Houston, TX – There appears to be a clear changing of the guard in the AFC South.
Without an injured Peyton Manning, the perennial division champion Colts were simply dreadful and the playoff-starved Houston Texans looked like true contenders in a 34-7 rout to open the season at Reliant Stadium.
Matt Schaub threw for 220 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions for the Texans (1-0), who dominated without injured running back Arian Foster. The NFL's leading rusher from a year ago sat out because of a hamstring issue, but was clearly not missed as Houston turned two Indianapolis turnovers into a pair of first-quarter touchdowns and built a 34-0 halftime lead en route to their second straight season-opening win over the Colts.
The Texans were considered a playoff contender last year and opened with a 34-24 win over Indianapolis on the way to a 4-2 start. They lost eight of 10 to finish at 6-10 and now enter their 10th year of existence with pressure on head coach Gary Kubiak to earn that elusive first postseason berth.
Indianapolis bounced back from that loss to open last season and went on to capture the AFC South crown for the seventh time in eight years. Of course Manning was there to quickly help right the ship. That won't be the case anytime soon this year, as Manning is sidelined indefinitely and could miss the entire season after undergoing his second neck procedure of the year earlier this week.
Kerry Collins, lured out of a brief retirement in late August because of Manning's neck problems, was not nearly a capable replacement. He completed 16-of-31 passes for 197 yards with a touchdown for the Colts (0-1), who have lost consecutive season openers for the first time since 1997 and '98. The Colts were 3-13 in '97 and selected Manning with the first pick in the '98 draft, then also went 3-13 in the superstar quarterback's rookie season.
Manning went on to start 227 consecutive games, including playoffs, before sitting out Sunday.
Collins got his first chance behind center in good field position at his own 40 after Schaub had a pass tipped and picked off by Melvin Bullitt. The Colts barely crossed midfield before punting it away and it was all Houston from there.
"It's a long season. We played a good football team today, and we didn't help ourselves," Collins said. "We have a lot of work to do."
Schaub directed a 13-play, 73-yard march that ended in a 25-yard Neil Rackers field goal and the Texans followed by converting two fumbles into touchdowns.
Collins had the ball knocked out of his hand on the first play after the ensuing kickoff and Houston took over at the Indianapolis 12. Three plays later, Ward banged into the end zone from a yard away for a 10-0 lead.
The next Indianapolis possession also lasted all of one play, as Collins never got the exchange from center Jeff Saturday and Houston recovered at the Colts' 18. Again it took just three plays, and Tate scored from the two for a 17-0 cushion with 1:41 left in the first quarter.
Houston then drove 89 yards on 10 plays with its next possession and increased the advantage to 24 early in the second quarter when Andre Johnson caught a tipped pass in the end zone for a four-yard score. Rackers added 29-yard field goal before Jacoby Jones put the exclamation point on the decisive half with a 79-yard punt return for a touchdown.
The Texans outgained the Colts, 259-72, during the opening 30 minutes and had 19 first downs to Indy's five.
"That's the best half we've probably played as a team. It was explosive in every area," Texans head coach Gary Kubiak said. "It was a great group effort."
Houston didn't do anything offensively in the second half, although a promising drive early in the fourth quarter ended inside the Indianapolis 10 with a Gary Brackett interception.
Adam Vinatieri missed a 37-yard field goal try on the ensuing Colts possession and Tate followed with a fumble to give Indianapolis the ball once again. This time, Collins took advantage with a six-yard TD strike to Reggie Wayne, who made a one-handed catch in the back of the end zone.
Wayne finished with seven catches for 106 yards in defeat.
Collins surpassed Joe Montana (40,551) for 10th place in all-time passing yards. He now has 40,638 career yards...Joseph Addai led the Colts with 39 rushing yards...The Texans outrushed the Colts, 167-64...Johnson finished with seven catches for 95 yards...Houston held the ball for nearly 37 minutes.