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INDIANAPOLIS – The late birthday gift to Frank Reich, ironically, came from an Indianapolis native.

NFL craziness was right there again on Sunday afternoon of Week 13, with the Colts in the middle of it.

What was learned from the Colts (8-4) beating the Texans (4-8) 26-20 in Houston on Sunday?

 

FIVE THINGS LEARNED

1. What A Gift: The story looked like it was going to be the third time this season that a favored Colts team lost to an underdog AFC South opponent. That would have been a serious blow to January plans for the Colts. But the game is 60 minutes and crazy things happened. With the Texans just two yards away from a go-ahead touchdown with a minute remaining, an errant snap from Indy native Nick Martin had Texans and Colts diving everywhere for the loose ball. In the end, Colts linebacker Anthony Walker got it, sealing the 26-20 victory for Indianapolis. Over the course of a 16-game NFL season, you will see plenty of wild plays. This is right up there. But certainly, credit the Colts for putting themselves in a spot where such a gift meant the game was then over, and they were returning to Indy with such a needed divisional victory. I don’t walk away from that 60 minutes of football thinking that the Colts are a team that can now go on the road and win a game in January. But that’s not the entire story from Sunday. They won, and are now off to their best start since 2014. And, in doing so, took a big step towards making the postseason, and re-entering the AFC South playoff picture.

2. Defensive Playmakers Step Up: Sunday wasn’t a banner day by any means for the Colts defense. But the unit’s continued second half play remains a constant, and they received some huge playmaking from nearly all their stars. It was DeForest Buckner showing what his presence means, with his best individual game of the season (2 sacks, 3 quarterback hits). It was Justin Houston recording 3 sacks, a forced fumble and the only points of the second half. And it was Kenny Moore looking like a deserved Pro Bowler again, with an interception and some huge passes defensed late in the first half. Defending Deshaun Watson, no matter how banged up the personnel around him is, is such a challenge. And the Colts felt that, especially in another trying first half. To outlast the Texans on Sunday they needed their best defensive players to deliver. Several of them did in a second half that was a must to stay in solid playoff positioning.

3. T.Y. Hilton Owns The Texans: Seriously, it wouldn’t shock me if T.Y. Hilton was a distant cousin of the McNair Family (who owns the Texans). The years go by, the quarterbacks change, Hilton reaches the age of 30, and yet The Ghost continues to cause nightmares for the Texans. Hilton had 8 catches for 110 yards on Sunday and a touchdown, marking first time that he had gone over the 100-yard mark since Week 16 of the 2018 season. Hilton said part of the game plan was to get him going and that was clear with his 9 targets in the first half. All year long the lack of production from Hilton wasn’t because he had fallen off a cliff physically. Maybe he just needed to be back in his second home—NRG Stadium. On Sunday, Hilton made plays after the catch, contested catches, snags out of a normal catch radius in putting together his best game since Andrew Luck retired.

4. Frank Reich Happily Survives 4th-and-1 Play Call: Let’s get this out of the way: the decision to go for it on 4th-and-1 with 6:50 remaining at the Houston 5-yard line, and the Colts leading 24-20, was the smart call. Reich knew a two-score lead would end the game and Deshaun Watson is too good of a quarterback to give him the ball needing just a touchdown (and possible two-point conversion) to win the game. The issue was the play call by Reich. Instead of turning to Jacoby Brissett in that short-yardage situation, Reich left Philip Rivers on the field which automatically eliminated the threat of a QB run/sneak. And the play called for 238-pound tight end Trey Burton to be pulling into the middle of the trenches with Nyheim Hines getting the ball. As Reich did point out afterwards, it didn’t matter who got the ball there, the play was going to fail. Reich said the play had options, but one of those wasn’t the guy who has been most successful in short-yardage as of late (Brissett). The play also had confusion on the sideline and at the line of scrimmage pre-snap, too. An errant snap from the Texans at the end of the game doesn’t mean this play gets overlooked. These types of plays will be the difference in the Colts getting back to the postseason or not/potentially winning a playoff game or not. Aggression is perfectly fine in that situation. But not going with your strength there (Brissett behind the NFL’s highest paid center and top-10 guard) is a mistake.

5. Colts Get Divisional Help: The Colts got some help on Sunday from the Cleveland Browns. With the Titans losing to the Browns on Sunday, the Colts enter the final quarter of the season with the same 8-4 record as their rivals in Nashville. Now, the Titans have the current tiebreaker, thanks to the better record in the division (Titans are 3-1 vs. Colts are 2-2). Sunday’s win for the Colts helped them in the Wild Card race, which was needed with the Browns, Dolphins and Raiders all winning on Sunday. If the playoffs started today, the Colts would make it as the 7th and final team, but Sunday’s results have them still firmly in the mix for the division. Here are the remaining schedules for the Colts and Titans: Colts: at Raiders, Texans, at Steelers, Jaguars; Titans: at Jaguars, Lions, at Packers, at Texans. Given how the AFC has played out this year, it would be so important if the Colts could somehow finish higher than the Titans and get that home game in the Wild Card Round, as opposed to a road matchup with a Kansas City or a Buffalo. Currently, the Colts have a 70 percent chance to make the playoffs and a 38 percent chance to win the division.

 

QUICK HITTERS

Injury Report: The Colts had the following players inactive on Sunday: LT-Anthony Castonzo (knee), LB-Bobby Okereke (ankle), P-Rigoberto Sanchez (illness), S-Khari Willis (back, quad), QB-Jacob Eason, WR-Dezmon Patmon, DE-Ben Banogu. Offensive tackle Le’Raven Clark left Sunday’s game on the opening series with an ankle injury and did not return.

Key Stat: Justin Houston is now tied for the most safeties in NFL history, with 4.

What’s Next: The Colts (8-4) will have their longest road trip of the 2020 season next week, heading to Las Vegas to take on the Raiders (7-5).