Andrew Luck threw for 399 yards and two touchdowns and T.Y. Hilton had 199 receiving yards to lead the Indianapolis Colts to a 24-21 road win over the Houston Texans on Sunday afternoon.
The Colts (7-6) snapped a nine-game winning streak by the Texans (9-4), trimming Houston's lead over the AFC South to two games with three remaining.
Hilton entered the game as the all-time leader in receiving yards per game at NRG Stadium with 122.3 yards and finished Sunday just shy of 200 yards on nine catches on 12 targets.
Houston cut Indianapolis' lead to 24-21 with a 7-yard touchdown pass from Deshaun Watson to DeAndre Hopkins with less than three minutes remaining. With the Colts facing a critical third-and-1 at midfield, Luck drew Jadeveon Clowney offside to secure a first down and the win.
The Colts entered Sunday having allowed just 14 sacks, second only to New Orleans. Houston's usually menacing pass rush was largely neutralized with just two sacks from J.J. Watt and Christian Covington after being held without a sack against Cleveland last week.
Indianapolis' defense, on the other hand, gave Houston fits both in the passing and running game. The Colts sacked Watson five times for a loss of 41 yards and held Houston's rushing offense to just 89 yards on 25 carries.
Watson had 267 yards passing and 35 yards rushing. Tight end Ryan Griffin led Houston receivers with 80 yards on five catches, while Hopkins was held to 36 yards on four catches.
Houston took an early lead after a lengthy 12-play drive set up a 3-yard touchdown run by running back Alfred Blue.
The Colts didn't have a first down until early in the second quarter. They found momentum on that drive before a pass from Luck was tipped by Kareem Jackson and intercepted by Andre Hal.
Indianapolis finally ended a lengthy scoring drought with Marlon Mack's 4-yard run. That play followed a 60-yard completion from Luck to Hilton.
The Colts took a 14-7 lead late in the first half on a 14-yard pass from Luck to Eric Ebron. It was Luck's fourth straight touchdown pass to a tight end, three of which went to Ebron.
Luck had not thrown a touchdown pass to a non-tight end since the Nov. 18 win over Tennessee until the third quarter, when he found receiver Zach Pascal for a 12-yarder to put the Colts up 24-14.
Indianapolis had a 54-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri as time expired in the second quarter to take a 17-7 halftime lead. During Houston's winning streak, the team never trailed at halftime.
Houston opened the third quarter with a long drive to a 1-yard touchdown run on a direct snap to Lamar Miller to cut the Colts' lead to 17-14.
Indianapolis will host the Cowboys and Giants before closing out the season in Tennessee, while Houston visits the Jets and Eagles before hosting Jacksonville in the finale.
Texans receiver and kick returner Deandre Carter left in the first quarter and was later ruled out with a concussion. . Colts right guard Mark Glowinski was carted to the locker room in the second quarter with an ankle injury.
Colts: Host the Cowboys next Sunday.
Texans: Visit the Jets next Saturday.
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Some things to know about Sunday's game between the Colts and Texans.
Houston rookie tight end Jordan Thomas has a knack for scoring with four touchdown catches despite having just 14 receptions this season. His four touchdown receptions are tied with Andre Johnson for second-most TD receptions by a rookie in franchise history. The 6-foot-6, 277-pound Thomas has been a favorite target of Watson's in the red zone with all his scores coming on catches of 13 yards or less.
Coach Frank Reich has stressed the need to find balance since he took the Colts' job in February.
When these teams met previously, Luck set single-game franchise records with 40 completions and 62 attempts and became the 11th player in league history to throw for 450 yards and four TDs. He wound up with 464 yards, second in franchise history, and four scores.
Since then, an improved ground game helped lessen the burden on Luck's arm - until last week when he threw 52 passes, including 14 straight during one stretch, in the loss to Jacksonville. Don't expect the Colts to be so one-dimensional in Houston.
"You never want to have to drop back and pass it 52 times," offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni said. "We always want to run it more. Just in that scenario, the way we were running it, we had some plays on our call sheet that we felt were going to be good to hit, some chunks in the pass game and that's the way we went."
THE BIG D
Houston also will see a different defense.
After allowing an average of 30 points over their first six games, the Colts cut that number to 16.8 points over the past six. Indy is the only team to have forced at least one turnover in every game this season, is second in the league in tackles for loss (71.0) and rookie linebacker Darius Leonard leads the league in tackles (122) and is tied for fourth in forced fumbles (four).
First-year defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus sees it as a good start.
"We feel we have set the standard of how we want to play in terms of the style. Now we just need to execute on a consistent basis and just keep doing that week in and week out," he said. "There are a lot of things that we have to improve on, but we have come a long way."
On a TV show this week, Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis said the way DeAndre Hopkins catches a football "is an art" and the Houston star agrees.
"There's more to it than just going out and catching a football," he said. "There's a lot of factors that go on before that. It's for sure an art and repetition makes perfect."
Hopkins routinely makes nearly impossible catches look run of the mill and Watson has said that he believes Hopkins will catch anything he throws his way. His latest nifty catch came last week against the Browns on a 24-yard reception near the sideline that came after T.J. Carrie grabbed his dreadlocks to try and slow him down.
Hopkins knows that he makes it look easy, but wanted to make clear that it is not.
"It's harder than people think," he said. "Especially like me I usually have a defender on me or close to me so catching the football isn't easy for me like it is for some people who are wide open. It's a challenge for me to play through that and still catch it."