INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Houston coach Lovie Smith kept insisting his team would play for the win Sunday.
When he got the chance in the final minute, Smith delivered on that promise.
After Davis Mills threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Akins with 50 seconds left, Smith dialed up the same combination on a 2-point conversion play to give Houston a rare and improbable 32-31 victory at Indianapolis, costing the Texans the No. 1 pick in April’s draft.
Not surprisingly, Smith cared more about the celebration than the consequences.
“Whenever you play, you play to win the game,” he said, rekindling the words of an old coaching friend, Herman Edwards, just hours before he was fired after just one season as coach of the Texans. “We wanted to finish the right way and we were able to do that.”
Mills first converted on fourth-and-12 with a 30-yard completion to Brandin Cooks at the Colts 18-yard line. Then after throwing two incompletions and taking a 10-yard sack, Mills somehow threaded the pass through the hands of Colts safety Rodney Thomas II and into the hands of Akins, giving Houston its second win in three weeks and its fourth-ever win in Indy as the Chicago Bears moved into the top draft spot.
Indy (4-12-1), meanwhile, lost its seventh straight under interim coach Jeff Saturday. It will have the fourth draft pick overall.
Like Smith, Saturday wasn't thinking about the future after finishing this season.
“I’ve never seen a lot of what I’ve seen the past eight weeks, I guess baptism by fire or whatever you want to call it," he said. “Rod just mistimes it or whatever, just some crazy plays happened and unfortunately they happened for them and not us.”
Indy got one last shot, but couldn't move the ball into scoring position and Sam Ehlinger's final heave was knocked down short of the goal line to cap yet another ugly chapter in this miserable season.
The Colts lost their final seven games after winning Saturday's coaching debut in early November.
But for a game few followed because it had no impact on the playoff picture, it certainly finished with a flair.
Ehlinger threw two touchdown passes in the final 19 minutes and led Indy on three successive scoring drives to erase a 10-point deficit and give the Colts a 31-24 lead with 3:33 to play.
Mills finally answered with the completion to Cooks with 1:26 to go and the passes to Akins.
Initially, it looked as if it might be a rout when Houston took a 10-0 lead before Indy even ran an offensive play.
Rodney McLeod Jr. returned the first of Mills' two interceptions for a 26-yard touchdown score to make it 24-21. Three plays later, Thomas II, a high school teammate of Bills safety Damar Hamlin, picked off Mills and Ehlinger capitalized by throwing a 4-yard TD pass to Mo Alie-Cox to give Indy a 28-24 lead with 10:30 to go.
Indy thought it had sealed the victory when Chase McLaughlin made a 54-yard field goal with 3:33 to go.
But Mills' late-game magic allowed Houston to pull it out.
“It's an unbelievable feeling," Mills said after finishing 22 of 38 with 298 yards and three TDs. “The guys found a way to fight, and we got the result we wanted in the end."
Texans: Tight end Brevin Jordan left in the first half with a knee injury and did not return. Safety Jalen Pitre left after the first play of the fourth quarter and was diagnosed with a concussion.
Colts: Right tackle Braden Smith injured his left ankle late in the fourth quarter and did not return. Safety-return specialist Dallis Flowers went into the blue tent after fumbling on his first kickoff return of the game but eventually returned.
Texans: Cooks caught five passes for 106 yards and a touchdown. ... Jonathan Greenard returned an interception 39 yards for a score, the third defensive TD allowed by the Colts in their past five games. ... Teagan Quitoriano had three catches for 83 yards. ... All three of Houston's win this season came on the road.
Colts: Ehlinger, the former Texas star, was 23 of 35 with 209 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions as he fell to 0-3 as an NFL starter. ... Zack Moss had 18 carries and 114 yards and one TD. ... Michael Pittman Jr. caught three passes for 30 yards and one TD but finished the season with 99 receptions and 925 yards. ... Linebacker Zaire Franklin overcame an ankle injury to make seven tackles, breaking the franchise's single season record with 166. Shaquille Leonard set the previous mark (163) in 2018.
Texans: Will be weighing their options with the No. 2 draft pick in April.
Colts: Must figure out if general manager Chris Ballard returns, decide on a coach and whether to draft a quarterback in April.