HOUSTON - The Texans' greater goal was accomplished on Sunday at Reliant Stadium, but those seeking a dominating performance on the heels of an embarrassing loss on national television were left wanting.
The Texans claimed their second consecutive AFC South crown with their 29-17 victory over the Indianapolis Colts. However, their sluggish performance in the red zone and sporadic defensive effort did little to assuage concerns that the Texans aren't clicking on all cylinders.
Defensive end J.J. Watt helped keep Colts rookie quarterback Andrew Luck subdued with an outstanding showcase: 10 tackles, including six for lost yardage, four quarterback hits, three sacks and a forced fumble. Luck needed 260 passing yards to set a rookie record in that category but finished with just 186 thanks to the Texans' work led by Watt up front.
"Off the field, I'm going to be a nice guy. You have to be caring and show you're compassionate," said Watt, who has 19.5 sacks. "Once you step on the field, I have to go into monster mode. That's what I try to do."
Andre Johnson had 11 catches for 151 yards and a score for the Texans (12-2), who managed just three field goals in the second half. Arian Foster rushed for 131 of his 165 yards in the second half as the Texans, the NFL leader in time of possession, pounded the Colts into submission.
The Texans' three second-half scoring drives totaled 27 plays and erased more than 13 minutes off the game clock.
"We pride ourselves on the run game here," Foster said. "That's a big part of it (team success). We had four minutes left and we were on our 8-yard line and we had to close the game out. The defense made a good stop and it was on our back. So we take pride in that."
The Texans' initial surge seemed to portend a runaway win. Johnson made a 52-yard grab on the second play from scrimmage that later yielded a 29-yard Shayne Graham field goal. The Texans forced the Colts (9-5) into a three-and-out, and then extended their lead in impressive fashion.
What the Texans failed to do against the Patriots last Monday night they managed on their second possession against the Colts. They converted three third downs, the first two coming via impressive receptions from Owen Daniels and Johnson. The third ended with Johnson making a touchdown catch on a shallow crossing route into the end zone that gave Houston a 10-0 lead with 4:51 left in the first quarter.
But even as their defense kept Luck at bay, the Texans' offense sputtered long enough for the Colts to find their footing. Luck was sacked twice on the Colts' second possession, and on their third, the Colts were thwarted at the goal line when Watt forced a Mewelde Moore fumble at the 1-yard line that linebacker Tim Dobbins recovered.
"It's my fault for not having (Vick Ballard) in there," Colts interim coach Bruce Arians said of Ballard, who rushed for 105 yards. "After the timeout, when they stopped the clock, he should have been in there."
The Texans managed a grand total of three yards on the two ensuing possessions, allowing Luck to generate some momentum. He engineered a seven-play, 26-yard drive that resulted in an Adam Vinatieri field goal midway through the second quarter, and later found T.Y. Hilton alone in the Texans' suddenly vulnerable secondary for a 61-yard touchdown pass that cut the deficit to 20-10 with 67 seconds left in the first half.
That scoring strike followed a blocked punt and touchdown return by Texans special teams maven Brian Braman, a play that upped the lead to 20-3 and energized the cautious crowd. When the Texans surrendered momentum so quickly, it set the tone for a tense, gritty second half that included the Colts closing to within one score when Luck found Dwayne Allen for an eight-yard touchdown pass with 2:32 remaining in the third quarter.
But Indianapolis was undone by its inability to protect Luck, whom the Texans sacked five times and harassed to the point of disruption.
"I thought our offensive line did a great job," Luck said. "I know I put them in a bad situation a couple times, maybe stepping out too early and creating an easier rush lane for defensive linemen."
NOTES: With his 26-yard field goal in the second quarter, Vinatieri eclipsed 100 points in a season for the 15th time. Former Broncos and Falcons kicker Jason Elam holds the NFL record with 16 100-point seasons. ... With his 16-yard reception on the final play of the third quarter, Texans receiver Johnson eclipsed 11,000 yards for his career and became the third-fastest receiver to do so (136 games). ... The Texans moved to 6-1 at Reliant Stadium this season, tying the franchise mark for home wins set in 2007 and matched one year later.