HOUSTON — Indianapolis receiver T.Y. Hilton missed multiple practices with a shoulder injury in the week leading up to Sunday's trip to NRG Stadium for a critical AFC South matchup. The Colts said his status was up in the air.
Hilton knew he couldn't possibly miss a game at a place where he's had more success than any receiver since the stadium opened in 2002.
He played, and in Indianapolis' 24-21 win over Houston, Hilton had 199 receiving yards and Andrew Luck threw for 399 yards and two touchdowns.
"This is my second home, man," Hilton said, laughing. "This is my second home. I don't know. Every time I come here, I just go off. I don't know what it is."
Hilton entered as the all-time leader in receiving yards per game at NRG Stadium with 122.3 yards and finished Sunday just shy of 200 yards with nine catches on 12 targets. In seven career games in Houston, Hilton has topped 100 yards four times, with three of those for more than 175 yards.
The Colts (7-6) snapped a nine-game winning streak by the Texans (9-4), trimming Houston's lead over the AFC South to two games with three remaining.
Luck said throughout the week, the Colts were seeing things in the Texans' defence that led them to believe Hilton's "speed and manoeuvrability" could again be a key to success in Houston.
"Once we got that first one, it was like, 'OK, here we go,'" Luck said. "When T.Y.'s in the zone, he's in a zone, man. It's fun to play with him and it's an honour to play with him."
Hilton's performance gave him his 11th 150-yard game, setting a franchise record. He has also topped 800 receiving yards for a seventh consecutive season, the longest active streak in the NFL.
The Colts started slow and didn't have a first down until early in the second quarter. They went to a no-huddle offence and found momentum on that drive before a pass from Luck was tipped by Kareem Jackson and intercepted by Andre Hal.
Indianapolis finally ended a lengthy scoring drought after a 60-yard completion to Hilton set up a 4-yard touchdown run by Marlon Mack.
The Colts entered Sunday having allowed just 14 sacks, second only to New Orleans. Houston's usually menacing pass rush was largely neutralized with just two sacks from J.J. Watt and Christian Covington after being held without a sack against Cleveland last week.
"They did a good job, they played good football," Watt said. "T.Y. obviously had a huge day. We knew going in that's a guy we had to stop and we didn't. That's on everybody. Luck did a good job spreading it around, guys got open and he found them. We have to play better."
Indianapolis' defence, on the other hand, gave Houston fits both in the passing and running game. The Colts sacked Watson five times for a loss of 41 yards and held Houston's rushing offence to just 89 yards on 25 carries.
"There was a confidence all week," Reich said. "What was best about this was, we expected to win this game. We really did."
Watson had 267 yards passing and 35 yards rushing. Tight end Ryan Griffin led Houston receivers with 80 yards on five catches, while Hopkins was held to 36 yards on four catches.
"We're good. I mean, it's the NFL — every game is tough," Watson said. "It's tough to go on a two-game winning streak. We went on nine. Today it ended, but it's a new task to put this game behind us. Next week, we're 0-0 and we'll try to get 1-0. It's no panic button for us. We'll keep moving and try to flip the script next week and get back to the winning column."
Houston cut Indianapolis' lead to 24-21 with a 7-yard touchdown pass from Deshaun Watson to DeAndre Hopkins with less than three minutes remaining. With the Colts facing a critical third-and-1 at midfield, Luck drew Jadeveon Clowney offside to secure a first down and the win.
Clowney refused to comment when approached by reporters.
Houston scored first on a 3-yard touchdown run by running back Alfred Blue. The Colts then scored 17 straight before Houston opened the third quarter with a long drive to a 1-yard touchdown run on a direct snap to Lamar Miller to cut the Colts' lead to 17-14.
The Colts took a 14-7 lead late in the first half on a 14-yard pass from Luck to Eric Ebron. It was Luck's fourth straight touchdown pass to a tight end, three of which went to Ebron.
Luck had not thrown a touchdown pass to a non-tight end since the Nov. 18 win over Tennessee until the third quarter, when he found receiver Zach Pascal for a 12-yarder to put the Colts up 24-14.
Indianapolis had a 54-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri as time expired in the second quarter to take a 17-7 halftime lead. During Houston's winning streak, the team never trailed at halftime.
"I don't like what happened today, but I'm fine with where we are," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said. "This is the NFL. We did not do a good enough job today. The Colts did a much better job than us. There's a lot of football left."
Indianapolis will host the Cowboys and Giants before closing out the season in Tennessee, while Houston visits the Jets and Eagles before hosting Jacksonville in the finale.
With a 10-yard reception in the third quarter, Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins topped 7,000 receiving yards in his career. At 26 years, 6 months, 3 days, Hopkins became the second-youngest player in NFL history to surpass 7,000 yards, behind only Larry Fitzgerald who was 26 years, 3 months and 20 days when he reached the mark.
EBRON IN THE END ZONE
With his 12th receiving touchdown of the season, Colts tight end Eric Ebron set a franchise record for the position. The record was previously held by Dallas Clark. Ebron also has one rushing touchdown on the season. In four seasons with the Lions, Ebron totalled 11 touchdown catches and one rushing touchdown.
ASTROS IN ATTENDANCE
Houston Astros third baseman Alex Bregman, infielder/outfielder Marwin Gonzalez and pitcher Lance McCullers were all in attendance, with Bregman wearing a custom No. 2 Texans jersey with his name on the back. Bregman also briefly played catch with Watt on the sidelines during pre-game warmups.
Texans receiver and kick returner Deandre Carter left in the first quarter and was later ruled out with a concussion. . Colts right guard Mark Glowinski was carted to the locker room in the second quarter with an ankle injury.
Colts: Host the Cowboys next Sunday.
Texans: Visit the Jets next Saturday.
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