That didn’t change. Behind Luck’s passing, the Colts built a 21-point halftime lead and beat the Texans, 21-7, in the season’s rubber match between the two AFC South rivals.
The Colts had an extra weapon Saturday: a running attack. They rushed for 200 yards, with Marlon Mack gaining 148 yards and scoring a touchdown.
“A lot of guys are real happy,” Colts coach Frank Reich said. “Not just fight and scratch to get in the playoffs, but to do something, make some noise.”
Sixth-seeded Indianapolis scored touchdowns on its first two possessions, going 75 and 74 yards, against the third-seeded AFC South champion Texans before a crowd of 71,798. The Colts will play the Chiefs in Kansas City in the AFC divisional round.
“We have goals. We realize it’s about what are we doing to get to that goal,” Luck said. “We’ve been getting better and better and it’s very energizing.”
Making the playoffs after a horrendous start was quite an achievement for Indianapolis. The Colts ended the season with four wins, including a playoff play-in game against the Titans in the season finale.
On Saturday, the Colts showed what they can do when they put out a balanced offense. They needed only 35 carries to reach exactly 200 yards against a defense that features J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus.
“There were some effective runs early in the game, and to finish the game like we did. It’s not easy to run the ball on that defense, a lot of good players,” Luck said. “We made the most of it. We have confidence in our run game.”
Houston managed only 105 rushing yards. Quarterback Deshaun Watson gained 76 yards, mostly on scrambles, on eight carries. Lamar Miller was limited to 18 yards on five carries.
“We came into this game saying we need to dominate up front, we need to run the football and we need to stop the run,” Reich said. “I can’t say enough about that.”
Run the ball, stop the run.
“That’s December football into January,” said tight end Eric Ebron, who caught a 6-yard touchdown pass on the Colts’ initial drive. “That’s the kind of football you have to play now. We pass it when we have to, but we’re going to try and dominate the run game.”
Indianapolis made it 21-0 in the second quarter when Luck connected with Dontrelle Inman on an 18-yard touchdown pass.
Indianapolis recorded the opening nine first downs and was successful on its first seven third-down conversions. The Colts, who had 16 of the first 18 first downs, dominated the Texans in all facets.
“A lack of execution on our part,” said Watson, who completed 29 of 49 passes for 235 yards. “I didn’t make plays. I didn’t give my receivers a chance.”
Luck, the league’s likely comeback player of the year, was 19-for-32 for 222 yards with one interception. In the first half, he passed for 191 yards.
“Before you knew it, we were down 14-0,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said. “That just changes your offensive game plan.”