Final score in Sunday's season opener: Texans 34, Colts 7.
What already looks like a long, long season ahead for the Colts might be the chance, at last, for the Texans to make a leap forward in the AFC South.
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The Texans (1-0) weren't ready to say the win signals a change in the division. Houston beat the Colts with Manning in last year's home opener, but finished 6-10.
"We were in the same situation last year," star receiver Andre Johnson said. "And then, things just went bad for us."
Then again, with Manning out indefinitely, Houston has never had a better chance to earn the franchise's first postseason berth.
"Every year, you get your group together and it's your chance to do something special," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "So it was this group's first opportunity together and they made it happen."
No Manning on the field certainly helped.
Last year, the Colts rallied from the opening loss to finish 10-6 and win the division for the seventh time in eight seasons. In the fourth quarter on Sunday, Indy receiver Reggie Wayne gathered his teammates and reminded them of the turnaround.
"I just told them: 'We're going to be all right. It's a long season and there's no reason to worry,"' Wayne said. "We were in the same position last year and we still accomplished our goal and that's taking care of our division."
This loss definitely had a different feel, though.
The four-time MVP quarterback didn't travel with the team as he recovers from his third neck surgery in the 19 months. His streak of 227 consecutive starts, including playoffs, ended.
|All but 72 of their total offensive yards came well after the outcome was in doubt. The offensive line had better gel in order to keep Kerry Collins upright. Defensively, the Colts looked slow, while the special teams remained as bad as it was in 2010.|
|The new 3-4 scheme held the Colts to 236 yards and forced a pair of turnovers that helped blow the game open. RB Ben Tate rushed for 116 yards and a score in his debut. Jacoby Jones' 79-yard punt return for a score gives the team a special teams element they sorely lacked last season. Three turnovers keep this from being an A+.|
|By Brandon Williams|
The Colts (0-1) lured the 38-year-old Collins out of retirement less than three weeks ago to take a crash course in the offense. Based on the opener, they may need to find a better solution.
Collins fumbled on consecutive snaps that set up Texans touchdowns in the first quarter, and he was sacked three times. He didn't throw an interception, but the offense mustered only 236 yards and 15 first downs against Houston's 3-4 defense guided by new coordinator Wade Phillips.
"This wasn't the day, obviously, that we'd hoped for, but it's a long season," Collins said. "I don't care what the situation is, we just can't do those things and expect to have a chance to be in the ball game. We've got a lot to do obviously. We'll get back to work."
The Texans sprinted to a 34-0 halftime lead, even with 2010 NFL rushing leader Foster deactivated with a left hamstring injury. Foster ran for 231 yards in the opener against the Colts last year.
Tate, a 2010 second-round draft pick who sat out last season with a broken ankle, carried 24 times and Ward scored a touchdown before leaving with an ankle injury.
Indy, meanwhile, seemed overwhelmed on both sides from the start.
Mario Williams hinted what was coming when he sacked Collins for a 9-yard loss on Indy's fourth snap. Williams, Houston's sacks leader in each of the past five seasons, made his first start at outside linebacker, one of the big changes introduced by Phillips.
Houston's defense showed improvement after ranking as one of the league's worst in 2010.
"It was obviously a good start for us," Phillips said. "We felt like we had to come out strong against that team. They had adversity with their quarterback. We had to play strong early, and I thought we did that."
The Colts' defense was just as vulnerable as the offense, allowing 259 yards and 19 first downs in the first half.
"We couldn't do anything right in all three phases," Colts defensive end Robert Mathis said.
Even after jumping to a 17-0 lead, the Texans couldn't feel comfortable just yet, recalling they'd blown 17-point leads to the Colts in Houston in 2008 and '09.
Manning wasn't here to bail out Indy, though, and Houston poured it on.
Schaub went 5 for 5 on the Texans' next series, finding Johnson open in the back of the end zone for a 24-0 lead. Johnson had seven catches for 95 yards in the game.
"That's the best half of football we have probably played as a team," Kubiak said. "It was explosive in every area."
The Colts used their timeouts at the end of the half to give the offense one more chance to do something, and even that backfired.
Jacoby Jones fielded a punt with just over a minute left and outran the Colts down the sideline for a 79-yard touchdown. It was Jones' third punt return for a TD and his first since 2008.
Tate fumbled with about 10 minutes left in the game, and the Colts averted the shutout when Wayne caught a 6-yard TD pass from Collins.
"We've got to go back to the basics and focus in on the things we did really poorly," Indy coach Jim Caldwell said. "They are all correctable. There is an old saying, 'You're never as bad as you think you are when you lose, and you're never as good as you think you are when you win.' That certainly is true for us today."
|Sun. Sept. 11||Final|
|FG||Neil Rackers, 25 Yd, 4:27. Drive: 13 plays, 73 yards in 6:32.|
|TD||Derrick Ward, 1 Yd run (Neil Rackers kick is good), 2:56. Drive: 3 plays, 12 yards in 1:17.|
|TD||Ben Tate, 2 Yd run (Neil Rackers kick is good), 1:41. Drive: 3 plays, 18 yards in 1:08.|
|TD||Andre Johnson, 4 Yd pass from Matt Schaub (Neil Rackers kick is good), 6:57. Drive: 10 plays, 89 yards in 5:54.|
|FG||Neil Rackers, 29 Yd, 1:34. Drive: 9 plays, 51 yards in 3:51.|
|TD||Jacoby Jones, 79 Yd punt return (Neil Rackers kick is good), 0:54.|
|TD||Reggie Wayne, 6 Yd pass from Kerry Collins (Adam Vinatieri kick is good), 9:17. Drive: 2 plays, 13 yards in 1:10.|
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