But by the time the game ended, the Colts were on top of the division, led by Jacoby Brissett, who had a career performance less than two months after their franchise quarterback suddenly retired.
The Colts won their third straight game over the Texans, this one 30-23, sending a message to the rest of the AFC that they can’t be overlooked.
The schedule is in the Colts’ favor to make a run and get some distance in the division after back-to-back victories over Kansas City and the Texans.
Indianapolis doesn’t face a team with a winning record again until it travels to Houston for a rematch against the Texans on Nov. 21. The Colts' next four games are against Denver, at Pittsburgh, against Miami and Jacksonville.
The Colts entered Sunday as a run-oriented offense, having rushed for at least 167 yards in three of their first five games. But as coach Frank Reich has consistently shown, he’s not predictable when it comes to making a game plan.
Reich proved that on the first series when Brissett dropped back to pass nine times on their 12-play, 95-yard drive that ended with a Zach Pascal touchdown reception. That was their second-highest dropback rate on an opening drive this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
What Sunday proved is that the Colts aren’t a one-dimensional team, and they’re capable of winning in any way possible. Brissett, who became the team’s starting quarterback following Luck’s retirement, was 26-of-39 for a career-high 325 yards with four touchdown passes. Brissett has 14 touchdown passes in six games this season, which surpasses the 13 touchdown passes he had in 15 games during the 2017 season.
Promising trend: The Colts held down a scrambling quarterback capable of beating teams with his feet and arm for the second straight game. Two weeks after holding Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes to a career low in points, the Colts sacked Watson three times and picked him off twice. Linebacker Darius Leonard, who missed the previous games with a concussion, returned and sealed the victory when he intercepted Watson off a tipped pass with less than a minute remaining. Houston entered Sunday sixth in total offense (396.8 yards per game), eighth in points per game (27.0) and ninth in time of possession (31:21) in the NFL. The Colts limited the Texans to 2-of-5 in the red zone. One of those stops happened after the Texans recovered a Brissett fumble at Indianapolis’ 4-yard line. The defense held the Texans to a field goal on that drive.
Buy this breakout performance: The Colts have been searching for a No. 2 true receiver – not tight end Eric Ebron – to go with T.Y. Hilton. Pascal stepped up to the challenge with six receptions for a career-high 106 yards and two touchdowns. Pascal has been a consistent blocker all season, but Sunday was about having a career day as a receiver. His previous career high was 72 yards against Oakland in Week 4. Finding consistency to go with Hilton at receiver has been a struggle for the Colts. Rookie Parris Campbell (abdominal) and veteran Devin Funchess (clavicle) are both out of the lineup due to injuries. About the only thing Pascal did wrong Sunday was that he missed a wide-open Nyheim Hines on a pass attempt in the fourth quarter.