INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Play 60. Minutes.
Not 59 and change. Not 45 minutes, and certainly not 30.
When the scoreboard clock struck triple-zeroes Sunday at Houston’s NRG Stadium, there was Jabaal Sheard and Barkevious Mingo and the Indianapolis Colts defense still standing. Most of them were exchanging high fives and hugs at midfield.
“There’s no better feeling than to win on their field,’’ veteran safety Darius Butler said.
They played 60 minutes. And it took everyone one of those 3,600 seconds.
“It came down the every last second to get that win,’’ Chuck Pagano said.
The last second and the last play enabled the Colts to finally – finally – avoid the recent fourth-quarter fades that had pushed them to the brink of irrelevancy.
With everything on the line – fourth-and-goal at the 7, 2 seconds remaining, the Texans in touchdown-or-else mode – Sheard whipped Houston left tackle Chris Clark, got to quarterback Tom Savage and forced a fumble that Mingo recovered.
Ballgame: Colts 20, Texans 14.
Indy did what they weren’t able to do seven days ago in a 24-23 loss at Cincinnati. The Colts led 23-17 and had possession with 7 minutes to play.
Or in a 36-22 loss the previous week at Tennessee. They entered the fourth quarter massaging a 19-9 lead and still were tied at 19-all with 6 minutes remaining.
Each time, they saw fourth-quarter leads go Poof! In fact, the Colts have held a fourth-quarter lead in six of nine games and had lost three times.
Sunday, they finished.
“We talked at length about finishing, playing 60 minutes,’’ Pagano said. “That’s all we talked about at halftime is ‘You’ve got to close. We’ve got to learn to finish and we’ve got to close this thing out.’
“They did a tremendous job as a football team today.’’
And again, it took all 60 minutes.
The Texans were without rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in practice Thursday, and meandered like a rudderless ship 31Ž2 quarters. Savage elicited boos from the crowd, at one point completing 9-of-29 passes for 96 yards.
Then, the fourth quarter.
Then, what seemed to be a repeat of the Colts’ last visit to Houston when they built a 23-9 fourth-quarter lead only to allow Brock Osweiler to pass for two touchdowns in the final 3 minutes and the Texans to escape with a 26-23 win in overtime.
Savage’s 34-yard TD to DeAndre Hopkins narrowed Indy’s lead to 20-14, and 6 minutes, 11 seconds remained. When the Colts were forced to punt on their ensuing possession, Savage went back to work and had the Texans on the brink of another unlikely comeback.
A 10-yard hookup with Hopkins gave Houston a first-and-goal at the 7 with 18 seconds to play.
That’s when the Colts’ defense stepped up and finished.
End Henry Anderson forced a first-down incompletion with a hit on Savage. After a second-down incompletion, rookie cornerback Nate Hairston deflected a pass to Hopkins at the goal line.
So, fourth-and-the game. Two seconds on the clock.
Brissett was powerless, and a basket case, on the sideline.
“I hate that,’’ he said with a smile. “It’s not one of my favorite moments of the game. That’s why . . . Schotty (position coach Brian Schottenheimer) says, ‘You’re not in until you’re in.’
“With our defense’s back against the wall, they came out and made a great play.’’
Sheard stepped up. Every defender did, for that matter.
“Everybody in the huddle was like, ‘Somebody make a play. Let’s step up,’’’ Sheard said. “Secondary and D-Butts was like ‘I’ve got coverage. We’re going to hold up. Y’all go get the quarterback.’
“They did a good job of getting him to hold the ball and tap the ball, and we condensed the pocket and stepped up and made a play.’’
It was an appropriate finish for Sheard. One of general manager Chris Ballard’s key free-agent acquisitions was credited with four tackles, two sacks and two more hits on Savage. Both sacks resulted in fumbles.
“It was just somebody had to step up and make a play and close it out,’’ said Butler. “Guys were just scratchin’ and clawin’, finding a way to win.
“That’s what games come down to, the last possession, 60-minute ballgame, a dogfight. We found a way to make one more play.’’
The Colts were without veteran cornerback Vontae Davis, who surprisingly did not make the trip because of a “coach’s decision,’’ according to Pagano.
That pushed Pierre Desir into the starting lineup, and he responded with three tackles and three defended passes. Safety Matthias Farley contributed a team-high eight tackles while linebacker Jon Bostic had six tackles and two defended passes. Mingo had seven tackles, a defended pass and the game-sealing fumble recovery.
The Watson-less Texans were limited to 96 total yards in the first half and finished the game converting just 4-of-14 third-down situations.
The midfield celebration of Colts was warranted.
“It was great,’’ Butler said. “That’s what you do it all for. That’s what you make sacrifices for. That’s why you work your tail off all week, to find a way to come out on top.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.