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Brandon Weeden steps in, helps lift Texans to top of AFC South

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INDIANAPOLIS -- It's fitting that Brandon Weeden was the quarterback who helped put the Houston Texans in control of the AFC South. This is a team that resurrected itself when most people gave up on it seven weeks ago. Now the Texans have a third-string signal-caller -- a player who was claimed off waivers on Nov. 18 -- leading them to their biggest win of the season. The more you think about it, the more it had to end this way for this franchise.

Houston's 16-10 victory over the Colts on Sunday happened because Weeden was literally in the right place at the right time. He came in with 1:14 left in the second quarter, after starter T.J. Yates tore the ACL in his left knee. That seemed to be a perfect moment to lose all hope in Houston's chances of winning. Instead, it became another reason to believe in a team that has thrived on resilience and doggedness throughout the second half of this season.

That isn't to say Weeden took the game over. He received plenty of help from his defense, his running game (Alfred Blue gained 107 yards on 20 carries) and his special teams. What he did do was make enough plays to strengthen Houston's playoff hopes while also giving that franchise its first-ever road win against the Colts.

"It's good to get the monkey off our backs," Weeden said after completing 11 of 18 passes for 105 yards and one touchdown. "But I honestly didn't know there was a monkey."

Weeden admitted after the game that he knew nothing of the Texans' 13-game losing streak in Indianapolis until somebody brought it up this week. He also joked that some of this teammates probably still don't even know his name. The longer Weeden spoke during his postgame press conference, the more he sounded as if this wasn't a big surprise to him. He had a job to do for a team that has struggled with its quarterback play -- the Texans now have used four different players at that position this season -- and he found a way to do it.

In many ways, Weeden was similar to every other quarterback who appeared in Sunday's game: flawed but filled with fortitude. The Colts started Matt Hasselbeck, a 40-year-old backup who was struggling with neck and rib injuries. The Texans countered with Yates, a second-stringer who was filling in for Brian Hoyer, who was still in the concussion protocol. Indianapolis also turned to third-string quarterback Charlie Whitehurst for some action when Hasselbeck was knocked out of the game briefly in the second half.

Of course, nobody was talking about Weeden going into this contest. He started three games for Dallas this season after Tony Romo broke his collarbone, and the results weren't good. The Cowboys lost all three of those games, with Weeden throwing just one touchdown pass. Dallas eventually gave the starting job to Matt Cassel, whom they'd acquired to back up Weeden after Romo initially went down, and waived Weeden once Romo was healthy enough to play.

So the idea of Weeden playing wasn't something that seemed to inspire much confidence in Texans fans. That scenario became a reality when Yates scrambled late in the second quarter before crumbling to the turf as his left knee buckled.

Every game, all season

"I didn't have time to panic," Weeden said. "I was thinking about the drive. I was thinking about the situation. I hurt for T.J., but a backup quarterback has to be ready."

The mystifying aspect of Weeden's game is that he tends to play better in emergency situations. The same player who couldn't jump-start the Cowboys' offense in Romo's absence looked surprisingly comfortable filling in for Yates. Weeden completed his first four passes to help set up a critical 22-yard field goal by Nick Novak right before halftime. He led the Texans on a drive that resulted in a 46-yard field goal by Novak late in the third quarter. And when Houston needed to make a critical surge in the fourth quarter, Weeden delivered again.

There were many players who helped on the 10-play, 90-yard drive that gave Houston a 13-10 lead in the fourth quarter. But it was Weeden who was at the controls, making decisive throws and managing the game with confidence and self-assurance. His 8-yard touchdown pass to Jaelen Strong put Houston ahead for good. His entire performance revealed how much he learned from those challenging days in Dallas.

"My time in Dallas really helped me," Weeden said. "I was put in some tough situations there. ... [Weeden started in losses to Atlanta, New Orleans and New England after replacing an injured Romo against Philadelphia]. But I did complete 73 percent of my passes. We just couldn't get over the hump. We couldn't find a way to win as a team. That's what we did today."

Texans head coach Bill O'Brien added: "Weeden is like T.J. He has good poise. He plays hard. He carries himself as a professional because that's what he is. He may not have the offense down pat, but he knows enough to go out there and function."

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Weeden spent most of his time studying the offense because he didn't have much else to do after practice. His family remained in Dallas when he was waived, and he wanted to be ready if his number was ever called. He also joined the Texans as they were turning their season around one week at a time. The last thing he wanted to do was be a potential weak spot if Hoyer or Yates went down.

The 32-year-old Weeden also has been around enough to understand how the NFL works. He was a first-round pick of the Cleveland Browns in the 2012 NFL Draft, but he never became that team's answer at quarterback. He also couldn't do enough to meet the Cowboys' expectations when they acquired him in 2014, as he started four games without a win in his Dallas tenure. If Weeden was going to have a promising shot at continuing his career long after this season, he needed to do something impressive in Houston.

Now that Weeden has helped the Texans garner one victory, the question becomes this: What will they do over the next two weeks? At 7-7, they have a one-game lead over Indianapolis, with winnable games against Tennessee and Jacksonville remaining. O'Brien isn't certain of Hoyer's availability next week, while Yates clearly is done. That leaves Weeden with potentially another shot at leading a Houston team that is at its best when the odds are stacked against it.

It is possible that a start could result in Weeden displaying the same problems that plagued him in Dallas. But that's also the kind of issue the Texans can worry about later, along with finding another quarterback to deepen their roster. On Sunday afternoon, they won in a place they've always lost and took a huge step toward winning their division. They also did something else worth noting: They found another player who typifies everything they've come to stand for in a truly crazy year.

Follow Jeffri Chadiha on Twitter @jeffrichadiha.

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