Texans aim for first win in Indianapolis
INDIANAPOLIS, IN -- The Houston Texans have already had a season of historic firsts.
First 10-win season. First division title. First playoff berth.
They have a chance to get one more Thursday night when they visit the improving Colts: first win in Indianapolis.
The Texans are 0-9 in Indy, and the losses range from blowouts to last-second heartbreakers. For the first time, though, Houston (10-4) won't have to deal with Peyton Manning on top of the noisy crowd inside Lucas Oil Stadium.
Colts coach Jim Caldwell said Tuesday that Manning will not participate in team practices the rest of the season as he continues to recover from neck surgery.
"You always heard things about how good of a team they'd be without him," Houston linebacker Brian Cushing said. "You see the guys they have, and you see the kind of points they've always put up, you think that if a quarterback change would happen, it obviously would affect them. But you didn't think it would be this much."
Still, the Texans know this will be no walkover.
The Colts (1-13) earned their first win last week, beating Tennessee 27-13, and coach Gary Kubiak says he's seen steady improvement from Indy over the past month.
"That's impressive, after what they've been through as a team to see those guys in the lineup week in and week out, playing as hard as they've played," Kubiak said. "You can't help but even gain more respect for them as you watch the film and what they've been doing. They've been through a tough time without their leader, but those guys have been there all year long and they've always been there for that organization."
Manning and the Colts beat the Texans by an average score of 35-17 in the first seven meetings between the AFC South rivals in Indianapolis.
In 2009, Kris Brown missed a 42-yard field-goal attempt as time expired in a 20-17 Colts' victory. Last year, Indianapolis avenged an opening loss in Houston with a 30-17 home victory on a Monday night.
The Colts opened the season in Houston again this year, and offered the first glimpse of life without Manning in a 34-7 loss. While Houston has soared to its first AFC South title, Indy has plummeted to the bottom of the league in virtually every statistical category.
Forget the numbers, the Texans say.
Indy still has plenty of players who've haunted Houston in the past, including defensive ends Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney, five-time Pro Bowl receiver Reggie Wayne and standout tight end Dallas Clark.
"Things haven't changed," Houston right tackle Eric Winston said. "I give them a lot of credit. It would've been really easy to pack your bags and take it to the house when you're going through a season like this. They certainly haven't. They're professionals up there, they play hard and they're going to bring it."
And the Texans can't take any opponent for granted, not after losing 28-13 to Carolina on Sunday. Houston is still in the running for home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs, but would almost certainly need to beat the Colts and Tennessee in the regular-season finale to get it.
"There's a danger going into every game," Cushing said. "This team doesn't have anything to lose, and we know that. Both teams are going to be playing for a lot of pride. At the same time, this is a rivalry game, and we haven't forgotten about that.
"And we're going into somewhere where we've never won before," he said, "so we're trying to get that done."
Regardless of where they're playing, the Texans are happy to have such a quick turnaround after one of their worst performances of the season on Sunday. The Panthers jumped to a 21-0 lead, forced three turnovers and snapped Houston's seven-game winning streak.
Sure, the Texans would love to finally break through on the road against the Colts, but any victory will do.
"It'll be good for us," linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. "We've never won in that building, so it would be definitely a good feeling first of all, just to get the bad taste of Carolina out of our mouth. Just to move on to the next game and get a win would be huge for us."
NOTES: WR Andre Johnson will sit out Thursday's game with a strained left hamstring, the ninth time he'll be sidelined this year. Coach Gary Kubiak said he's just being cautious with his star receiver, but Johnson said he felt healthy enough to play in Indianapolis. ... Kubiak said defensive coordinator Wade Phillips remained hospitalized Tuesday after undergoing surgery on his kidney and gall bladder last week. Linebackers coach Reggie Herring will run the defense for the second game in Phillips' place.
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