From AP REPORTS
HOUSTON (AP) — The Colts’ last trip to Houston ended with a 27-24 loss that denied them a chance for a first-round playoff bye.
Nine months later, undefeated Indianapolis returns to the site of the shocker to face an upstart Texans team that is 2-0 for the first time in franchise history.
It’s a matchup for the early lead in the AFC South.
The Colts haven’t lost since and went on to win the Super Bowl. Houston started its first extended winning streak with that victory and has now won four in a row.
Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy remembers that last meeting well.
“They just outplayed us,” Dungy said. “They were more physical than we were. They got the takeaways … we just have to try to match their intensity this year, tackle a little bit better and control the ball when we have it.”
In that game, the Texans used a Ron Dayne-led attack to gain 191 yards rushing and control the time of possession by more than 10 minutes to keep Peyton Manning and the Colts’ offense off the field.
Veteran center Steve McKinney said that win, which broke a streak of nine straight losses to the Colts, should help Houston on Sunday.
“I think the fact that we beat them last year gives you that little bit of confidence knowing that you can beat them,” he said. “They had had our number nine straight games, so you finally get that monkey off your back and now we can go and prepare for this game, knowing that we’ve already done it and knowing what it took to do it.”
To be successful Sunday, the Texans will likely use a similar game plan because Pro Bowl receiver Andre Johnson said he won’t play as he recovers from a knee sprain.
This year, Houston has the combination of Dayne, the 1999 Heisman Trophy Winner, and starter Ahman Green to run the ball.
“The way they beat us is, I think, the way they plan to play us, and we’ve got to do something to try to control the running game and control the intermediate passes,” Dungy said.
Some Texans are calling it their first big game in the NFL and the most important game in team history.
But Matt Schaub wants his team to keep perspective, reminding the players it’s only one game.
“It’s a divisional opponent, we’re both 2-0, but at the same time, it’s one game and we have to just prepare the best we can so we can go out Sunday and play well,” he said.
Texans coach Gary Kubiak is curious if he’ll see a different defense without Johnson, who is fourth in the NFL with 262 yards receiving.
Johnson has missed just three games in his five-year career.
“As a coach, you wonder,” he said. “People tend to play Andre a certain way and if you don’t have him, how do they play you?”
Schaub has been solid in his first two games as a full-time starter, but will certainly be tested against the Colts with his top target on the sidelines.
“You can’t replace an Andre Johnson,” Schaub said. “You just try to do it as a group, with everyone just picking up their play a little bit more.”
Houston’s leading receiver, far behind Johnson, is rookie Jacoby Jones, who has two catches for 33 yards.
Second receiver Kevin Walter has two receptions for 17 yards. Jones, who is from Division II Lane College, will likely start in place of Johnson.
Schaub is confident that Jones, a former track star, will help pick up the slack.
“He knows what he can do and his ability,” Schaub said. “If we can just give him a chance and give him the ball, he can make plays for us.”
Schaub has been sacked just twice, but hasn’t yet faced a defense like Indianapolis, with DEs Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis and safety Bob Sanders. Sanders, who missed 12 games last season, is tied for third in the league with 2 1/2 sacks.
The Texans’ defense has allowed an average of 12 points through the first two weeks, but faces a team averaging 31.5 points and that has averaged 30 points in 10 previous meetings between the two.
Kubiak, a former quarterback and longtime backup to John Elway, knows the test his defense will face. He gushed about Manning.
“I’ve never seen anybody better,” he said. “He’s got total command of the game of football, not just their offense.
Some of the throws he’s making and the way he diagnoses a defense and the things he’s getting done at the line of scrimmage, it may be a long time before we ever see that again.”
Houston has lost two starting safeties to injuries and is trying to get new Texans Will Demps and Michael Boulware more involved in the defense.
Boulware has played mostly special teams since being traded from Seattle, but Demps saw some action on defense last week and forced a fumble.
Cornerback Dunta Robinson, whose two interceptions are tied for most in the NFL, has taken over as a leader in Houston’s young secondary.
“I think the biggest thing is not making mistakes,” he said. “That’s where a lot of teams get hurt. They give up a lot of big plays to them.”
Manning said he’s getting used to his new players on offense, including left tackle Tony Ugoh, a rookie from Houston.
“Those guys are getting a lot of experience early and you’re trying to help those guys come along,” he said, “and our veteran players are doing a good job helping those guys with the transition.”