Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, center, is hit as he throws by Houston Texans linebacker Benardrick McKinney (55) and linebacker Whitney Mercilus (59) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 11, 2016, in Indianapolis. (AP
Darron Cummings
December 11, 2016

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) The Indianapolis Colts had 12 months to reflect on how Houston got its first win on its home turf - and the AFC South title last season.

They may have let it slip away again Sunday.

After spending the past month fighting their way back into the division chase and a potential playoff spot, the Colts took a major step backward Sunday with a 22-17 loss to the Texans.

''It's hard to sort of digest big implications and I think as players, we don't,'' Andrew Luck said.

''We know we have to go out and take care of our business. There's a little bit of hoping involved, but we still have to take care of business.''

The consequence of losing a mid-December game in this series is well-documented.

Over the past four years, the winner has won the AFC South title. The loser, each of the past three years, didn't make the postseason.

It could happen again.

Houston and Tennessee are tied for the division lead at 7-6 but with a sweep over the Titans and the first season sweep of Indianapolis (6-7) in franchise history, the Texans have a clear path to defending their AFC South title.

The Colts, meanwhile, must win and hope that the Texans, Titans and perhaps other teams stumble over the final three weeks of the season.

While the prospects look daunting with their next two games at Minnesota and Oakland, coach Chuck Pagano insisted it wasn't over and urged his players not to lose faith.

''I don't have a crystal ball. All we can do is, like we always do, get over this in a hurry,'' he said. ''There are so many things that can happen, we all see it. We all know it.''

What the loss did, though, is probably force the Colts into needing help to avoid missing the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1997 and 1998.

And the growing injury list won't help, either.

Indy started the game without linebacker Robert Mathis (biceps), safety Clayton Geathers (neck), cornerback Patrick Robinson (groin) and right guard Denzelle Good (concussion). Left guard Jack Mewhort (left knee) and receiver Donte Moncrief (hamstring) couldn't finish the game.

Center Ryan Kelly also left the game briefly, leaving the Colts temporarily without three of their five offensive line starters until Kelly returned.

So with three key games still on the schedule, Indianapolis has no choice but to play through the injuries and hope for the best - or suffer the same fate they did after last season's December loss to the Texans.

''We blew it,'' cornerback Darius Butler said. ''At home, having the game right there, but they outplayed us today. When it mattered most, critical situations, we just have to be better.''

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