The Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts struggled for the same reason in 2017: An injured franchise quarterback. Deshaun Watson started off his career on a blistering pace but only started six games before he tore his ACL in practice. Andrew Luck never got to see the field in 2017, as he was recovering from a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder.
Both teams were poised to reload with their star quarterbacks and make a run in 2018. Facing off against each other for the first time in their careers, Watson and Luck flashed the potential for a decade-long rivalry.
Houston entered week 4 on a nine-game losing streak dating back to 2017, and were staring down the barrel of starting 2018 with a 0-4 record. Indianapolis was also off to a slow start. Losses in week 1 and week 3 had the Colts fighting to get back to .500 early in the season. Two hungry teams fighting to hold on to the hopes and dreams that were present in early September set the stage for the #6 NFL game of 2018.
Houston wins the coin toss and elects to defer the ball. Indianapolis starts off on their own 25-yard line. J.J. Watt forced his will on the Colts early by blowing past Eric Ebron on the first play of the game. A second negative play would follow, and the Colts faced an early 3rd and long. Luck responded. Navigating the pocket well, Luck rolled out to his right and hit Marcus Johnson for the first down. On the next play, Luck would find his favorite target.
Indianapolis is in 13 personnel with Nyheim Hines (#21) in the backfield and T.Y. Hilton split out into the boundary. Johnathan Joseph (#24) is giving Hilton a 5-yard cushion in zone coverage. Houston is respecting Hilton’s speed and ability to win deep, having Joseph and Tyrann Mathieu (#32) both over the top of the speedy wide receiver. Hilton does a great job selling the deep route and breaks off a curl route at 15 yards. The protection around Luck is beautiful, allowing a perfect throw to Hilton. Hilton zooms around Joseph and jukes out Mathieu for a gain of 40. Hilton would be shaken up on the play but would return.
Three plays later, Luck would complete the 75-yard drive with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Zach Pascal.
On Houston’s first possession, Head Coach Bill O’Brien relied on the running game to move the ball across midfield before opening up the passing game. A 16-yard Watson pass to DeAndre Hopkins had the Texans threatening until two consecutive sacks by the Colts pushed the Texans back to midfield. Houston is forced to punt on their first possession.
Trevor Daniel and the Texans punt team came up big by downing the ball at the Colts 2-yard line.
Despite a 1st down incompletion, Indianapolis opts to stay aggressive and comes out in an 11 personnel shotgun formation on 2nd down. Center Ryan Kelly (#78) is more focused on getting out to block for a screen than delivering a good snap, and the ball drops into the end zone. Somewhere at the bottom of the pile, Jadeveon Clowney (#90) recovers the fumble for an easy touchdown.
The next drive, Clowney beats left tackle Le’Raven Clark and chases down a scrambling Luck on 3rd and 15, forcing the Colts to punt for the first time.
It only took two plays on the Texans next drive for them to get inside the red zone.
The jet-motion from Keke Coutee (#16) and Watson’s (#4) play-action fake doesn’t fool anyone on the Colts defense. But Watson maneuvers around the pocket like a magician and shakes Denico Autry (#96), rolls out to the right, and delivers on the run with ease to a streaking Hopkins (#10). Hopkins is running a dig route across the field and successfully dodges defenders to come wide open on the side line.
The big play puts the Texans at the Colts 3-yard line where they would punch it in two plays later on a Watson pass to Will Fuller.
The ensuing Colts drive would stall due to multiple drops, leading to another punt from Rigoberto Sanchez.
The Texans and Colts would trade punts throughout the quarter, failing to cross midfield on four consecutive drives. Both defenses were playing well, holding these explosive offenses to minimal damage. However, the playmakers on the Texans would begin to take over the game.
With 8:47 left in the half, the Colts are facing a 2nd down inside their own 10-yard line. Watt (#90) bull rushes right tackle Denzelle Good (#71) and gets his long right arm right under Good’s armpit, driving the tackle into the backfield. Watt gets his paw on Luck and forces the ball onto the ground. A lucky bounce lands the loose ball in Luck’s outstretched arm, and the Colts are able to avoid disaster this time. The Colts go three and out.
