Indianapols Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano celebrates after winning his first game following his battle with leukemia.
The Indianapolis Colts’ game against the Houston Texans meant nothing for their playoff seeding. But to call the game “meaningless” for the team is flat out wrong.
You could see it (and for those in attendance, feel it) as soon as Head Coach Chuck Pagano ran on the field for the first time since being diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia during the team’s week 4 bye. The fans cheered and clapped in a wondrous standing ovation, a show of support for someone they hardly know, even by association only. It was a special moment for fans, players, and especially Pagano himself. Luckily for Coach, it wouldn’t be the last special thing to occur this day.
The Colts started off strong, taking the ball to start the game. They methodically drove 75 yards down the field on a 13 play drive that last nearly half of the entire first quarter. The drive ended on a 1-yard touchdown pass from Andrew Luck to his college teammate, tight end Coby Fleener to give Indy an early 7-0 lead. Houston answered on their next drive, going 48 yards and scoring on Shayne Graham’s 51-yard field goal.
Things looked like they might be starting to go Houston’s way when linebacker Connor Barwin hit Andrew Luck in the pocket on the first play of the second quarter. As he was going to the ground, Luck’s arm came down in a throwing motion on what looked to be a backwards lateral. The play was ruled a fumble that was recovered by Whitney Mercilus at Indy’s 14 yard line. However, upon review of the play, the officials ruled that Luck’s arm was moving forward before the ball came out; therefore it was an incomplete pass instead of the fumble. The Colts weren’t able to do much else on that drive, and the Texans got another 3 points on their next possession.
After another Indianapolis punt, Colts CB Vontae Davis picked off Matt Schaub’s pass intended for FB James Casey at their own 30 yard line. Davis – who would intercept a second Schaub pass in the end zone later in the game – returned the pick 26 yards to the 39 yard line. Following a 20 yard Vick Ballard run and a 17 yard reception from Luck to WR T.Y. Hilton, Indy found themselves again at the 1-yard line. Ballard powered it into give the Colts a 14-6 lead heading to half-time.
Houston got the ball to start the second half, and scored their only touchdown of the game on a 12 play, 84-yard drive in which RB Arian Foster sprinted 13 yards into the end zone. They were able to force the Colts offense off the field with a three-and-out, scored their last points on Graham’s 37-yard field goal, making the score 16-14. But you knew, just knew, that the Colts would not, could not, let this game get away from them. They would dig deep and find something to rally back and win one for the coach who had been away from the game for 13 weeks. Fans didn’t take long to see it happen. On Houston’s kickoff, return man Deji Karim caught the ball one-yard into his own yard, saw his blocker clear a path, and sprinted right down the middle of the field for a 101 yard touchdown. Colts lead, 21-16.
The signature play for Indianapolis came in the 4th quarter when the offense was faced with a 3rd and 23 on their own 30 yard line after a holding penalty on second year LT Anthony Castonzo. So what did they do? The Colts offensive line gave Luck just enough time to hit Hilton in stride, and Hilton ran the ball 70 yards for the score to increase the lead to 28-16. The entire final quarter for Houston was marred by penalties, sacks, and a bad interception by Schaub on their last possession of the game. Though Indy got the ball with over nine minutes left to play, they were able to convert three third downs and get all the way to the Houston 14 where Luck was able to kneel down three times to end the game.
The victory wasn’t necessary, to be sure. Win or lose, the Colts were still the 5th seed, and will still play Baltimore next week in the Wild Card round. It was however, a victory of note, one that Coach Pagano can cherish for the rest of his life. It was, however, a crushing defeat for the Texans, who lost their first round bye following wins by both Denver and New England. Houston will now play Cincinnati in the other Wild Card game next week.
The win by the Colts gives them 11 for the year, on season removed from a 2-14 record. Andrew Luck became the first rookie quarterback in NFL history to play every game and win 11 in his first year. Seattle’s Russell Wilson matched that feat later in the day… Colts guard Joe Reitz left the game with a head injury, and will undergo concussion testing later in the week… Texans WR Andre Johnson has caught 27 passes for 292 yards in 2 games against Indianapolis this year… Colts QB Andrew Luck has thrown for 4 touchdowns and 0 interceptions against Houston… the Texans have still never won in Indianapolis, going 12-0 since beginning play in 2002.
Indianapolis Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano celebrates as he wins his first game back from battling leukemia.