The Texans (12-2) grabbed their first AFC South title last season after the Colts nosedived without injured quarterback Peyton Manning. Manning is gone to Denver and rookie Andrew Luck couldn't do much against the inspired Houston defense.
The Colts (9-5) had won three straight games and needed a win to clinch a playoff berth a year after going 2-14 in 2011. Before that, they took the division seven times since Houston entered the league in 2002.
Thanks in great part to three sacks from J.J. Watt, Houston bounced back six days after an embarrassing 42-14 loss to New England on national television. The Texans will have home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs if they win out.
Luck threw for 186 yards with two touchdowns in the return to his hometown. He had led the Colts to a rookie-record six wins on drives in the fourth quarter or overtime this season, and he got the Colts within six points late in the third quarter.
But Houston's defense shut him down after that, and the Texans used Arian Foster to eat up the clock. Foster ran for a season-high 165 yards to leave him with 1,313 yards rushing, giving him his third straight year with at least 1,200.
Watt increased his AFC-leading sack total to 19 ½ the NFL record for a season is 22 1-2 and finished with 10 tackles. He also forced a fumble for the third straight game.
Luck was sacked five times playing behind a makeshift offensive line missing center Samson Satele (ankle) and right tackle Winston Justice (biceps).
Johnson, who has 11,008 yards receiving in his career, scored on a 3-yard reception to make it 10-0 in the first quarter. The Texans didn't score a touchdown on offense after that, but were helped by Braman's special teams effort.
Braman blocked his second punt of the season, recovered it and returned it 8 yards for his first career touchdown to make it 20-3 just before halftime.
Vick Ballard had 60 yards rushing on a Colts drive that ended with an 8-yard touchdown reception by Dwayne Allen to cut Houston's lead to 23-17 in the third quarter. Ballard finished with a career-high 105 yards rushing.
Houston couldn't do anything on its next drive and punted. But Indy sputtered, and interim coach Bruce Arians even drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on a punt, giving Houston the ball at the Colts 39.
Graham added a 46-yard field goal to push the lead to 26-17 and made his fifth field goal with about a minute left.
Rookie T.Y. Hilton and Luck connected on a 61-yard touchdown pass just before halftime.
Watt's forced fumble on Mewelde Moore on the Houston 1 was recovered by Tim Dobbins early in the second quarter, robbing the Colts of points. And the Colts stalled inside the red zone again and had to settle for Adam Vinatieri's 26-yard field goal to cut Houston's lead to 10-3.
The Texans had set the tone as they got to Luck early, sacking him twice on the Colts' second drive. Antonio Smith got to him first, and Watt put a move on backup tackle Jeff Linkenbach and took him down for a 15-yard loss.
On offense, Johnson was dominant. He put Houston up 10-0 when he waltzed into the end zoen for a 3-yard touchdown reception. Johnson kept things going earlier in the drive when he caught a pass, lost it and then grabbed it again just before it touched the ground for a 10-yard gain on third-and-9.
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Indianapolis 17, Houston 29
Indianapolis 0 10 7 0 17
Houston 10 10 3 6 29
Hou • FG S.Graham 29, 11:47.
Hou • Johnson 3 pass from Schaub (S.Graham kick), 4:51.
Ind • FG Vinatieri 26, 6:12.
Hou • FG S.Graham 35, 3:50.
Hou • Braman 8 blocked punt return (S.Graham kick), 1:46.
Ind • Hilton 61 pass from Luck (Vinatieri kick), 1:07.
Hou • FG S.Graham 27, 7:33.
Ind • Allen 8 pass from Luck (Vinatieri kick), 2:32.
Hou • FG S.Graham 46, 8:30.
Hou • FG S.Graham 33, 1:05.
Attendance • 71,702.
First downs 19 23
Total Net Yards 272 417
Rushes-yards 25-124 32-178
Passing 148 239
Punt Returns 2-18 2-12
Kickoff Returns 4-111 1-18
Interceptions Ret. 0-0 0-0
Comp-Att-Int 13-27-0 23-31-0
Sacked-Yards Lost 5-38 3-22
Punts 6-40.3 3-42.3
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 0-0
Penalties-yards 8-79 9-69
Time of Possession 26:54 33:06
Rushing • Indianapolis, Ballard 18-105, Luck 2-10, Moore 4-6, Allen 1-3. Houston, Foster 27-165, Tate 5-13.
Passing • Indianapolis, Luck 13-27-0-186. Houston, Schaub 23-31-0-261.
Receiving • Indianapolis, Hilton 3-78, Avery 3-37, Allen 3-36, Wayne 3-14, Fleener 1-21. Houston, Johnson 11-151, Daniels 4-40, Posey 3-46, Walter 2-11, Foster 2-4, Casey 1-9.
Missed Field Goals • Houston, S.Graham 50 (WL).