Vanderjagt's game-winner one for record books
Posted: Sunday December 28, 2003 5:10PM; Updated: Sunday December 28, 2003 7:53PM
HOUSTON (AP) -- The Houston Texans figured out how to get a lead. Now they'll spend the offseason finding ways to learn to keep it.
"We had them on the ropes," Texans coach Dom Capers said after his team squandered a two-touchdown lead over Indianapolis in the second half Sunday and lost 20-17 in the season finale. "Unfortunately, we just couldn't finish them off. That's been the case."
For the second straight week, the Texans lost in the final seconds.
A week ago it was Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair tossing a touchdown pass to pull out a victory over Houston.
This time, Peyton Manning drove the Colts (12-4) into field goal range where Mike Vanderjagt's 43-yard kick -- his NFL-record 41st consecutive field goal -- as time expired clinched the AFC South Division title for Indianapolis.
The Texans (5-11) finished with a four-game losing streak.
"We just didn't make the plays today," said Houston quarterback David Carr, whose interception to Colts safety Donald Strickland gave Indianapolis the ball at the Texans 5 with four minutes left in the fourth quarter. On the next play, Manning connected with Brandon Stokley to tie the game at 17.
Houston went three plays and punted with 2:40 to go. Manning never let the Texans get the ball back, covering 65 yards in 11 plays, turning the game over to Vanderjagt with five seconds remaining.
"They took that game from us," said Carr, who completed 13 of 23 pass attempts for 105 yards, plus the one interception.
On the late turnover, Carr said a defensive lineman, too tired to rush, just threw his hands up and tipped the ball, allowing it to go directly to Strickland.
"You want to grab it as it gets away," he said of the errant pass. "But you can't."
"That's what championship teams do: make plays to win the game," Capers said. "You realize what a fine line there is between winning and losing... I think our guys can walk out of here with their heads up.
"I believe our day will come."
The Colts needed the win to secure their first division title since 1999 because Tennessee beat Tampa Bay on Sunday.
Vanderjagt, whose streak began last year, finished the season 37-of-37. He eclipsed Gary Anderson's record of 40 straight field goals set from 1997-98 with San Francisco and Minnesota.
The Colts' Edgerrin James had 171 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries. Manning overcame a slow start to go 26-of-38 for 220 yards with one interception and the touchdown to Stokley, who had nine catches for 67 yards.
Texans rookie Domanick Davis ran for 99 yards and two touchdowns. Davis, a fourth-round draft choice, finished with 1,031 yards despite not winning the starting job until the sixth week and being inactive for two games.
"That's no small accomplishment," Capers said.
"I never thought it would end up like this, never even crossed my mind," Davis said. "I did not expect to gain 1,000 yards and miss five games. I started out with a broken hand and the season went up and down, but it ended up good."
Houston's other rookie star, third overall pick Andre Johnson, had five catches for 51 yards. He finished with 976 on the season, meaning he and Davis fell short of becoming the first rookie teammates to have 1,000 yards receiving and rushing.
Capers said Johnson "met and exceeded my expectations for the first year," but said the overall goal was "one thing -- to win."
"But we have to go through stages before we get there," he said.
The Texans led 10-3 at halftime because of Davis' first score. He found a hole and broke through four attempted tackles for an 11-yard run.
Davis capped Houston's opening drive of the third quarter with a 13-yard TD run through traffic. The Colts perked up later in the period and Edgerrin James made it 17-10 when he ran virtually untouched for a 6-yard touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter.
"We've won a lot of moral victories, battled hard, and stayed in there until the very end," Texans center Steve McKinney said. "We just haven't made the clutch plays at the end that we needed to in order to win.
"It's all about experience. We have lost a lot of close ones and it's time for us to learn how to win these close ones. Hopefully, next year will be that time for us."
"We have made a lot of improvement and that's what we wanted to do," team owner Bob McNair said. "I have asked the plays and coaches to give us everything they've got and leave it all on the field. They are a wonderful group of warriors and just do not quit."