Colts ride fourth-quarter rally to clinch AFC South, remain undefeated

HOUSTON -- The unbeaten Indianapolis Colts are the AFC South champions, the first team to clinch a playoff berth.

Peyton Manning threw for three touchdowns and the Colts rallied from a 13-point halftime deficit Sunday for a 35-27 win over the Texans, their 20th straight regular-season victory. Indianapolis (11-0) is one win shy of the New England Patriots' NFL-record 21-game run from 2006-08. The Colts can tie the record if they beat Tennessee at home next weekend.

Texans continue to wallow in mediocrity

This 35-27 loss was enough to throw the final can of fuel onto speculation of Gary Kubiak's job security as coach, Matt Schaub's viability as a big-time QB and the entire Texans organization's ability to generate more than mediocrity, writes Steve Wyche. **More ...**

The Colts improved to 15-1 against Houston (5-6) in their fifth straight come-from-behind win. They gained the AFC South title Sunday evening after San Francisco beat Jacksonville 20-3.

"We don't get overexcited certainly when things aren't going the way we want them to," Manning said. "We don't panic, we don't yell, we don't throw helmets. We just try to put the series behind us and move on to the next one. There was a lot of that (Sunday)."

Manning threw two first-half interceptions, but had a pair of second-half TD passes, including a 4-yarder to Dallas Clark that gave the Colts a 21-20 lead with about nine minutes left.

Clint Session stretched the lead to 28-20 when he returned an interception by Matt Schaub 26 yards for a touchdown seconds later.

"That's a good team over there, but we're the Colts," Session said. "We do things the right way and we try to get every win we can get."

Schaub fumbled on Houston's next possession and Chad Simpson's touchdown run put the game out of reach.

"If you doubt, you're done," Reggie Wayne said. "It's just like showing a bad poker face. If they see that, you're in trouble. Guys just stick with it. We knew the defense was going to pick it up. We know we have to take care of the offense and get some drives going."

The loss makes Houston's chances of earning its first playoff berth more dim.

On NFL Replay
NFL Replay will re-air the Indianapolis Colts' 35-27 win over the Houston  Texans on Tuesday, Dec. 1 at 9:30 p.m. ET.

Houston, which has lost three straight, was all but unstoppable in the first half, and the Texans scored on their first four possessions. It was a different story after halftime, with the Texans unable to get anything going offensively until Schaub hit Jacoby Jones for a touchdown with 18 seconds remaining.

"This isn't the first time this has happened to us," Andre Johnson said. "It's just real frustrating. I'm very upset with myself. It's kind of sounding like a broken record, we've just got to find a way to play for four quarters."

The Colts' first lead came on Manning's touchdown pass to Clark. In what was a theme Sunday, the drive was helped by a 17-yard pass interference penalty on Houston.

Matt Stover missed a 32-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter to keep Houston's lead at 20-14.

In the third quarter, the Texans were called for pass interference on third-and-goal from the 8-yard line, giving the Colts a first down at the 1. Wayne caught a touchdown pass three plays later to make it 20-14.

Houston's Jacques Reeves got a 43-yard pass interference penalty on the third play of that drive.

Four downs



» The Colts are 15-1 all-time vs. the Texans and have won the last six meetings.

» Indianapolis is the first team in NFL history to win five consecutive games when trailing in the fourth quarter of each game.

» Jim Caldwell's 11th consecutive win ties Steve Mariucci's record in 1997 for the most consecutive wins by a rookie coach since 1950. Caldwell is the first rookie coach in NFL history to start 11-0.

» The Texans lost despite outgaining the Colts 396-342, but had 10 penalties for 129 yards, which is a franchise record for penalty yards.

"You can't play a half against this football team," Houston cornerback Dunta Robinson said. "We knew coming out of halftime that this game was far from over. ... (Manning) is great. He's going to find a way to not get sacked and he's going to find a way to make plays and that's what he did."

Manning finished 27 of 35 for 244 yards. Schaub was 31 of 42 for 284 yards with two TDs and two interceptions.

The Colts' first score came when Manning found Pierre Garcon for a 9-yard touchdown about six minutes before halftime. That drive was helped by a 15-yard roughing-the-passer penalty on Antonio Smith for hitting Manning in the facemask.

Houston scored on its first possession for the first time this season when Schaub completed an 11-play, 79-yard drive with a 7-yard pass to Vonta Leach to make it 7-0. The Texans marched downfield again on the next drive and went up 14-0 on a 5-yard run by Chris Brown.

Manning was under heavy pressure when he threw an interception to Brian Cushing early in the second quarter. The Texans got to the Indianapolis 12 before Kris Brown's 35-yard field goal pushed the lead to 17-0. Brown also made a 33-yard field goal in the second quarter.

"We've been really, really good and then poor in some situations, so it's my job to find some consistency," Houston coach Gary Kubiak said.

Notes: The Colts were without star defensive end Dwight Freeney, out with an abdomen injury. ... Chris Brown and Steve Slaton combined for 113 yards rushing for Houston.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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