INDIANAPOLIS -- The Colts picked a hell of a time to start winning, the Texans picked a hell of a time to start losing, and both teams continued heading in the wrong direction Thursday night when Indianapolis stunned Houston with a last-second touchdown for a 19-16 victory that might just cost the Colts a shot at Andrew Luck with the No. 1 overall draft pick.
Talk about winning the battle and losing the war.
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Meanwhile, the Texans are losing everything. The game, the battle, the war, the momentum, the season. It's fading for the Texans, fading fast, now that they've lost the inside track at a first-round bye thanks to two losses in five days. The Texans are looking like the AFC's third seed in the playoffs, which would mean a first-round game at home against the sixth and final seed. On the surface that sounds like a winnable game. In reality, if the Texans can't beat the 4-9 Panthers at home Sunday, and if they can't beat the 1-13 Colts on the road Thursday, odds aren't good that they can beat anybody, anywhere, in a playoff game.
The Houston collapse would have been more understandable had it happened five games ago when star quarterback Matt Schaub went down with his season-ending foot injury, but the collapse didn't start then. The Texans won the next game, started by backup Matt Leinart, and then after he was injured they won two more games started by No. 3 quarterback T.J. Yates. And they won those two games against potential playoff teams, Atlanta and Cincinnati.
Since then the Texans have lost to the Panthers and Colts -- who entered with a combined record of 5-22 -- and they have shown troubling issues beyond the scoreboard. Running back Arian Foster fumbled for the fifth time in four games on Thursday. Right tackle Eric Winston was abused all game by Robert Mathis. And after being beaten by Panthers rookie quarterback Cam Newton last week, the secondary was picked on Thursday by Colts fourth-teamer Dan Orlovsky, giving up 244 passing yards and committing multiple pass-interference penalties. Orlovsky drove the Colts 78 yards in the final 1 minute 50 seconds, capping the drive -- aided by a flurry of flags on the Houston defense -- with a 1-yard TD pass to Reggie Wayne with 19 seconds left.
Houston has a problem, but even so, this has been a breakout season for the Texans, and injuries to Schaub and outside linebacker Mario Williams give the team a reasonable excuse now -- and reasonable hope for the future.
But the Colts? I don't have any idea what they're doing.
Granted, they're winning games. That's what professional athletes should do every time they suit up. And the Colts, to their credit, haven't quit trying. Coach Jim Caldwell marveled at his team's tenacity after the game, calling them the gutsiest bunch of guys he's ever been around.
|The Texans had everything to play for. With a win, Houston could have made a case to be the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs. But too many mental and physical mistakes cost the Texans dearly. Too many penalties, especially on the Colts final drive of the game, proved to be the difference.|
|Just when everybody thought that the Colts couldn't find a way to win, Indy did. Give credit to QB Dan Orlovsky and WR Reggie Wayne for some big-time late-game heroics. Wayne had promised a day earlier that he was going to deliver late. He did.|
|By Tom James|
But there are bigger things at stake here than becoming professional football's Little Engine That Could. The Colts have a quarterback quandary the likes of which has never been seen in the NFL, with one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time (Peyton Manning) sitting out this season at age 35 with a serious neck issue -- and not guaranteed to play ever again -- but with a shot at the most coveted passing prospect in two or three decades in Andrew Luck. Assuming the Colts simply do what they've done for the first 13 games of the season and lose.
Instead, the Colts have beaten two playoff-contending teams in five days, knocking off the Titans on Sunday and now the Texans on Thursday -- and after being locked into the No. 1 overall pick for weeks, they are now tied with the Rams and Vikings with two wins each.
The Colts still could get the No. 1 draft pick, and presumably still are the leading candidate given that the tiebreaker for such a dreadful deadlock is strength -- or rather, weakness -- of schedule. And as of today, the Colts' opponents have a lower winning percentage than the Rams' or Vikings' opponents. That could change in the next 10 days, not to mention the fact that any of the three teams involved could get to three wins.
The Colts, for example, could win again next week. After winning twice at home they go on the road, but they're playing lousy Jacksonville on Jan. 1. They can win that game. And if they do -- and if either the Rams or Vikings finish at 2-14 -- the 3-13 Colts would almost surely miss out on Luck.
Again, lots can happen, including the fate of the No. 1 overall pick if it belongs to St. Louis or Minnesota. Both franchises have recent first-round picks at quarterback -- Sam Bradford in St. Louis, Christian Ponder in Minnesota -- but Luck is too valuable to be passed up. Whether it trades the pick, or trades its own young quarterback, neither St. Louis or Minnesota is likely to simply pass on Luck and leave him for, say, the Colts at No. 2.
That's speculation, impossible to guess right now, but this is reality:
The Colts are enduring one of the worst seasons in franchise history, and they're one meaningless win away from enduring it for naught.
And the Texans? After warming up for the playoffs by losing to bad Carolina and worse Indianapolis, that word pretty much describes Houston's chances of winning the first playoff game in franchise history: