With 26 seconds left in overtime, the Texans were at the Colts’ 49-yard line facing a fourth-and-3. If Houston converted, it would have had a chance to attempt a long field goal for the win. But if not, Indianapolis would have only needed to get about 15 yards to set up a long field goal of its own.
Instead of going for it, the Texans decided to punt, pinning the Colts inside their own 10-yard line and all but ensuring a season-opening tie. New head coach Lovie Smith explained the decision after the game.
“At the time, it’s not like we were playing our best defense,” Smith said (via the Houston Chronicle). “We were drained. We were gassed a little bit.”
He decided a tie would be better than a potential loss.
“There’s a lot of football left to go in the season,” Smith said. “It’s kind of as simple as that. I felt like a tie was better than a potential loss. Defensively, we weren’t really stopping them an awful lot at the end.’
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Smith did not write off going for it right away. He said he thought about it, but with running back Rex Burkhead getting pushed back two yards on third-and-1 the play before, he felt like it was too risky.
A lot of coaches would have taken the risk, wanting to play to win rather than fear losing, but Smith wasn’t interested in asking too much from his defense in Week 1. And the advanced analytics actually agreed with Smith, according to ESPN.
After building a commanding 20-3 lead midway through the third quarter, things took a turn as the Colts came back to tie it up with 17 unanswered points in the final frame. Smith was not wrong to question whether his defense could stop the Colts, as the unit gave up 517 total yards, including 161 on the ground to running back Jonathan Taylor. Not exactly a promising defensive showing.
Ironically, Smith’s decision has the Texans tied for first place in the AFC South after Week 1. The Texans and Colts were the only two teams in the division not to lose Sunday, with the Titans falling to the Giants and the Jaguars getting beat by the Commanders.