INDIANAPOLIS — Colts quarterback Matt Hasselbeck took another brutal beating. Indianapolis’ fading playoff hopes might not survive Sunday’s stinging loss.
Houston’s defense stopped the Colts cold in the second half and third-string quarterback Brandon Weeden threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Jaelen Strong with 10:36 left in the game to help the Texans stun Indianapolis 16-10.
By winning for the first time in 14 tries in Indy, the Texans have taken sole possession of the AFC South lead and now have the inside track to their third division title in five years.
Indy, meanwhile, will need help to make its fourth straight playoff appearance.
"There’s nothing you can do about it," coach Chuck Pagano said. "It’s not over till you decide it’s over. We’re not going down that road."
After winning an NFL-record 16 consecutive games against division foes, the Colts (6-8) have lost two AFC South games in two weeks — and three in a row overall.
The worst part, though, might be Hasselbeck’s health.
Over the past two weeks, the 40-year-old backup has fought through neck, shoulder and rib injuries and in Sunday’s loss, he hurt his jaw. Hasselbeck left briefly in the fourth quarter after being driven into the ground by Whitney Mercilus with what the team initially called a back injury.
"Only one hurts at a time," Hasselbeck joked.
But the injury and the loss certainly damaged Indy’s postseason plans, and there’s still no indication if Andrew Luck will play next week at Miami. Luck has missed five straight games with a lacerated kidney and a partially torn abdominal muscle.
Houston (7-7), in contrast, made its backup plan work.
With starting quarterback Brian Hoyer out with a concussion and his replacement, T.J. Yates, knocked out with a left knee injury with 1:14 to go in the first half, Weeden was pressed into service and the 32-year-old responded by being efficient when he had to be.
He led the Texans to two field goals before throwing the TD pass to make it 13-10 and set up Nick Novak for one more score with 1:56 left.
The former first-round draft pick and one-time starter was released after two seasons in Cleveland. Eventually, he signed with Dallas, was benched in October and cut in November. Houston claimed him off waivers Nov. 18 as an insurance policy — one that paid handsome dividends in an ugly win.
Houston (7-7) won for the first time in three weeks and snapped a six-game skid in the series thanks to a stifling defense, which allowed just 190 yards, and the resurgence of Weeden.
"He’s a pro, he acts like a pro, he carries himself like a pro, he is a pro," coach Bill O’Brien said. "Look, I’m not sure he has the whole offense down pat, but I think he has enough that he can go in there and function."
The question now is how much longer will Houston need Weeden?
O’Brien said he didn’t expect Yates to play next week and didn’t provide a specific update on the injury, though the CBS broadcast said initial reports indicated it was an ACL injury.
Hoyer’s status for next week, O’Brien said, remains unclear, too
The battle of backup quarterbacks certainly didn’t earn many style points.
Weeden finished 11 of 18 with 105 yards, but found Strong on the critical screen play on the right side. Strong caught it, raced up the field and dived into the end zone.
Yates was 6 of 10 with 68 yards and one interception.
Hasselbeck was 17 of 30 with 147 yards, one touchdown and one interception, and needed help from Charlie Whitehurst to finish the game. But Hasselbeck couldn’t get anything going in the second half and Indy lost its third straight after Hasselbeck misread a deep route from Donte Moncrief and threw an interception on the first play of the Colts’ final series.
Houston had two turnovers and terrible field position in the first half, but all the Colts managed was an 11-yard TD pass from Hasselbeck to Moncrief and a 29-yard field goal from Adam Vinatieri for a 10-0 lead.
The Texans got a 22-yard field goal from Novak on the final play of the half, a 46-yard field goal late in the third quarter and the TD pass from Weeden to Strong early in the fourth to make it 13-10.
NOTES: Texans receiver Cecil Shorts III left early with a groin injury and isn’t expected to play next week. … Vinatieri played in his 304th career game, breaking a tie with Jerry Rice for No. 6 on the NFL’s career list for games played. … Houston’s Alfred Blue ran 20 times for 107 yards. … Hasselbeck tied Terry Bradshaw and Y.A. Tittle for No. 30 all-time in TD passes (212), and Colts receiver Andre Johnson passed James Lofton for No. 9 in yards receiving (14,015).