Indianapolis had nothing to play for, but with Chuck Pagano back in charge, the inspired Colts shook up the complexion of the AFC playoff picture.
Already locked into the fifth seed in the AFC, Andrew Luck threw two touchdown passes and the Colts remained unbeaten at home against the Houston Texans with a 28-16 triumph.
"To get a win, I think means the world to him (Pagano)," Luck said.
The 52-year-old Pagano, who was medically cleared by his doctor to return to his coaching duties last week, made his first sideline appearance since Week 3 following a successful battle with leukemia.
"You have one thing that you find out is that you're a lot stronger than you think you are," Pagano said of beating the cancer. "Have a positive attitude, wake up every day, have faith and have a belief that you're going to beat it and you're going to win."
The fans gave the cancer-beating coach a standing ovation after a video was shown on the jumbotron shortly before the opening kickoff.
Under interim head coach Bruce Arians' watch, the Colts went 9-3 and secured a spot in the postseason after their win over the Kansas City Chiefs last Sunday.
The improbable playoff appearance comes on the heels of a 2-14 campaign. They will play the Ravens in Baltimore in the wild-card round next Sunday at 1 p.m. (et).
"They refused, they refused to let anyone write their story of what they could or do not do," Pagano said.
Luck finished with 191 yards through the air on 14-of-28 efficiency for the Colts (11-5), who moved to 11-0 all-time against Houston in Indy. Luck also surpassed Peyton Manning's single-season rookie record for completions with 339 on the year.
Vontae Davis intercepted two passes in the win.
Andre Johnson tallied 141 yards receiving on 12 catches for Houston (12-4), which dropped three of its last four games to close the season and could have locked up home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with a victory.
"Disappointing because we had a great opportunity the last two weeks," Texans head coach Gary Kubiak said of the loss. "We'll get our chin up and get back to work."
With wins by the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots later Sunday, the Texans will have to settle with the third seed. They will host the Cincinnati Bengals in the wild card round Saturday at 4:30 p.m. (et).
Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, who entered the game two sacks away from Michael Strahan's single-season mark of 22 1/2 set in 2001, did not register one in defeat.
Two big plays helped swing the contest in Indianapolis' favor. Deji Karim had a 101-yard kickoff return for touchdown right after Houston took its first lead and T.Y. Hilton hauled in a 70-yard score a bit later.
The Texans trailed by eight at the half, but tallied 10 unanswered points to start the third after Arian Foster ran in for a 13-yard score and Shayne Graham nailed a 37-yard field goal to give Houston its first lead of the contest, 16-14, with 5:22 left in the third.
The advantage, however, lasted just 12 seconds.
Karim took the ensuing kickoff at the goal line, found a huge crease in the middle of the field and scampered free for the 101-yard score.
Following a pair of punts on back-to-back possessions, Schaub led the Texans back into scoring position. He converted a 3rd-and-12 with a 22-yard strike to Kevin Walter. On the next third down, however, this a 3rd-and-4, Lawrence Guy sacked Schaub for an 8-yard loss, and Graham's ensuing 53-yard field goal missed short and to the right.
And the Colts struck again just three plays later.
On a 3rd-and-23, Luck hit Hilton in stride perfectly as he outran three Texans on a go route along the left seam for the 70-yard touchdown and a 28-16 Colts edge early in the fourth.
Schaub overthrew Johnson on the fifth play of Houston's next touch and Davis intercepted the pass in the end zone.
Indianapolis converted three third downs, moved the chains five times and took the remaining 9:46 off the game clock to seal the win.
Earlier, the Colts took their opening possession of the game 75 yards in 13 plays, and Coby Fleener's 1-yard TD catch capped the march.
The Texans answered with two Graham field goals on consecutive series, 51 and 37 yards, respectively, which cut the deficit to 7-6 early in the second.
A bit later, Davis picked Schaub off and returned the interception 26 yards to the Houston 39. Vick Ballard concluded the quick 6-play sequence with a 1-yard touchdown run.
Arians tied an NFL record for most wins after a midseason coaching change. He tied the marks set by Hamp Pool of the Rams in 1952 and Wally Lemm of Houston in 1961 ... It's the third time in Johnson's career that he finished with 1,500-plus receiving yards ... Foster registered his NFL-leading 15th rushing touchdown for the Texans. He carried the ball 16 times for 96 yards.