It's certainly meaningful in a football sense when a division-leading team constructs an impressive comeback on its way to a potential high playoff berth, as the Indianapolis Colts did on Sunday night. But when the head coach of the opposing team collapses on the field at the half, as Houston Texans head coach Gary Kubiak did while walking off the field at Houston's Reliant Stadium at the half, such things take their proper place. And the Colts' 27-24 win will ultimately be seen in that context.
Kubiak doubled over at the 24-yard line on the way to the Texans’ locker room in what appeared to be considerable pain, grabbing his leg. Stadium staff brought a stretcher out for Kubiak, who was seen sitting up shortly after the incident. Initial reports indicated that the coach was lucid and talking with medical personnel. He was taken off the field on the stretcher shortly after. He was then taken by ambulance to a Houston hospital. The Texans’ PR staff said that Kubiak never lost consciousness, and the team has reported that there are no issues with Kubiak’s heart.
"He had an episode at the end of the first half," Texans general manager Rick Smith told NBC's Michele Tafoya. "He was light-headed and dizzy, so we took him to one of the local hospitals. He's being evaluated by a number of specialists. He's awake, he's coherent, and he's talking, so we're just trying to get some information about what his condition is."
Smith said that there will be no decision on a possible interim coach until Kubiak's condition is fully assessed, and that the team is going forward with the possibility in mind that Kubiak could return to the team as early as Monday. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, who has head-coaching experience with the Denver Broncos, Buffalo Bills and Dallas Cowboys, finished the game in Kubiak's absence.
This happened one day after it was reported that Denver Broncos head coach John Fox will undergo aortic valve replacement surgery, and one season after Colts head coach Chuck Pagano discovered in-season that he would need treatment for leukemia.
"I did not," Colts quarterback Andrew Luck told Steve Wyche of the NFL Network, when he was asked if he knew that Kubiak had to be hospitalized. "We hope he's all right, and that's a terrible thing to hear. We'll pray for his health, and we did not know."
For Luck, who appeared shaken when he heard the news, this probably hit a bit too close for home. It was most likely that way for a lot of people.
“It was really weird," Keenum said. "Someone came in and started yelling for a trainer. They said that he had passed out, and we were all very worried. When we went back out, they told us that he was alright, that he was stable. They didn’t know what was going on yet. Obviously we were all upset about that but trying to stay focused at the same time.”
As for the game itself, the Texans went into the half up 21-3, powered by three touchdown passes from second-year quarterback Case Keenum, who built on his strong NFL debut against the Kansas City Chiefs two weeks ago. Receiver Andre Johnson caught all three of those scores, the first touchdowns for Johnson this season. Keenum once again brought an explosiveness to the Texans' passing game that veteran Matt Schaub could not, which was one reason that Keenum's ascent had little to do with Schaub's ankle injury in the end.
When Keenum hit Johnson for touchdowns of 62 and 41 yards in the first quarter, it marked the seventh and eighth passes of more than 25 yards in his five quarters as the team's starter. Schaub had six such plays in his previous 20 quarters. And Johnson had caught just two touchdown passes from Schaub in the duo's last 19 games together.
But in the second half -- and it's impossible to know how other events affected them -- the Texans started to wilt, and the Colts were ready to take advantage. Keenum threw for 350 yards in the game, but just 142 in the second half, and there would be no more touchdowns for him. Meanwhile, Andrew Luck was just warming up. In the Colts' first game without Reggie Wayne in 12 years, Luck found ways to make up for the loss of the injured receiver, starting and ending with second-year speedster T.Y. Hilton, who matched Johnson's three-touchdown total in the second half. And the Colts, who were down 24-6 with six seconds left in the third quarter, rallied back with 21 unanswered points and touchdowns to Hilton of nine, 10 and 58 yards.
It was Luck's 10th fourth-quarter comeback in his short career. No quarterback has more over the last two seasons.
"Great rally by the guys," Luck said after the game. "Credit to the Texans and the great game they played. Happy to get a win. Defense came up with some great stops, and T.Y. Hilton -- if you didn't know his name, you will now. Great team effort."
In the end, with all the major events going on, special teams may have decided this game. Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri hit on two of his three field goal attempts, while Houston kicker Randy Bullock missed three of his four tries, including a 55-yard miss wide left at the end of the game. At 6-2, the Colts have a firm handle on the AFC South as they find a new offensive paradigm without Wayne on the active roster. Keenum has given the 2-6 Texans a bit of hope for the future in what has become a lost season, but until Kubiak's diagnosis is complete, even that positive note has a sour taste.