“We have to learn how to close games out,” Hughes said. ”We were up on those guys and we had our chances in the second half and fourth quarter to shut the door as a defense. When you have someone on the ropes, you have to shut them down completely and solidify the game. We didn’t do that."
For three quarters on Sunday, the Texans looked like they were going to have a perfect start to the season.
The defense was making plays and forcing turnovers, the offense was driving and the pass game was working, and the special teams was doing its job.
Then, everything fell apart in the fourth quarter.
Houston blew a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter against the Indianapolis Colts at NRG Stadium, eventually settling for a 20-20 tie in overtime as both teams were unable to score in the overtime period.
“We talk a lot about finishing here and we didn’t finish the way we needed to today,” said Texans head coach Lovie Smith. “When you have a 20-3 lead at home, you have to finish that off, we did some good things offensively and defensively early on, but it wasn’t enough today.”
Indianapolis came out strong from the start, after trading punts with the Texans to begin the game, the Colts drove down the field, but the Texans were able to hold them to just a field goal as the Colts went up by 3.
It was a defensive battle in the first half and the Texans continued to bend but not break defensively, the Colts got the ball all the way down to the Texans 2-yard line early in the second quarter, but Jonathan Greenard made a huge stop on fourth and goal to keep things a one possession game.
That stop rejuvenated a Texans offense that had up to that point been stopped on every drive. Houston drove the ball 69 yards on 14 plays, taking six minutes, 20 seconds off the clock before Ka’Imi Fairbairn tied things on a 45-yard field goal.
The Texans then stopped another drive that looked good form the Colts, with Jerry Hughes making an interception and the Houston offense took advantage of good field position, going on a four play, 58-yard drive that culminated in a 16 yard pass from Davis Mills to OJ Howard, giving the Texans a 10-3 lead.
The Colts seemed destined to respond, driving down the field on a two minute drill, but Jerry Hughes again came up huge for the Texans defense, with a big sack to stall the drive and move the Colts out of field goal position, preserving the Texans seven point lead heading into the half.
The Texans cmae out in the second half with the offense still carrying that momentum and added to their lead on a 43-yard field goal, and the Texans defense continued to bend but not break, adding another turnover to their tally with a fumble recovery. And the Texans offense cashed in once again, going on a four play, 58-yard drive where Mills threw a 22-yard touchdown to Howard for their second scoring connection of the day, making things 20-3 in favor of the Texans.
“OJ really only got here last week and he’s got to work and put his head down,” Mills said. “I think he’s in a really good spot right now. He made some big time plays today and we have a lot of guys across the field we can utilize in those situations.”
The Colts started to fight their way back into things in the fourth quarter and again had a drive inside the Texans 5-yard-line, but a big defensive stand by Houston limited Indianapolis to just a field goal.
But the Texans gave the Colts life on their next drive, Mills lost a fumble as he was sacked and Indianapolis recovered it inside the Texans 20-yard-line. The Colts took advantage of it, Jonathan Taylor ran in a 2-yard touchdown with seven minutes left in the game, trimming the Texans lead to 20-13. The Colts then tied things up on their next drive, going 80-yards on seven plays and scoring on a Matt Ryan pass to Michael Pittman. The Colts got the ball back with a chance to win the game, but the Texans held, and the game went to overtime.
Once the game got to overtime, the Texans faltered, the offense went 3-and-out, losing 16 yards on the drive before punting it away. The Colts came back and drove down the field but missed a field goal to win the game, and the Texans could do nothing with their final drive of the game, pinning the Colts back on a punt and ensuring a tie. The tie was the first in the Texans 21-year history.
“We thought about going for it on our last fourth down in overtime, but ultimately we thought punting it was the better option,” Smith said. “If we didn’t get it, they still had some time to get in field goal range and our defense was not playing its best. I just felt like there based on everything that we needed to pin them back and secure the tie. There’s a lot of football left this season and I felt like a tie was better than a potential loss.”
The Texans know that blowing that 17-point lead was unacceptable, and they’re determined to come back stronger in week two. Houston travels to face the Broncos on Sunday in search of a bounce back.
“We have to learn how to close games out,” Hughes said. ”We were up on those guys and we had our chances in the second half and fourth quarter to shut the door as a defense. When you have someone on the ropes, you have to shut them down completely and solidify the game. We didn’t do that. We have to learn from this game and figure out a way to close games, because you have to do that in the NFL, it’s the only way you’re going to win is by getting it done in that fourth quarter.”