HOUSTON – Saturday’s wild-card game between the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts is a matchup that seemed improbable early this season after Houston dropped its first three games and the Colts limped to a 1-5 start.
Instead of letting their tough starts lead to disappointing years, these teams – which both finished 4-12 last season – turned things around to lead the AFC South and charge into the postseason.
Houston’s rebound began at the expense of the Colts (10-6) and it was thanks in part to a controversial call by Indianapolis coach Frank Reich in overtime. The game was tied at 34 when, instead of punting on fourth-and-4 from his 43-yard line and likely settling for a tie, Reich called for a short pass from Andrew Luck to Chester Rogers. Luck’s pass fell incomplete, Houston got a 24-yard completion on the next play, and Ka’imi Fairbairn made a 37-yard field goal as time expired to give the Texans (11-5) a 37-34 victory.
“We knew that to be able to come out on the winning end of that game was a big thing for us, but that’s a long time ago,” Houston coach Bill O’Brien said. “The teams have evolved over time, so it’s a new ballgame now.”
The win was the first of nine straight for Houston. The Texans didn’t lose again until a visit from the Colts on Dec. 9, a 24-21 Indy victory. Houston then won two of its last three games, capped by a 20-3 victory over the Jaguars on Sunday to clinch the division – and become the sixth team since 1980 and first since 1998 to make the playoffs after a 0-3 start.
The Colts’ loss to Houston in Week 4 was the second of four straight that dropped them to 1-5. Indianapolis then won its next five and nine of its last 10 to make its first playoff appearance since a 2014 AFC championship game loss at New England. Yes, the “Deflategate” game.
The Colts are the third team in NFL history to reach the postseason after losing five of the first six games.
These teams have more in common than their difficult starts. They’re both led by a player making a comeback after an injury.
Luck returned after missing the 2017 season with a shoulder injury to throw for 4,593 yards and rank second in the NFL with 39 touchdown passes. His best games this season have come against Houston, piling up 863 yards passing with six touchdowns.
Trying to slow him down will be Houston’s comeback star J.J. Watt, who played all 16 games after starting just eight games combined in the previous two years because of back surgeries and a broken leg. Watt led the AFC with 16 sacks, had 25 quarterback hits, 18 tackles for losses and forced a career-high seven fumbles, which tied for most in the NFL.
Watt said Luck has been getting rid of the ball quicker this season, which makes his job as a pass rusher much more difficult.
“You try and do different things, but at the end of the day, you try and get there, and if you can get your hands up, you get your hands up,” he said. “You just try and get there. You can’t really let it affect you, and you hope maybe he holds it for an extra second.”
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