Colts vs. Texans rematch? ‘This is a Game 7 atmosphere’


HOUSTON, TX – OCTOBER 16: Andrew Luck #12 of the Indianapolis Colts hands the ball to Frank Gore #23 of the Indianapolis Colts in the fourth quarter during the NFL game between the Indianapolis Colts and the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium on October 16, 2016 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Before someone tries to sell us the It’s just another game argument, we’ll give Dwayne Allen the floor.

The subject: The Indianapolis Colts’ rematch with the Houston Texans Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.

The storyline: The Colts blowing a 23-9 lead midway through the fourth quarter and absorbing a numbing 26-23 overtime loss in Houston Oct. 16.

The floor’s yours, Dwayne.

“A lot of people came to me before the Monday night game and were like, ‘Are you excited for playing on Monday night?’’’ Allen said Wednesday, referring to the Colts’ 41-10 win over the New York Jets. “It’s an exciting stage to be on, but no, it’s another game.

“This game this weekend, that’s exciting. This is what you play the game for. T.Y. (Hilton) said it best: this is a Game 7 atmosphere.’’

It’s not do-or-die, but it’s oh so close to that.

The Colts and Texans are tied with Tennessee atop the AFC South at 6-6, and Sunday’s loser at Lucas Oil Stadium faces long odds at winning the division and reaching the postseason.

That’s especially true for the Colts. While they would hold a tiebreaker over the Titans based on sweeping the season series, another loss to the Texans would be a near-death experience.

“You win this one, you take first place and you control your destiny so to speak,’’ Allen said. “That’s what we’re preparing for, a Game 7 atmosphere.’’

Quarterback Brock Osweiler, who engineered the late comeback in Houston, didn’t diminish the magnitude of the rematch with the Colts. After a 6-3 start, the Texans have lost three straight.

“We know that it’s a must-win game if we want to accomplish the goals that we set out early in the year,’’ he said. “I know the Colts feel the exact same way so I expect this game to be played in a playoff-like atmosphere.

“It certainly feels like a playoff game. Our team knows how important this game is.’’

At the risk of dwelling on the past, the Colts realize what they let get away in primetime nearly two months ago. Had they closed the deal at NRG Stadium, they might have a firm grasp on the AFC South rather than find themselves in a three-team, four-week, mad December dash.

For three-and-a-half quarters, the Colts dominated Osweiler and the Texans. Adam Vintatieri’s 36-yard field goal with 7:04 remaining gave the Colts a 23-9 lead.

Then . . .

“There was a momentum shift,’’ said Allen, who suffered a high ankle sprain and exited after just six plays. “I felt from start to finish we had control. Well excuse me, start-to-almost-finish we had control of the game.

“Then there was an incredible momentum shift. Once it shifted, they took over and ran away with the game.’’

For three-plus quarters, the Colts stifled Osweiler, who was 12-of-25 for 91 yards and one interception. Then everything clicked as Houston went into hurry-up mode. Over the final 7 minutes of regulation and overtime, Osweiler was 13-of-14 for 188 yards and two touchdowns. His 36-yard completion to Jaelen Strong in OT positioned the Texans for Nick Novak’s game-winning 33-yard field goal.

“I remember us playing really well and being up . . . 23-9 with five minutes to go, or three minutes to go,’’ Chuck Pagano said. “And then an artery opened up and blood started gushing and we didn’t have enough gauze and tape and bandages to stop the bleeding.

“That’s momentum. They caught fire and we couldn’t do anything about it, didn’t do anything about it. So you learn from that. You watch it, you grow, see how it happened and what you have to do to prevent that from happening, or at least stop the bleeding.’’

So much attention was focused on the defense’s inability to close. It yielded a pair of Osweiler TD passes in the final 3 minutes of regulation.

But the offense also was complicit.

After Osweiler’s 10-yard TD pass to Lamar Miller closed the deficit to 23-16 with 2:37 remaining, the Andrew Luck-led offense responded with a three-and-out that included a sack of Luck and a false start by tight end Erik Swoope. The Colts’ only overtime possession reached midfield, but stalled due to another sack and Luck missing T.Y. Hilton, who was open for what would have been a first down.

Pagano questioned his team lacking a killer’s instinct in the post-game press conference, although Wednesday he seemed not to recall that.

“I’ve got to see the transcript,’’ he argued. “Don’t put words in my mouth.’’

The pertinent comments from Pagano following the meltdown in Houston: “It’s about having a killer instinct, and finishing.’’

He believes the Colts have learned their lesson.

“Are we better today than we were however many weeks ago it was? I think so. I know so,’’ Pagano said. “We’ve always had a killer instinct. Did we have one that night? We didn’t finish the game.’’

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