The Colts notched an important win over their division rivals on Thursday night in Houston, 33-28, their fourth consecutive victory.
Three thoughts on the AFC South showdown:
1. Finally, a little Thursday night entertainment
After five straight "Thursday Night Football" routs to open the season, the Colts and Texans gave us a thoroughly entertaining game in Week 6.
It didn't appear to be headed that way early -- the Colts raced out to a 24-0 lead at the end of one quarter, complete with a surprise onside kick recovery and zero completions from Houston QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. A pair of Texans touchdowns over the second-quarter span of 1:21 shot some needed adrenaline into the contest, though, and it was on from there.
Not until Bjoern Werner forced a Fitzpatrick fumble in the closing moments was Indianapolis' win (and eighth straight win on Thursday night) secured.
"Especially on a short week," Colts QB Andrew Luck said on the NFL Network's postgame show, "we knew we couldn't come here on the road and get off to a slow start."
Thursday's early spurt could tip the scales permanently within the AFC South. For the first time this season, Indianapolis (4-2) sits alone atop the division and has four of its next six at home. Houston (3-3) has dropped heartbreakers on back-to-back weekends and must turn around for a Monday nighter at Pittsburgh next week.
Those of us with less invested in the outcome than the teams themselves still should appreciate that the game was not decided until the final two minutes. The first five Thursday nighters had an average margin of victory of 29 points, including Green Bay's 42-10 romp over Minnesota last week.
Houston refused to fold after Indianapolis landed some early haymakers. Unfortunately for the Texans, the comeback was too little, too late ... but at least they kept things interesting.
2. Outside of Andrew Luck, Ahmad Bradshaw is the most important player on the Colts' offense
Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton might garner a few votes in this category, thanks to his 223-yard effort. Hilton fell one yard shy of the team's regular-season record, which is held by Raymond Berry. Hilton matched the 224-yard total during Indianapolis' playoff win over Kansas City last season.
As usual, Ahmad Bradshaw's contributions were critical in a number of different areas -- least of all being the ground game, where he rushed for just 34 yards on 11 carries. He added a receiving touchdown to that total, slipping out of the backfield for an easy five-yard completion from Andrew Luck to hand the Colts a 17-0 lead.
But his best effort of the night came on a Luck-to-Coby Fleener touchdown pass. On that play, the one and only J.J. Watt came flying around the edge of the line and looked to have a clear shot on Luck. Bradshaw denied him, cutting in front of his QB to reroute Watt just enough for Luck to get the pass away.
Few backs in the league would have had the wherewithal to make that block, and Bradshaw continued to help out on Watt throughout the night.
Having Bradshaw as a runner provides a necessary safety net with Trent Richardson still slogging his way to fewer than 3.0 yards per carry. Having him as an extra protector in the backfield helps Indianapolis cover up some of its injury-induced issues up front.
Never was the latter more apparent than when Watt set his sights on Luck.
3. J.J. Watt is from another universe
Of course, the Colts could have had a dozen Ahmad Bradshaws surrounding Luck and odds are Watt would have made his way through for a couple sacks. Watt finished Thursday with two as it was, both outstanding individual efforts -- he dove to trip up a bootlegging Luck early, then powered through a block to take Luck down with one arm later in the game.
Oh, and Watt also had seven tackles, three tackles for loss, two pass deflections and a touchdown.
Which gives him three touchdowns on the season, tying him with the likes of Kelvin Benjamin, Julio Jones and Jimmy Graham, one TD ahead of Calvin Johnson. The latest Watt TD came on a scoop-and-score fumble recovery, the play that pulled Houston within that 33-28 count.
Amazingly, he could have had another touchdown on Thursday night, too, but he failed to corral a wayward Luck screen pass.
"You absolutely have to be aware for where he is on the field -- a lot of respect for the way that guy plays football, he's a premier football player," Luck said. "We knew our backs were going to help out, we were going to try to double him as much as we could. ...
"He obviously disrupted some of the plays and made some big ones, but I thought our guys did a nice job hanging with him."
That's about all an offense can hope for when matched vs. Watt: to hang in there. No matter how much attention he draws, Watt finds his way to critical, often game-changing plays. The former Wisconsin Badger did so again Thursday.
The momentum for a J.J. Watt MVP candidacy keeps on growing.
Bonus thought: Are we really still this unsure of what constitutes a catch in the NFL?
Andre Johnson caught a pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick, took three or four steps, then fumbled the football. Simple, right? Never. Not when it comes to the NFL's rules on what is and is not a catch.
Immediately, CBS rules guru/former NFL official Mike Carey declared that the play should be ruled an incompletion because Johnson "never had control" and that he had failed to make a "football move.".Good luck figuring out exactly what falls under that "football move" category, by the way. The rule book states that a player must secure the football, land inbounds and maintain "control of the ball long enough ... to enable him to perform any act common to the game (i.e. maintaining control long enough to pitch it, pass it, advance with it, or avoid or ward off an opponent, etc.)."
So ... yeah.
The Johnson play was ruled a fumble on the field, then that call was upheld after a review by referee Ronald Torbert and the NFL's replay crew in New York.
Carey disagreed, as no doubt did some Texans fans. The majority of people watching likely agreed with the call -- including Johnson, who left the field immediately and slammed his helmet down, not quite the reaction of a player who thought he had bobbled an incomplete pass.
Trying to figure out what actually counts as a catch under the NFL rules is a total crap shoot.