The Texans talked all offseason about becoming a more physical team. That's exactly what they were on Sunday in their season-opening victory over the Indianapolis Colts.
Running back Arian Foster led the way with three rushing touchdowns on a team-record 33 carries for 231 yards. The Texans' defense harassed Colts quarterback Peyton Manning early and often, sacking him twice and hitting him 10 times.
The end result was a 34-24 victory over the defending AFC champs, whom the Texans had beaten only once in 16 previous meetings.
"We set our mind in training camp to come out and be more physical," linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. "Watching our offense today and with some of the hits we got on Peyton Manning on defense, it shows that we are. We were a more physical team this week."
The Texans were so dominant on the ground that they passed the ball only five times in the second half. With huge holes being cleared by the offensive line and fullback Vonta Leach, Foster picked up 191 of his rushing yards in the final two quarters.
The Texans controlled the clock for 18 minutes and 48 seconds after leading 13-10 at halftime.
"Running is like stabbing you in the heart," Colts linebacker Clint Session said. "That's the biggest part of football."
Texans quarterback Matt Schaub, who led the NFL in passing yards in 2009, threw only 17 passes in the game. He completed nine of them for 107 yards, with a 22-yard touchdown to wide receiver Kevin Walter and one interception.
Manning went 40-of-57 for 433 yards and three touchdowns, but the Colts were only 4-of-12 on third down. Indianapolis has led the NFL in third-down conversion percentage in each of the previous five seasons.
"Peyton is going to make plays and pick you apart," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "He's the best in the business. What we tried to do was make sure we were not giving up big plays and finding a way on third downs. (Third downs) were probably the difference in the game."
Playing without suspended linebacker Brian Cushing, the Texans got a team-high 12 tackles from weakside linebacker Zac Diles and 10 tackles from Ryans. Defensive end Mario Williams had one sack and five quarterback hits to the delight of the 70,974 fans at Reliant Stadium.
The Texans never trailed after taking a 3-0 lead early in the first quarter on a 30-yard field goal by Neil Rackers. Wide receiver Jacoby Jones set up the score with a 39-yard punt return to the Colts' 31-yard line. Rackers added a 49-yard field goal later in the first quarter four plays after a 53-yard pass interference penalty on Colts cornerback Kelvin Hayden.
Two minutes into the second quarter, the Texans went up 13-0 with Schaub's touchdown pass to Walter. It was Schaub's third consecutive pass of 20-plus yards on a seven-play, 80-yard scoring drive.
Everything seemed to be going the Texans' way until Schaub was picked off by safety Melvin Bullitt with 8:31 left in the first half. Bullitt returned the interception 19 yards to the Texans' 35-yard line, and Manning capitalized a few minutes later with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne.
The Colts, who overcame 17-point deficits in their previous two games at Reliant Stadium, pulled to within 13-10 with 15 seconds remaining in the first half on a 20-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri. That was the closest they would get.
The Texans started the second half with a 15-play, 66-yard drive, including 13 rushing attempts. Foster picked up two yards on fourth-and-one from the Colts' 20-yard line, and he finished the drive with a one-yard touchdown run on third-and-goal.
Leading 20-10, the Texans forced a critical turnover with 10:38 remaining in the fourth quarter. Manning completed a 32-yard pass to wide receiver Austin Collie down to the Texans' nine-yard line, and Collie was rocked by strong safety Bernard Pollard and then hit by free safety Eugene Wilson after taking two steps. The ball came loose, and cornerback Glover Quin recovered the fumble.
"The turnover was huge when they knocked the ball out on the 10-yard line," Kubiak said. "That was the biggest play of the game to me."
Four plays and 91 rushing yards later, the Texans led 27-10. Foster bulled past a defender and into the end zone on a 25-yard touchdown, capping a drive in which he had three carries for 78 yards. Running back Steve Slaton also had a 13-yard carry on the drive.
With 4:52 left to play, Manning kept the Colts' hopes for a comeback alive with a 10-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dallas Clark. Manning was 9-of-12 on the 12-play, 75-yard scoring drive.
The Texans responded with another clock-chewing possession, and Foster was untouched on an eight-yard touchdown run with 1:56 remaining.
The Colts scored a 73-yard touchdown on a pass from Manning to Austin Collie with 1:15 remaining, but it was too little, too late. The Texans recovered the ensuing onside kick, and Schaub took a knee twice to end the game.
"Especially to come out here Week 1 against a division opponent of that caliber, it's a great win for us," Schaub said "It's a great way to start our season off. It's a great win for us, but it's one. We have to move on to Week 2 here and get ready to go to Washington."