It was closer than it should have been.
How was it that a 20-3 Houston lead wound up shrinking to just six points early in the fourth quarter?
A second look at the game film reveals all.
The Real Story
This game was not nearly as close as it looked.
Immediately after the game, the focus in Indianapolis was on a couple of seemingly huge mistakes that gave the Texans the edge.
A Mewelde Moore fumble on the goal line and the Bryan Braman blocked punt were notable, but they didn't have nearly the impact on the final score that it would immediately appear.
The Moore fumble would have lead to 3rd-and-2 at the goal line, but there no guarantee that the Colts were going to score a touchdown. Even with the Houston recovery, the Texans eventually handed the ball back to the Colts inside the Texans' territory, resulting in three points.
While the blocked punt for a touchdown extended the Texans' lead from 13-3 to 20-3, it also gave the Colts the ball back with the chance to quickly match the touchdown, which they did.
Without the blocked punt, it's likely that Houston would have driven down to take a 16-3 lead at halftime.
In actuality, the Texans were vastly superior, but Gary Kubiak was content to settle for field goals all game long, keeping the game closer than it warranted.
It wasn't the big mistakes that beat the Colts; it was the big plays by the Texans that lifted them to victory.
This game was all about a superior Texans' squad exerting its will via its biggest stars.
Andre Johnson abused the Colts "best" corner back.
J.J. Watt tossed Indianapolis linemen around like frisbees.
Had the Texans needed to score more points, they could have.
The gap between a very good Texans team and a mediocre Colts squad is still enormous.
Andre Johnson was an absolute beast. He had 11 catches himself, while the rest of the Texans combined to have 12 on the day.
Arian Foster ripped off a few nice runs en route to a big statistical day that didn't feel nearly as effective as the final totals indicate.
Braman's blocked punt for a touchdown was one of the few special teams highlights of the year for Houston.
Vick Ballard's big day had to unnerve the Texans. With Adrian Peterson coming town next week, the outstanding play of Ballard has to be a concern.
T.Y. Hilton continued to be one of the bright spots for the Colts. It was interesting that he had another huge day in the same game that DeVier Posey finally produced something for the Texans. Houston took Posey ahead of Hilton, who has been the best rookie wideout in the game this season by a wide margin.
Vontae Davis is not a good corner. There has been absolutely no evidence of any kind that he is anything but a nickelback on a decent defense. He was repeatedly abused by Johnson. The Colts paid way too much for him, and his first season in Indianapolis has been an abject failure.
Mewelde Moore hurt Indianapolis with bad runs, a fumble and a key penalty.
Antoine Bethea had multiple chances to stop Johnson on an early Texans' drive and failed twice. He did pick up a sack, but that doesn't atone for his sloppy play.
Jeff Linkenbach and Mike McGlynn were the weakest links on the field for the Colts.
Shayne Graham hit five-of-six field goals for the Texans, but looked shaky. It's not hard to imagine him shanking a big kick that matters before this season is over.
With 13:44 to play, the Colts forced a Houston punt.
Trailing 23-17, it looked like Indianapolis would get the chance to drive for the go-ahead score.
After a decent punt to the 13-yard line, T.Y. Hilton returned the ball out past the 35-yard line.
Unfortunately for the Colts, Moore was flagged for a block in the back. It was a good call, and moved Indianapolis back half the distance to the goal.
Eight yards inside the a team's own 20 is significant.
Two Vick Ballard runs netted a five-yard loss, and on 3rd-and-long, Andrew Luck was hit as he threw.
The Colts then punted away what would be the last time they would touch the ball with the chance to take the lead.
Neither coach cloaked himself in glory in this game.
After the Colts punted early in the fourth quarter, head coach Bruce Arians picked up an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Those 15 yards were every bit as significant as the Moore goal line fumble.
They allowed Houston to kick a field goal to go up nine points, all but icing the game.
Later, Arians faced the difficult choice of punting on 4th-and-20 while down nine with 4:58 to play. The odds were probably in his favor, but the choice backfired, as the Colts allowed a long Houston drive to chew up most of the remaining time on the clock.
Kubiak's conservative coaching would have cost him against a better team.
He elected to kick a field goal on 4th-and-2 from the 11-yard line after running on 3rd-and-4.
He called two runs inside his own five on second and third down early in the second quarter.
He called a run and a give-up screen inside the five on the next drive.
He called a short route on 3rd-and-14 inside the Indy 20, resulting in a field goal.
After the Texans reached the Indy 37-yard line with 37 seconds left in the half, Houston managed just one play, despite having a timeout. The result was a missed 50-yard field goal.
He called a run on 3rd-and-goal from the 15, resulting in a field goal.
He had Schaub throw short to Foster in the fourth quarter on fourth down, resulting in a field goal.
The crushing monotony of Kubiak's conservative play calling and decision making kept the Colts in the game.
Houston did win on superior talent, but they let Indy hang around. Had the Colts made one or two more plays in the fourth quarter, they could have stolen a game that they had no business even competing in.
That's the epitome of bad coaching and a major reason why Kubiak remains perhaps the Texans' greatest weakness going forward.
Keep An Eye On
These two teams meet again in two weeks. Both may well have clinched everything they could clinch next week, so the rematch will be interesting.
The Texans could be playing starters to stay fresh before a lay off. The Colts could well be resting players before the playoffs.
Houston has never won in Indianapolis, and they'd love to break that streak this year, but won't risk significant injury to do it.
The big test will be whether the Colts show that they can block Watt. There's a good chance these teams could meet for a third time in the playoffs, so watch the strategy of the finale closely.
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