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December 17, 2012

Houston throttles Indy’s offense in clash of AFC South’s top teams

Houston — The Indianapolis Colts came to Houston hoping to take back the AFC South title.

Instead, the Texans (12-2) won 29-17 on Sunday to take the division for the second straight year.

Andrew Luck matched a season-low for yards passing and was sacked five times, and the Colts saw their latest comeback attempt foiled. The loss snapped a three-game winning streak and still leaves them one win away from clinching an unlikely playoff spot.

“There’s still a chance to make the tournament,” Luck said. “We’ll fight for that.”

The Colts are a surprising 9-5 after going 2-14 last season.

“It was a tough loss for us in that we came here with one idea and that was to win the division,” Colts interim coach Bruce Arians said. “And we’re not going to win the division — they did it.”

In rather convincing fashion, too.

“I think [the Texans] did a great job defensively of never letting us establish a rhythm,” said Luck, who finished with 186 yards on 13 for 27 passing. “They definitely brought the pressure to us as opposed to us bringing it to them and forced us into some bad decisions.”

Luck, despite a rare poor game in his rookie season, has thrown for 3,978 yards and needs 74 yards to surpass Cam Newton’s NFL rookie record of 4,051.

Rookie Vick Ballard ran for a career-high 105 yards for the Colts, and T.Y. Hilton caught three passes for 78 yards, including a 61-yard TD catch.

The Colts made too many mistakes to overcome.

“Obviously we can’t come into a stadium like this and beat ourselves, having blocked kicks, 1 for 8 on third down and 1 for 3 in the red zone,” Arians said. “The penalties hurt us, and we beat ourselves in some areas.”

The Colts also wasted chances in the second half, when the defense seemed to put the clamps on Matt Schaub and the Texans.

“For our defense to keep us in the game and us to not really take advantage of those opportunities when they showed was, I think, a downfall for us,” Luck said.

Luck entered the game having led the Colts to six wins on drives in the fourth quarter or overtime, the most by a rookie since 1970.

Indianapolis outscored Houston 14-9 beginning with Dwayne Allen’s TD catch with 1:07 left in the first half to get within six points of the Texans late in the third.

But Houston’s defense shut down Luck and the Colts after that, and the Texans used Arian Foster to eat up the clock. Foster ran for a season-high 165 yards to up his total to 1,313 yards — his third straight year with at least 1,200.

Andre Johnson had 151 yards receiving and a touchdown, Bryan Braman scored a special teams touchdown on a blocked punt, and Shayne Graham kicked five field goals for Houston, which bounced back from an embarrassing 42-14 loss to New England on national television six days earlier.

The Texans grabbed their first AFC South title last season after the Colts nosedived without injured quarterback Peyton Manning.  Manning is gone to Denver and Luck couldn’t do much against an inspired Houston defense led by J.J. Watt, who finished with a game-high three sacks and 10 tackles to go with a forced fumble.

Luck is from Houston, but said his focus was on winning the divisional game and not his homecoming.

“This is a business trip, and unfortunately we didn’t come up out on top,” Luck said.

Luck was sacked five times playing behind a makeshift offensive line missing center Samson Satele (ankle) and right tackle Winston Justice (biceps).

Johnson 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.

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.

Houston couldn’t do anything on its next drive and punted. But Indy sputtered, and 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.

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.

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