Many had wondered through four games if the “30-somethings” were the right fit, but the former University of Miami teammates showed Thursday night they can still make the clutch plays in important games.
Johnson enjoyed his Houston homecoming with six catches for 77 yards and two touchdowns in the Colts’ 27-20 road victory over the Texans at NRG Stadium.
This was more like the guy who while with the Texans was a seven-time Pro Bowl selection in a dozen seasons, not the Colts slow starter without a reception in the previous two games and just seven catches for 51 yards without a score this season.
The 34-year-old Johnson finally quieted the critics who have suggested he has lost a step and can’t contribute.
“I just think a lot of people were wondering what was wrong with us,” Johnson said of the Colts’ offensive struggles during a postgame interview on NFL Network. “But you’ve just got to keep playing. It’s a long season. It’s not a sprint. It’s a marathon. That’s just the way we looked at it.
“We knew we would get on a roll sooner or later.”
Gore had shown glimpses his 32-year-old legs still had life. Before Thursday, he had scored twice but also two lost fumbles that turned into touchbacks instead of touchdowns. He delivered 98 yards rushing on 22 carries with a touchdown run, a marked improvement from averaging 56.8 yards the previous four starts.
“(Offensive coordinator) Pep (Hamilton) came to me early on and told me he was going to ride me today and just told me to be ready,” Gore said. “My O-line did a great job, the receivers did a great job down the field and I just got into a rhythm.
“I was ready to play today.”
The 11th-year pro’s best rush was his first as he ripped off a 20-yard gain on the Colts’ initial offensive play. He finished just two yards shy of ending a dubious team distinction of not having a 100-yard rusher, now in 45 games. The last time that happened was in 2012 at Houston, which was also the last time the Colts lost to an AFC South Division opponent.
The Colts (3-2) set a new NFL record with their 16th consecutive victory against a division opponent in winning for the third consecutive week. They’re also 9-0 in Thursday night games after playing on Sunday.
After the Texans had closed to 13-10 on a Hail Mary touchdown pass to end the first half, the Colts marched 56 yards in just four plays as Johnson hauled in a 24-yard catch to set up Gore scoring from 3 yards out.
“I just had to calm down, stop pressing and just have fun,” Gore said. “Don’t worry about what people think about me on this team. Whenever my number gets called, help this team. Don’t press.
“I am just going to take one play at a time and whenever my number gets called, I am going to fight.”
The Texans made it a field-goal difference once again, but Johnson added a 2-yard TD reception in the final quarter to cap a 14-play, 80-yard drive. Gore contributed a 15-yard run to the key sequence.
“It’s turned so much into fantasy football,” Johnson said of his numbers, “you have a lot of people talking about stuff like that rather than talking about the game, but they do. Once you get over 30, they look at you differently, but I never doubted myself. I know what I can do as a player. When my time comes and I can’t do it anymore, I’ll walk away.”
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.