INDIANAPOLIS — Griff Whalen kept the media waiting Sunday while he endured a prolonged soak in the ice tub.
The second-year wide receiver was shaking off the rust that comes with three idle weeks in the NFL, and the extent of the damage he suffered against the Houston Texans will be made clear after an MRI later in the week. But Whalen’s impact on the Indianapolis Colts’ 25-3 victory at Lucas Oil Stadium was unmistakable.
He caught four passes for 45 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown just 5 minutes, 29 seconds into the first quarter that set the tone. It also ended a stretch of six consecutive games in which the Colts failed to reach the end zone in the first half.
Indianapolis (9-5) found the solution to its early offensive woes by opening in a no-huddle, spread attack. The result was two first-half touchdown passes for Andrew Luck and a rare 20-3 halftime lead. The defense and special teams took over in the second half to ice the victory.
“We needed it,” Luck said of the early success. “Better than the starts we’ve been having. Then a good team effort to hold on.”
In truth, the defense was the star of the day.
For the first time since Sept. 29 in Jacksonville, the Colts did not allow a touchdown. They surrendered just 239 yards and 12 first downs overall, forcing Houston (2-12) to punt on eight of its 14 possessions. Another series ended when the Texans ran out of downs, and a 10th gained 11 yards on three plays before the game clock expired.
Three others led to Indianapolis points. Cornerback Darius Butler intercepted two passes that set up Adam Vinatieri field goals, and Robert Mathis sacked Houston quarterback Case Keenum in the end zone, forcing a fumble the Texans recovered for a safety.
That play gave Mathis an NFL-high 16.5 sacks for the season and 108 for his career, eclipsing Dwight Freeney’s franchise records in each category.