For a brief time, the script looked all too familiar on Sunday at Reliant Stadium. The Texans raced out to a big first-half lead over the Colts, only to watch Peyton Manning and Jim Caldwell make their adjustments and rally from behind.
Then, events transpired that hadn't occurred in nearly all of head coach Gary Kubiak's prior eight meetings with the Colts. He matched Indianapolis' adjustments with a few of his own, using a power running attack to break open a tight game and send the Texans to a decisive opening-week victory.
"Coach told us [at the half] we were going to run more," left tackle Duane Brown said. "There was definitely an emphasis on the run, and we came out there on that first drive and got it done, and confidence just built from there."
"At halftime, we talked about the key to the game being the most physical team and our offensive line, after that first series, was like 'Run the ball'," said Kubiak. "That's what you want as a coach. You want those guys walking the sideline saying, 'Run the ball, coach'."
Arian Foster did just that throughout the second half, gashing the Colts' defense through gaping holes and finishing with a franchise-record 231 rushing yards on 33 carries, including three touchdowns.
It's only the second time in franchise history that the Texans have taken down rival Indianapolis, and the first in a meaningful situation.
"I think we made a statement to ourselves," defensive end Antonio Smith said. "Now people know on this team that we can get it done. We can be winners and we can be champions."
But it took a while for the true character of the game to become evident.
The Texans came out passing, attempting to involve offensive cornerstones Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson. It led to a 13-0 lead, punctuated by Schaub's 22-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Walter,in the second quarter.
Then the Colts, as great teams do, adjusted. When the Texans faked the run and went play-action on their next drive, Indianapolis didn't bite, leaving two defenders on Johnson. Schaub tried to rifle his pass through, and it was intercepted.
That possession was quickly followed by a three-and-out, finishing with a sack of Schaub on an attempted third-down pass. Before the Texans could blink, the 13-0 lead was trimmed to 13-10 at the half, and groans of "here we go again" were assuredly heard throughout Houston.
The Colts were routinely dropping linebackers into coverage against Houston's talented receivers, yet Schaub threw 12 first-half passes to only 10 rushes for Foster.
It all changed in the second half, though. Schaub tossed just five passes, while Foster was a workhorse, recording 23 carries in the second half alone. Steve Slaton added six more, bringing the Texans to a staggering 29-to-5 run-pass ratio.
The Colts never proved capable of stopping the run, so Kubiak refused to go away from it.
"Our plan [at the half] was to come out and run the ball, and maybe do some play-action," Texans tight end Owen Daniels said. "But why throw when you don't need to? Especially when you have Arian and Steve running it like that and the offensive line opening up those kinds of holes. It was a great gameplan."
The Texans also solved a familiar bugaboo in the second half. One of the leading stories of the 2009 Texans was an inability to convert red zone opportunities into touchdowns, instead settling for field goals (many missed by Kris Brown). The opening two Houston drives appeared all too familiar, except for new kicker Neil Rackers actually making both field goals.
But in the second half, the Texans avoided their tendency to get overly cute in the red zone, relying on bubble screens or fade patterns. They stuck with Foster and the ground game, and it resulted in touchdowns in all three of their trips inside the 20.
"I think that's really the difference in NFL games these days," Daniels said. "Either you're good in the red zone and you get touchdowns, or you settle for field goals and often lose, especially against a team like the Colts. They're always going to get their points."
Indeed they did, though 14 of the Colts' points came after the game had been decided. Mario Williams wreaked havoc with an inexperienced Colts' offensive line, combining with teammates on two sacks of Manning. Bernard Pollard was shaky in pass coverage, but stripped Austin Collie on a crucial fumble early in the fourth quarter in what Kubiak said was the game's crucial play.
From there, the Texans embarrassed the Colts, moving 91 yards in four plays -- all runs -- to claim a 27-10 lead, sparking a celebration at Reliant Stadium.
Foster and Slaton were each superb, but the holes opened up by the offensive line and fullback Vonta Leach were large enough for Kubiak himself to dart through.
"When they knew we were going to run the ball, we still took it down their throat," Leach said. "We wore them down up front. By the end, their linebackers were just going for [Foster's] legs."
The Texans are now 5-0 in regular season games in which Foster has played.
Even so, a letdown next Sunday at Washington -- which looked dreadful offensively in its season-opening win over the Cowboys -- would negate much of the progress made.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
But unlike prior big Texans moments, this one feels different. The Texans didn't simply out-finesse the Colts through the franchise talents of Schaub and Johnson. They beat them down, both physically and strategically, while effectively stripping the manhood of the defending AFC champions.
Welcome to the new Texans.
"We're for real this year, and we want everyone to know it," Leach said. "We've been here before, we always get up on the Colts, and wait around for something to happen.
"Today, we made something happen."