The AFC South champions could have put themselves in position to earn a first-round playoff bye, swept Indianapolis for the first time and finally won a road game against their division rival.
But in what looked like it would be merely a playoff tuneup, the Texans looked anything but ready in a 19-16 loss Thursday night. They settled for two field goals in the red zone, didn't convert a third down until getting a lucky bounce late in the fourth quarter and struggled to run late in the game after Arian Foster shredded the Colts' defense for three quarters.
All this against a team that lost its first 13 games.
"We had chances to put it away," Texans quarterback T.J. Yates said. "We couldn't get it in the end zone. That's very disappointing. We have to score more points."
"We had four or five roughing calls," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "We've got to go back and see why. We've got to be tough enough to fix those penalties."
When Texans linebacker Brian Cushing broke through the line on the game's first play, sacking Colts quarterback Dan Orlovsky and stripping the ball, it looked as if it could be a replica of the teams' first meeting, a 34-7 blowout. Foster ran for 8 yards on the next play, then scored on a 9-yard burst off the left side to give Houston a 7-0 lead.
The Texans never reached the end zone again. Instead of scoring a win against their longtime tormentors, they added a clip to Reggie Wayne's highlight film.
Wayne, who has an expiring contract and might not return to Indianapolis next season, caught a 1-yard touchdown pass from Orlovsky with 19 seconds left, giving the Colts their only lead of the game.
It's the second consecutive win for the Colts (2-13), who now will have to fight off the St. Louis Rams and Minnesota Vikings for the No. 1 overall draft pick. Orlovsky, who played the last two seasons with Houston, also won his second consecutive game after losing his first nine NFL starts.
"We didn't turn the ball over nearly as much as we did in that (first) game," Caldwell said. "But beyond that, I think we were pretty good at protecting the ball. I think our defense played extremely well even though they ran for 171 yards. It was kind of a bend but don't break defense, but when they had to stop them in the red zone, they stopped them in the red zone.
Nobody got into the end zone again until Orlovsky took the Colts 78 yards in the final two minutes, thanks in part to three costly Houston penalties, two of them against rookie defensive end J.J. Watt. After a pass-interference call against Glover Quinn put the ball at the Texans' 1, Orlovsky lobbed the ball into the corner of the end zone and Wayne beat the coverage to make the catch.
"All in all, it was a great team win," Caldwell said. "When the offense needed a drive, we got it. When we needed a field goal, we got it. When we needed a stop, we got it."
Orlovsky was 23-of-41 passing for 244 yards with the one TD. Joseph Addai ran 19 times for 59 yards.
Yates wound up 13-of-16 passing for 132 yards in a return to his hometown.
And this one could go down as the final home game for not only Wayne and Orlvosky, but also key Colts cornerstones such as center Jeff Saturday and defensive end Robert Mathis -- and possibly even Peyton Manning, though Colts owner Jim Irsay told NFL Network that if the quarterback plays in 2012, it will be in Indianapolis.
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press