The Winner Loses: Texans blow top pick in wild 32-31 victory over Colts

Houston Texans tight end Jordan Akins (88) rolls in the end zone after making a catch for a 2-point conversion Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, during a game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

The Winner Loses: Texans blow top pick in wild 32-31 victory over Colts

In a season where the Houston Texans seemingly screwed up everything, they found one more thing to ruin.

All season long, the Houston Texans found ways to lose football games. Late-game defensive collapses, late-game quarterback implosions, hideous turnovers, dumb penalties, the list checks every box.

Not in Week 18.

With the rights to the top pick on the line and the ability to choose whomever it is they believe is the best quarterback in the draft hanging in the balance, the Houston Texans completed a game-winning drive complete with a 2-point conversion with 50 seconds remaining to steal a 32-31 win in Indianapolis against the Colts and surrender those draft rights.

It is a script so ludicrous, it wouldn’t even be written in fiction. That statement alone almost makes it apropos for this Texans team under the stewardship of Cal McNair.

This was a game the team needed to lose, like they had 13 times before. The first pick was the reward for a brutal season that saw the team steal defeat from the jaws of victory numerous times. Not today.

The game started out all Texans too.

On the opening drive, the Texans blew through the Colts defense with ease en route to a seven-play, 75-yard touchdown drive in only 3:43 finished off by a Davis Mills 11-yard touchdown pass to Brandin Cooks. The Texans had chunk pass plays of 33 yards to Cooks and 15 yards to Jordan Akins on the drive, and it looked far too easy. It was fair to question how much the Colts were really going to try in this game after that drive.

It got worse for Indianapolis when the ensuing kickoff was fumbled by Dallis Flowers, and recovered by the Texans M.J. Stewart to give Houston the ball at the Indianapolis 18.

Four plays later, Ka’imi Fairbairn drilled a 37-yard field goal and Houston had a 10-0 lead with 9:40 left in the first quarter.

The Colts were able to gather themselves and respond with a long touchdown drive of their own. Their 11-play, 75-yard drive consumed 5:44 of clock and ended with a 1-yard touchdown pass from Sam Ehlinger to Michael Pittman Jr. to make it a 10-7 game with 3:56 to go in the first quarter.

Both teams then traded punts before it seemed the Texans were about to do what the Texans usually do, which is find ways to give away scoring opportunities.

On a second-and-8 from the Colts 21, Texans running back Royce Freeman was stripped of the football by Colts LB E.J. Speed at the 14. The ball bounced forward and was recovered by Colts safety Julian Blackmon at the 8. He returned the ball 34 yards to the 42.

A drive that had the Texans knocking on the red zone came away with nothing.

On the first play of their ensuing drive, Ehlinger was intercepted by Texans defensive end Jon Greenard, who returned it 39 yards for a touchdown. The Texans took a 17-7 lead with 10:30 remaining before halftime.

After a long 10-play, 65-yard drive that chewed 5:44 off the clock, Ehlinger gave the Texans another gift.

On third-and-9 from the Texans 13, Ehlinger threw a terrible pass to the waiting arms of Texans linebacker Christian Kirksey at the Houston 2. Kirksey took it 18 yards to the Texans 20 on the return, denying the Colts a golden opportunity for points.

Houston could not capitalize on the turnover and had to punt. The Colts could not get into field goal range before the end of the half, and they went to the break with the Texans holding a 17-7 lead.

The Colts would blow another chance for points on their opening drive of the third quarter.

On a seven-play, 80-yard drive that lasted 3:09, the Colts were faced with a fourth-and-goal the Houston 6. Colts coach Jeff Saturday sent in his field goal unit, but the Texans jumped offsides.

Now facing a fourth-and-goal from the Houston 3, Saturday pulled his field goal team and sent the offense back on the field to go for it. Ehlinger’s pass intended for Jelani Woods was incomplete, and the Colts were again turned away by the Texans.

The Texans only gained 12 yards before punting, and former Texan Keke Coutee returned the punt 13 yards to the Houston 49.

Five plays later, the Colts were in the end zone. running back Zack Moss went full beast mode, breaking tackles and blasting though would-be tacklers for a 15-yard touchdown run to get the Colts within three at 17-14 with 6:40 to go in the third quarter.

The Texans answered back quickly thanks to their tight ends.

After a 52-yard completion from Mills to TE Teagan Quitoriano got the team to the Indy 21, Mills found Akins for a 19-yard touchdown. Houston went 79 yards on just five plays in 2:49. They had a 24-14 lead with 3:51 remaining in the third.

After a Colts punt, it seemed the Texans would hold a solid 10 point lead heading into the fourth quarter, but Mills’ poor decision making reared its ugly head.

Facing a third-and-8 from his own 21, Mills made an ill-advised throw that was intercepted by Rodney McLeod Jr. and returned for a 27-yard touchdown. The Colts cut the deficit back to three with just 52 seconds remaining in the third quarter.

On the third play of the next drive, Mills’ blundering was on full display.

On third-and-8 from their own 27, Mills inexplicably heaved a ball up for grabs down the field into double coverage. It was intercepted by Rodney Thomas II at the Colts 31 and returned 11 yards to the Indianapolis 42.

The Colts then went seven plays and 58 yards in a leisurely 4:30 as Ehlinger finished the drive with a 4-yard pass to tight end Mo Alie-Cox to give Indianapolis their first lead of the game, 28-24 with 10:30 left in regulation.

On the first play of that drive, Texans standout rookie safety Jalen Pitre was injured and left the game. He was evaluated for a concussion and would not return.

After a Texans three-and-out, the Colts tacked on another field goal to make it a six-point game. Chase McLaughlin connected from 54 yards to make it a 31-24 Colts lead with just 3:33 remaining in the game.

Then, in a spot where the Texans had essentially been fruitless the entire season, Davis Mills seized control of the game late.

Mills led the Texans on a 14-play, 83-yard drive in a very efficient 2:43. He hit Amari Rodgers for 14 yards. He connected with Chris Moore for 12 yards. He then did the seemingly impossible twice.

Facing fourth-and-18 at the Colts 48, Mills drilled one to Cooks for 30 yards to the Indianapolis 18. After two incompletions and a 10-yard sack pushed Houston back to the Colts 28 for a fourth-and-20, Mills found Akins for a 28-yard score with just 50 seconds remaining.

Trailing by one and on the road, despite knowing the number one pick hung in the balance, Texans head coach Lovie Smith sent his offense on the field to go for a 2-point conversion and the lead.

Mills found Akins again, and the conversion was successful. Houston took a 32-31 lead with 50 seconds remaining in the contest.

With two seconds left, Ehlinger took a snap from his own 46 and heaved a prayer to the end zone that was batted down by Texans cornerback Tremon Smith to seal the victory.

In a case of “The Winner Loses,” Houston finished the season 3-13-1 and will have the second pick in the draft, as the Bears have now passed them for the worst record (3-14). Indianapolis finished 4-12-1 and with the loss moved up to the number five pick, though they could move up as far as three depending on whether the Broncos and Cardinals win or lose their final games in Week 18.

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