By Tom James
CNHI News Service
---- — INDIANAPOLIS — It's been a long time in coming, a game in which the Indianapolis Colts had a comfortable lead well into the second half.
In fact, up until Sunday's 25-3 win over the visiting Houston Texans, the Colts hadn't had a double-digit lead in the third and fourth quarters since a 37-3 road win over Jacksonville way back on Sept. 29.
This one, though, was pretty much a no-doubter as Indianapolis rolled to a 20-3 halftime lead en route to its ninth win of the season. The Colts (9-5) also improved to 5-0 in the AFC South heading into their final two games of the regular season.
How good was Indianapolis in its win over the Texans? The Colts scored on their first offensive possession of the game, driving 80 yards in 11 plays, as second-year wide receiver Griff Whalen hauled in 14-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Andrew Luck with 9:31 remaining in he first quarter.
It was Whalen's first National Football League touchdown of his career and the first scored by Indianapolis in the first half of a game this season since the team's Oct. 20 home game with Denver.
Ironically, it was Luck connecting with one of his former Stanford teammates each time — tight end Coby Fleener against the Broncos and Whalen in the win over Houston.
A fast offensive start was exactly what the Colts needed. Indianapolis began the game with a quicker pace and was spreading the Houston defense out with multiple receivers.
"Better than the starts we've been having," Luck admitted afterwards. "I thought we did a good job of it as an offensive unit (early in the game). I thought the most stress it puts on (anybody) is probably the (offensive) line. They handled it very, very well.
"What a great job they did in protection all day. We know if its no huddle, or not, or three people or four (lined up outside), it's all about execution. When we can execute and not shoot ourselves in the foot, we give ourselves a pretty good chance of winning games."
The Colts added three Adam Vinatieri field goals from 37, 43 and 40 yards out along with a 9-yard touchdown pass to running back Trent Richardson off a shovel pass from Luck.
Indianapolis' final points came on a safety when outside linebacker Robert Mathis sacked Texans quarterback Case Keenum, forcing a fumble that was recovered in the end zone by Houston offensive tackle Duane Brown.
On the play, Mathis set franchise records for career sacks with 108 and single season mark with 16.5. It was also marked his 16.5th career sack against the Texans, which is his most against any opponent.
The Colts defense took its cue from Mathis, limiting Houston to 12 first downs and 239 yards in total offense and forcing a pair of interceptions by cornerback Darius Butler. Butler very nearly missed getting his third interception midway through the third quarter.
A 49-yard field goal by placekicker Randy Bullock with 1:46 left in the second quarter accounted for all of the Texans' points.
Keenum completed 18-of-34 passes for 168 yards and had the two interceptions. Running back Ben Tate netted a team-high 72 yards rushing in 16 carries to pace Houston's offensive effort.
Wide receiver Andre Johnson, who had caused Indianapolis problems in the first meeting of the two teams this season, was limited to four catches for 18 yards.
The Colts defense came up with four sacks, one each by Mathis, safety Antoine Bethea, outside linebacker Erik Walden and rookie outside linebacker Bjoern Werner.
Luck connected on 19-of-32 passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 29 yards in five carries. He was also intercepted once and sacked once.
Richardson had his best day running the ball since joining the Colts, picking up 64 yards in 19 carries. He also caught four passes for 45 yards and a TD.
Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton hauled in eight passes for 78 yards while Whalen had his best day ever with four catches for 45 yards and a touchdown. He also averaged 22.3 yards on three punt returns, including a 51-yard effort that set up one of Vinatieri's field goals.
"We know we have a lot of playmakers on offense. T.Y., the wide receivers, the tight ends, the fullbacks, whoever is playing that position. Trent (Richardson), Donald (Brown). The more we can get those guys touches, the better," Luck said.
"And the harder it is for maybe a defense to hone in on what we're trying to do. We know if want to have a chance to continue to win games, we've got to execute well. I thought we did better. (We have to) keep moving forward."
Indianapolis will play its final regular season road game this week with a trip to Arrowhead Stadium and a meeting with defensive-minded Kansas City. The Colts will then return home
in two weeks to take on AFC South rival Jacksonville in the regular-season finale.