But they really didn't. It took two fluke plays off of terrible punts by the Texans to give them the appearance of being competitive in this game against the league's only undefeated team. With the win, the Colts mathematically eliminated the Texans from the race for the AFC South title.
The Colts dominated the Texans in the first half, moving the ball in a seemingly effortless manner, putting up three touchdowns in five possessions. Peyton Manning completed 16 of 20 first half passes for 157 yards, including two touchdown passes. He finished the day 26-35 for 297 yards and 3 touchdowns. Tight end Dallas Clark caught a short pass and jaunted in for a 14-yard score while Brandon Stokely caught another, threading his way between would-be tacklers to cross the goal line. In between, Edgerrin James, who had 73 yards rushing in the first half alone, scored from 5-yards out. James had 122 yards on 26 carries and one touchdown by the end of the contest. It was his fifth consecutive 100-yard game, and his seventh in nine games this year.
The Colts held onto the ball for 19 of the first 30 minutes of play, posted 16 first downs compared to just 4 by Houston, and appeared to be ready to go in to the locker room up by at least 21 points until a Texans punt late in the first half. A poorly punted ball by Chad Stanley, who only averaged 36.8 yards per punt, landed well short of Colts punt returner Troy Walters. As he waived his teammates away, the ball landed amongst a crowd of players. The ruling was that a Colts player had touched the ball, allowing the Texans to recover it at the Colts' 34-yard line. Colts head coach Tony Dungy challenged the call, as it appeared that a Texans player was the first to be hit by the ball. On the replay, you could see a Texans player turn around just as the ball caromed out of the group of players and towards the sideline. The closest Colt, James Mungro, continued running, apparently unaware of any contact. The Texans took advantage of the break, scoring on a 14-yard run three plays later on a run by Jonathan Wells to finish the half trailing 21-7.
At halftime, Houston's offense had to wonder how they could move the ball better against a tough Colts defense that yielded just 84 net yards in the first 30 minutes of play. And the Texans defense needed to find some answers to a Colts offense that had cruised to 231 first-half net yards.
The Texans figured something out, at least for their first possession of the second half, as they came out and put together an impressive, time-consuming drive that took 11 plays and covered 60 yards to pull within 7 points of the AFC South leaders. Houston used an effective mix of runs and short passes, which resulted in a 13-yard touchdown pass from David Carr to Jabar Gaffney.
It was obvious the Colts took note of the change in the Texans, and they weren't about to have any of that in front of their home fans. The offense responded aggressively with four passes out of five plays to bounce right back up by 14 points, 28-14. Manning hit Brandon Stokley for 23 yards, Marvin Harrison for 10, Reggie Wayne for 4, and then connected with Harrison again from 30 yards out for the score.
The Texans were shutdown on the subsequent possession after just three plays. But once again an absolutely awful punt by Stanley of just 31 yards found an unusual mark. The ball landed on the helmet of a retreating Jason David after he realized the punt was heading to the area where he was trying to set up a block for Walters. The Texans recovered that fumble as well, setting them up at the Colts' 30-yard line. But the Colts defense rose to the challenge, forcing the Texans to settle for a 24-yard field goal by Kris Brown just six plays later.
The only scoring in the fourth quarter was on a 45-yard field goal by Mike Vanderjagt with 11:30 remaining in the game. The Colts were in scoring position again at the end of the game at the Houston 10-yard line, but opted to take a knee and run out the clock.
Defensive end Robert Mathis' streak of eight consecutive games with a sack came to an end as he was held without a sack. But the Colts defense registered three sacks on the day (Montae Reagor, Dwight Freeney, Larry Tripplett) against David Carr who completed 16 out of 25 attempts for 138 yards and a touchdown. The Colts defense continued their streak of nine consecutive games of not allowing a 100-yard rusher, holding Wells to 58 yards on 15 carries.
With the win, the Colts move to 9-0 and will travel to Cincinnati to play the Bengals. The Texans (1-8) host the Chiefs next Sunday night.