Houston’s next drive would see moderate success, as they would work the ball down to the Indianapolis 35-yard line. But Watson’s offensive line would crumble and a sack would put the Texans out of field goal range.
Next Indianapolis drive, Watt makes his biggest play of the game to this point.
The Colts start the drive backed up inside their own 12-yard line. Watt is once again lined up on Good. Instead of going through the tackle, this time Watt runs the L around Good, and he again successfully pokes the ball out of Luck’s hands. The ball bounces out of Luck’s grasp this time and Duke Ejiofor (#53) falls on top of it.
Two plays later, Watson finds his favorite target Hopkins and hits him from 5-yards out for a touchdown. Houston is now up 21-7.
Luck bounced back well from his second turnover and in only 1:08 drives the Colts down the field to score a field goal before the half is over.
The Texans are up 21-10 at the half.
Houston opened up the second half with a balanced methodical drive. Lamar Miller was running well and Watson was distributing the ball to multiple targets with ease. The Texans move all the way down to the Indianapolis 6-yard line.
It took a handful of games for Watson to settle in, but by week 4 it was safe to assume that the young talent had regained his 2017 form. Bill O’Brien dials up a QB lead with left tackle Martinas Rankin (#75) pulling out into the field. Watson isn’t Lamar Jackson when he runs the ball, but he looks like a natural on this carry, following his blockers all the way to the goal line. Watson leads the opening drive of the half 79 yards in 15 plays while eating up 8:21 of game time. Houston is looking to run away with this game early, leading 28-10.
The Colts get the ball back and after a series of penalties by both teams, it’s 3rd and 10 from their own 39-yard line.
Hilton is at the top of the screen in this 11 personnel formation. He runs an out-and-up route. Off the release, Hilton already has Joseph spinning around. After the out-and-up cut, Hilton has Joseph beat by a yard, which is plenty enough room for Luck to fit in a bomb deep down the right sideline. This 42-yard gain gets the Colts right back on schedule and they’re threatening inside the red zone.
Two plays later, Luck would find Hines on another out-and-up route with a beautiful toe tap in the end zone. The Colts pull within two scores, 28-17.
In order to get this game turned back around in their favor, the Colts would need a play from their defense. Two plays into Houston’s next drive, the Colts defense comes through.
Houston is in an empty 5-wide set with 12 personnel. Watson immediately looks towards Hopkins. The ball somehow gets past Anthony Walker (#50) but Watson places it too far to Hopkins’ outside shoulder, allowing Pierre Desir (#35) to make a play on the ball and pick off Watson. Desir is called down by contact at the spot of the catch.
Despite the turnover, Indianapolis is not able to capitalize and is forced to punt after a three and out.
Houston gets the ball back picking up two quick first downs. But as the clock switches from the third to the fourth quarter, Houston is forced to punt.
With the game winding down, Indianapolis switches the tempo up and throws in some no-huddle offense on their next drive. Luck is able to slice and dice the Houston defense and marches Indianapolis down the field. With a bit more than half of the quarter remaining, Luck connects with Ebron from five yards out for a touchdown. In an effort to cut the deficit to just a field goal, Indianapolis elects to go for two, but the attempt fails. Houston still leads, 28-23.
The ensuing Houston drive, the Texans get a big play on a 3rd and 7.
Houston is in an 11 personnel set with Hopkins split out wide, and Coutee in the slot to the field. Coutee gets rerouted and collides with Hopkins. Hopkins turns this to his advantage, using his teammate as a pick, and he cuts to the middle of the field where no one picks him up in Cover 2. Watson hangs in the pocket and throws an accurate ball, and the Texans gain 24 yards.
The Texans converted on this drive for a field goal, stretching the lead to 31-23.
Indianapolis is running out of time. With only 2:58 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Colts need to drive down the field for a touchdown and also complete a two-point conversion.
Even when he was off schedule, Luck was able to extend plays and forcibly move the ball against Houston’s defense. Off the snap, Luck looks to his right, trying to hit Hines or Ebron, but they’re covered. The pocket begins to collapse and Luck scrambles to the left. Defenders are beginning to close in when Rogers (#80) cuts towards the middle of the field. Luck somehow throws the ball over the rush and away from Aaron Colvin (#22), right into Rogers’ breadbasket.
