INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Andrew Luck liked everything he saw Sunday.
T.Y. Hilton got back in the routine of making plays. Trent Richardson got a chance to play power football. Hey, the Colts even scored two touchdowns in the first half.
After dealing with six weeks of questions and concerns, the Colts are hoping they’ve turned the corner after a 25-3 victory over reeling Houston, which has lost 12 straight.
”It was good. I think it was more important we got it with two games left,” the Colts quarterback said. “Hopefully, we can get a little mojo going through these next two games. This was a good start against a good division team.”
For Indy (9-5), it was a rare breather.
Luck didn’t even need his magical late-game touch, leading Indy to its most lopsided win since a 37-3 victory Sept. 29 at Jacksonville. Luck was 19 of 32 for 180 yards with two first-half touchdown passes in a game the AFC South champs desperately needed in a playoff tuneup.
Hilton caught a season-best eight passes for 78 yards. Griff Whalen caught a 14-yard TD pass and returned a punt 51 yards to set up another score, and Robert Mathis forced his second safety of the season with a strip sack of Case Keenum in the end zone. The sack also gave Mathis the franchise sacks record for a single-season record (16½) and career (108), breaking the marks previously held by longtime teammate and close friend Dwight Freeney (16 in 2004, 108 in career).
But the numbers paled in comparison to the most important facet Sunday - getting ready for the playoffs.
”This was certainly something that’s very positive for our football team, our organization moving forward into this next game against Kansas City on the road and then the last one here and then the playoffs,” coach Chuck Pagano said. “Looking forward, moving forward in the playoffs and whatnot, next week and the week after, you’ve got to score touchdowns. We can’t settle for field goals. We know that. We’ll keep grinding away.”
Here are five more things we learned Sunday:
HOUSTON HAS PROBLEMS: Even a coaching change couldn’t fix the Texans this week. Keenum was picked off twice and fumbled in the end zone, which led to the safety. The defense gave up 20 first-half points to a team that had scored only 24 in the first halves of the previous six games combined. And Houston had 14 penalties for the second straight week. No wonder the Texans haven’t won since Week 2.
MATHIS ATTACK: Mathis isn’t slowing down after 11 seasons. He’s getting better. The converted linebacker entered Sunday as the NFL sacks leader and did nothing to hurt his push for NFL defensive player of the year with four tackles, one sack, one quarterback hit and the forced fumble. Last year’s defensive player of the year J.J. Watt, meanwhile, had five tackles but only one solo and one quarterback hit. He was no factor Sunday.
CASE CLOSED: Unhappy Texans fans calling for another quarterback change probably won’t like what interim coach Wade Phillips had to say. Though Keenum still hasn’t won as a starter, Phillips said Sunday that Keenum would continue to play behind center for the final two games and that he never considered starting Matt Schaub against Indy.
OVERCOMING INJURIES: The Colts have been hit as hard as any NFL team by injuries, and yet they already have a division title. They did it again Sunday, winning despite playing without two starting offensive linemen, despite losing a replacement starter, Joe Reitz, with a concussion on the opening series and losing their starting running back Donald Brown later in the first half. With two weeks left, perhaps the Colts can still get healthy - on and off the field - before the playoffs begin.
ANYTHING’S POSSIBLE: A week ago, after losing in Cincinnati, it appeared the Colts would be locked into the AFC’s No. 4 seed. Maybe not. Denver’s loss Thursday night and New England’s loss on Sunday have cracked open the door just a bit. To move up, the Colts will need to win their last two games and get help. But with the way things have gone in the AFC this season, anything is possible.