Manning, Colts handle Texans
The four-time league MVP threw for two touchdowns, then watched Mike Hart run for a career-high 84 yards and Jacob Tamme score his first career TD to help Indy get past Houston, 30-17.
The victory allowed the Colts (5-2) to get even in the head-to-head series with Houston (4-3) and gave the defending AFC champions sole possession of the South Division lead for the first time this season.
And even though the Colts were missing All-Pro tight end Dallas Clark, receiver Austin Collie and running back Joseph Addai with injuries, Manning and his teammates didn't miss a beat.
"Whoever's in there has to find a way to do the job. It's not always going to be pretty, but we've just got to keep grinding and making some plays," Manning said.
Manning went 26 of 45 for 268 yards. Hart ran with the same determination he used to become Michigan's career rushing leader and provided the Colts with a rare ground game, and Tamme, Clark's replacement, caught six passes for 64 yards.
But it wasn't just the new guys making plays—or only the offense.
Reggie Wayne caught a touchdown pass, Manning ran for a first down for the first time in nearly two years, and even became the lead blocker on a first-down catch-and-run by Pierre Garcon in the third quarter.
Indy's defense put consistent pressure on Houston quarterback Matt Schaub, too.
That's how important Monday's game was to the Colts.
"It's a big win and we needed it," Tamme said.
Schaub struggled horribly in the first half and couldn't rally the Texans in the second as defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis applied pressure. Indy had three sacks.
The louder-than-normal crowd created problems for Schaub hearing play calls on his helmet radio, barking out signals to teammates, and even trying to make plays. The 2009 NFL leader in yards passing finished the half 5 of 15 for 37 yards with one interception and a rating of 14.6.
Schaub was better in the second half, finishing 22 of 38 for 201 yards with one TD. But the damage was already done.
"What a great job of playing hard and coming back," Colts coach Jim Caldwell said. "When bad things happen to them, they don't take it lightly."
The Colts made sure more bad things wouldn't happen Monday night.
The Colts went 78 yards on their second series, getting a 2-yard TD pass from Manning to Tamme to make it 7-0.
On the second play of the second quarter, the maligned defense gave Indy the play it desperately needed.
Kelvin Hayden jumped in front of Kevin Walter, picked off Schaub's pass on the dead run and sprinted 25 yards to make it 14-0.
Neil Rackers banked in a 53-yard field goal to get Houston within 14-3 with 12 minutes to go in the half, but that was a speed bump for the Colts.
Manning took them 36 yards, running off nearly all of the half's final six minutes before Adam Vinatieri booted a season-long 48-yard field goal to make it 17-3 at halftime.
Manning didn't stop there.
After converting a third-and-10 early in the second half, Manning threw a screen pass to the right to Pierre Garcon, who cut all the way across the field and followed his surprise lead blocker — No. 18 — for a 14-yard gain and a first down. Four plays later, Manning took the more conventional route by throwing a flanker screen to Wayne, who sprinted 15 yards to make it 24-3.
It was that kind of night for the Texans.
Schaub did drop in a perfect 30-yard TD pass to Andre Johnson to make it 24-10 in the third quarter and got a 6-yard TD run from Arian Foster to make it 27-17 early in the fourth.
But that was as close as the Texans could get.