, then Trent Richardson added a 9-yard rush. Adam Vinatieri’s 29 yard kick made it a touchdown game with 2:11 remaining.

Colts cornerback Vontae Davis closed out the victory on an interception of a fourth-down pass with 1:28 remaining.

In keeping with a recent trend, the Colts committed a costly first-quarter turnover when Luck threw behind tight end Coby Fleener and directly to Texans safety Kendrick Lewis, who returned the interception 27 yards for the score.

The Colts have had 13 turnovers in the last four games. Six of those have come in the opening quarter. Luck lost a fumble that was recovered for a touchdown in the first quarter at Cleveland last week.

Luck responded with a pair of second-quarter touchdown passes, the first 26 yards to Hakeem Nicks, the second 3 yards to tight end Dwayne Allen. The latter leads the Colts with eight touchdown receptions this season.

Aside from that, the division champions weren't overly impressive on offense with a season-low 278 total yards and 17 points.

The Colts are at Dallas next Sunday and then conclude the regular season at Tennessee.

Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.

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