In reality, the Indianapolis Colts had nothing to play for on Sunday. Win or lose, their standing in the playoffs would not be affected. The Colts, however, decided not to take their foot off the gas a week before the playoffs, not resting any starters against the Houston Texans (12-4, 5-1 AFC South) and winning 28-16 in Indianapolis.
Though little was on the line, there was much inspiration for Indy in the regular season finale, as head coach Chuck Pagano made his return to the sideline after missing the last 12 games while receiving cancer treatment. The Colts wanted to win for Pagano Sunday, no doubt, and their performance was indicative of a playoff-ready team.
The defense struggled somewhat with Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson again -- Johnson had 23 catches for 292 yards in two games this season vs. Indy -- but made enough plays to keep Houston out of the endzone. Colts quarterback Andrew Luck was solid, completing 14 of 28 passes for 191 yards and two scores.
When the game turned: Down 21-16, the Texans were moving behind Johnson and running back Arian Foster. They were forced to settle for a long field goal, which Shayne Graham missed. The Houston defense came out stout, but Luck connected with fellow rookie T.Y. Hilton with an absolutely perfect pass for a 70-yard touchdown on 3rd-and-23, and that was it for the Texans. Houston made it back downfield on its ensuing drive, but Indianapolis' Vontae Davis picked up his second interception of the game to thwart the rally.
Highlight moment: Luck's pass to Hilton, no question. Somehow, Luck was able to fit the ball between three Houston defenders, and no one was close to Hilton after the catch. It was the play that sealed the game.
Honorable mention goes to Arian Foster, who paid tribute to Pagano after his 13-yard TD run.
- Texans WR Andre Johnson: 12 catches, 141 yards
- Texans RB Arian Foster: 16 carries, 96 yards, 1 TD
- Colts CB Vontae Davis: 5 tackles, 2 INTs
- Colts WR T.Y. Hilton: 4 catches, 111 yards, 1 TD
What they said about Pagano's return to the sideline
- Coach Chuck Pagano: “It's like a dream come true again. It's the greatest feeling in the world to be down there. You know you have thoughts coming back, we talked about it's just like riding a bike. You just jump back on and start pedaling. It's like anything else that you've been doing for so long. Just to get out of there and get back to the facility and get back with the team and go through the normalcy of a regular week and be back to doing what you love to do I'm humbled by it and I'm very blessed.”
- Tight end Coby Fleener : “Having Chuck back on the sideline was awesome. ...I think overall just happiness. Happy to have him back, happy to get a win but most importantly I think it's that he's healthy. Regardless of what happens the rest of the season, to have him healthy is the most important thing.”
- RB/KR Deji Karim : “It was amazing, unbelievable, speechless. It was emotional, really. I was really about to shed some tears. It was close. That man [Pagano] is a strong man in there. We all battled for him today, just like we've battled for him all year. We wanted to get that ‘W' for him today.”
- Quarterback Andrew Luck: “It was like a rock star coming out of the tunnel with all of the cameras flashing when he walked out. I think that was sort of a lift that he gave us, it was energy. Just to have his physical presence and seeing him on sideline was great. It's uplifting as someone who knows this guy and has a relationship with him. It was great to see him out there."
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Numbers you should know: Luck managed just 14 completions, a similar output to his last few weeks. Luck hasn't been north of 20 completions since Week 13, but, no worry, the Colts are 7-1 when Luck has 20 or fewer completions.
Going forward: Colts -- It's set in stone: The Colts will face the Ravens in Baltimore to open the playoffs next week. Texans -- Houston is in, but its situation is somewhat murkier. If both Denver and New England win Sunday, the Texans fall to the No. 3 seed and will play the Bengals next week. If one of those teams lose, Houston will have a bye.
For more up-to-the-minute news and analysis from Colts blogger Evan Hilbert, follow @CBSColts.
Follow Texans blogger Sean Bielawski on Twitter @CBSTexans.