The gain of 10 puts the Colts at Houston’s 9-yard line. The next play Luck hits Hines out of the backfield on a Texas route for a touchdown. Indianapolis lines up to go for two.
Luck and the Colts knew exactly what they were getting on this play. Houston plays a combination coverage with man to the boundary and zone to the field. Luck gives a play-action fake to Hines then hits Rogers again, this time right behind Colvin. Colvin didn’t pay any attention to Rogers, allowing the Colts to sneak in the end zone for a two-point conversion.
Houston gets the ball back with 45 seconds remaining, and O’Brien inexplicably calls a run on first down with the Texans out of timeouts. The offense scurries back up to the line of scrimmage.
Indianapolis plays a Cover 3. Deandre Hopkins is lined up wide to the boundary running a dig route. Again, no one picks up Hopkins as he cuts to the middle of the field and becomes wide open. Watson extends the play to his right, and an aware Hopkins breaks off his route and turns back towards Watson. Watson delivers an accurate ball on the run and the Texans pick up a quick 30 yards.
Houston hurries up to the line and spikes the ball with six seconds remaining. Ka’imi Fairbairn trots onto the field to attempt a 59-yard field goal for the win. Fairbairn puts all he can into the kick, but the ball drifts wide right. We’re going to overtime.
Indianapolis wins the coin toss and receives the ball. The Colts did an excellent job resetting after a frantic end to regulation time. Luck was calm and composed as overtime kicked off. The Colts picked up three first downs on the drive, getting themselves all the way to the Houston 33-yard line. Houston’s defense would hold at their own 25-yard line, bringing Adam Vinatieri onto the field. From 44 yards out, Vinatieri is true and gives the Colts a lead in overtime.
Houston’s turn to respond. Just like his opponent, Watson comes back out onto the field and shows composure and poise.
With 3:02 left in the game, the Texans line up in an empty 11-personnel set with Hopkins at the top of the screen. Hopkins runs a sluggo route, Watson pump fakes when Hopkins breaks vertical, and the All-Pro receiver is open heading for the end zone. The ball is touch overthrown but Hopkins is able to dive and secure the ball. Hopkins gets both feet in bounds and goes to the ground, but the ball pops out. Indianapolis lives another down.
Watson would drive the Texans all the way to the Colts 11-yard line but would fail to score for the win. Fairbairn is brought back onto the field for a 29-yard kick. This time, Fairbairn splits the uprights, and we are tied once again.
On the ensuing Colts possession, Luck picks up two quick first downs through the air. An offensive holding and sack push the Colts back into 3rd and 21. A Luck completion to Mo Alie-Cox nets 17 yards to their own 43-yard line. Fourth and 4 and Colts Head Coach Frank Reich elects to attempt a fourth down conversion to try and win the game. Houston forces an incompletion and gets the ball back in fantastic field position.
Only 24 seconds remain, and the Texans are knocking on the door of field goal range. One solid play could get them in possession to win this crazy game.
For one final play, Houston is one again in their 11-personnel, empty set. Hopkins is in the slot to the boundary. Indianapolis plays a Cover 4 match coverage, with rookie linebacker Darius Leonard (#53) lined up on Hopkins. Mismatch. Hopkins runs a slant, and is open off the break. Watson recognizes and delivers to Hopkins in stride. Like a tornado, Hopkins spins and causes chaos as he moves down the field, ending the Colts’ hopes to win or even tie with every yard.
Fairbairn’s number is called for the final time today. Indianapolis desperately tries to freeze the kicker, but Fairbairn is unfazed and knocks it in from 37 yards out. Houston wins a barn-burner, 37-34.
MVP of the Game
Watt and Clowney did their best to wreck this game early, but failed to make a big impact late. DeAndre Hopkins, however, made plays from the first quarter all the way until the final gun. A stat line of 10 receptions for 169 yards and one touchdown, Hopkins dominated this game and is the MVP. Watson played a really great game as well, showing a return to his 2017 form, and was able to make plays through the air and ground. The forgotten hero in this game is Andrew Luck, who threw the ball 62 times, completing 40 of them for 464 yards and four touchdowns. Luck’s two fumbles were costly, however, and set the Colts offense back when they were deep in their own territory.