HOUSTON – The Houston Texans could finally be for real. The Indianapolis Colts could be in real trouble without Peyton Manning.
Matt Schaub threw for 220 yards and a touchdown, Ben Tate rushed for 116 yards and another score in relief of injured Arian Foster, and the Texans dominated Kerry Collins, Manning's replacement, in a 34-7 victory on Sunday.
The Texans looked as though they're finally ready to take over the AFC South.
Getting the win was a big step for a team that is 3-16 against its division rival — but the Texans aren't ready to talk about how the division will shake out after just one game.
"I think the most important thing is we went out, executed on defense, played well on offense and we're 1-0," Houston linebacker Brian Cushing said.
Manning, a four-time MVP, didn't travel with the team to Houston as he recovers from his third neck surgery in 19 months. His streak of 227 consecutive starts, including playoffs, came to an end.
The 38-year-old Collins was lured out of retirement less than three weeks ago to take a crash course in the Colts' offense. With Manning expected to be out at least two months, the Colts will need Collins to quickly knock the rust off his game.
"It's important to learn from it," Collins said of his first start for the Colts. "Every game is a learning opportunity. Obviously the scoreboard didn't go the way we wanted it to go, but we have an opportunity to learn from this. I have a great opportunity to learn from it and I definitely will. I think everybody will."
Collins fumbled on consecutive snaps that set up Houston touchdowns in the first quarter, and he was sacked three times. Though he didn't throw an interception, the Colts mustered only 236 yards and 15 first downs against Houston's 3-4 defense guided by new coordinator Wade Phillips.
The Texans sprinted to a stunning 34-0 halftime lead, even with 2010 NFL rushing leader Foster deactivated with a left hamstring injury. Foster ran for 231 yards in the opener against the Colts last year, but the Texans hardly missed him.
Tate, a 2010 second-round draft pick who sat out last season with a broken ankle, carried 24 times and Ward scored a touchdown before leaving late in the game with an ankle injury.
"That's the best half of football we have probably played as a team," Houston coach Gary Kubiak said. "It was explosive in every area, offense, defense, special teams. We have to be that way."
Indy, meanwhile, seemed overwhelmed on both sides from the start, but receiver Reggie Wayne remained optimistic despite the tough start.
"It's a long season and there's no reason to worry," Wayne said he told his teammates. "We were in the same position last year and we still accomplished our goal and that's taking care of our division."
He repeatedly referred to the Colts losing to the Texans 34-24 in Week 1 last season and still making the playoffs and insisted that this loss is no different.
"We'll never know if this would have been different if 18 (Manning) was here," Wayne said. "But the guys we have here now, we've got to deal with this. So for us, it feels like last year. We came out and we lost. We've just got to build off of this, which I think we will."
Mario Williams hinted what was coming when he sacked Collins for a 9-yard loss on Indy's fourth snap. Williams, Houston's sacks leader in each of the past five seasons, made his first start at outside linebacker, one of the big changes introduced by Phillips.
The Colts' defense also struggled, allowing 259 yards and 19 first downs in the first half.
Neil Rackers finished Houston's second series with a 25-yard field goal before the romp started in earnest.
Collins lost the ball when he was hit by defensive end Antonio Smith, and nose tackle Shaun Cody recovered at the Indy 12. Ward scored on a 1-yard run for a 10-0 lead.
Collins dropped the next snap from center Jeff Saturday, rookie defensive end J.J. Watt pounced on the loose ball, then Tate ran into the end zone with 1:41 left in the opening quarter.
"We played a good football team today and we didn't help ourselves certainly by those two turnovers back-to-back and giving them a short field," Collins said. "I don't care what the situation is, we just can't do those things and expect to have a chance to be in the ball game. We've got a lot to do obviously."
Schaub found Andre Johnson open in the back of the end zone for a 24-0 lead. Johnson had seven catches for 95 yards.
Indy failed to get a first down on its next possession, and the Texans turned to their backup running backs to drive downfield again. Tate broke off a 14-yard run and Ward had an 8-yarder before Rackers kicked a 29-yard field goal.
Jacoby Jones fielded a punt with just over a minute left in the first half and outran the Colts down the sideline for a 79-yard touchdown.
Tate fumbled with about 10 minutes left in the game, and the Colts averted the shutout when Wayne caught a 6-yard TD pass from Collins.