What we learned: Colts lean on over-the-hill gang

Andre Johnson caught a pair of touchdown passes in his return to Houston, as the Colts pulled out a 27-20 victory over the Texans on Thursday night. Here's what you need to know:

  1. Chalk one up for Indianapolis' over-the-hill gang. Matt Hasselbeck, 40, has been the ideal backup quarterback, shepherding the Colts to back-to-back victories with the season on the brink. Battling a bacterial infection, Hasselbeck managed a great game, avoided negative plays and came up big in key moments. All things considered, this had to be one of the most satisfying performances of his 17-year career.

Andre Johnson, 34, couldn't have dreamt up a better scenario in his return to Houston. After looking like the latest victim of Father Time through four weeks, Johnson came through with a pair of touchdowns and 77 yards, more than doubling his season total to date. Frank Gore, 32, broke a slew of tackles en route to 98 yards and a score of his own. Although he has dropped a few passes and struggled with ball protection, he has run hard this season.

  1. The quarterbacks have been holding the Texans hostage ever since coach Bill O'Brien professed his love for them on HBO's Hard Knocks in August. Shaken up on a hard hit from Sio Moore, Ryan Mallett was forced to watch Brian Hoyer add a much-needed spark to the Texans' dysfunctional offense. Because he has touch and a modicum of accuracy, Hoyer is obviously the superior signal-caller. Unfortunately, he's at his most effective when he isn't starting. Despite a head-scratching interception that ended his team's chances of a comeback and left O'Brien shaking his head in frustration, Hoyer should be viewed as the starter at Jacksonville next week.

Over the past two weeks, Mallett's 12 possessions have resulted in six punts, two interceptions, two fumbles, a missed field goal, a failed fourth down and zero points. Hoyer's 10 possessions have resulted in five touchdowns, two field goals, one punt, one interception, one fumble and 41 points. Garbage-time factor aside, the contrast in effectiveness is startling.

  1. The Texans' sideline is a body-language reader's dream. Visibly upset at being yanked, Mallett pouted and kept his distance from Hoyer. O'Brien was flustered throughout the game, forced to watch his undisciplined troops commit 13 costly penalties for 125 yards.
  1. DeAndre Hopkins is proving every week that he's one of the NFL's most underrated superstars. He gave Pro Bowl cornerback Vontae Davis fits, exemplified by a nasty double move that would have gone for a long touchdown if not for an overthrow by Hoyer. Hopkins is on pace for 134 receptions, 1,850 yards and 10 touchdowns on 237 targets. To put that last number in perspective, Calvin Johnson's record-breaking 2012 season is the only one in the last decade to feature 200-plus targets.
  1. While the spotlight shines on Houston's quarterback woes, Romeo Crennel's defense shouldn't escape blame. It's noteworthy when a team gets pushed around by the notoriously soft Colts, but the middle of the Texans' defense has been a sieve all season. After capitulating for five long drives in Atlanta last week, they allowed a 40-year-old quarterback to march up and down the field Thursday night. Indy's coaching staff emphasized preventing J.J. Watt from wrecking the game plan. Credit the beleaguered offensive line for holding the NFL's dominant defensive force to two tackles and no sacks, even if they got away with some holding and cutting.
  1. Arian Foster had a big impact as a receiver (nine catches, 77 yards), but is still rounding into peak football shape after missing the start of the season coming off of groin surgery. He's a couple of steps slower than he was last season.
  1. Third-round rookie Jaelen Strong's two touchdowns came on his first two NFL targets. The first was a 42-yard gift courtesy of the Colts' pathetic Hail Mary defense.
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