The Indianapolis Colts wanted to feel better about themselves. An opponent whose season keeps getting worse represented the perfect tonic.
Andrew Luck passed for 180 yards and two touchdowns as the Colts strolled to a 25-3 rout of the Houston Texans (2-12) on Sunday.
"We needed it," Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano said of the Colts' first win by more than a one-possession margin since September. "Got off to a better start. Defense was outstanding. We'll keep grinding away. It was a good win."
The Colts (9-5) were missing nine starters but breezed past a floundering Houston team that lost its 12th straight. T.Y. Hilton had a career-high eight catches for 78 yards and Griff Whalen, a teammate of Luck's at Stanford, caught his first career touchdown after being signed from the practice squad the day before the game.
Since going 6-2 in the first half of the season, Indianapolis had lost three of its last five, struggling with injuries and unproductive play in the first half of games. But the Colts raced to a 20-3 halftime lead, got two interceptions from cornerback Darius Butler and limited the Texans to 239 yards of total offense.
Houston (2-12) played its first game under interim head coach Wade Phillips. Owner Bob McNair fired longtime coach Gary Kubiak after the Texans committed 14 penalties at Jacksonville on Dec. 5. The change did nothing to spark the Texans, who cost themselves 114 yards on 14 more penalties in another ugly defeat.
"It's hard to explain," said outside linebacker Brooks Reed, who drew one of Houston's three defensive flags in the opening period. "Extra competitiveness gets us penalties. At the beginning it hurt us and extended Indianapolis' drives."
Luck drove the Colts 80 yards in 11 plays on the day's opening drive, capping it with a 14-yard TD pass to Whalen, who set career highs with four receptions for 45 yards.
Coming off back-to-back AFC South titles, Houston had ceded the division crown to the Colts, who clinched last week. They improved to 5-0 within the division and 12-0 all-time against the Texans in Indianapolis.
Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis set franchise career and single-season sack records in style in the third quarter. Known for stripping the ball from the hands of quarterbacks, Mathis knocked it loose from Houston's Case Keenum in the end zone resulting in a safety. Mathis reached 16.5 sacks on the season and 108 in his career, besting marks previously held by former rush partner Dwight Freeney.
"I feel honored to be in the stadium to see that," Luck said. "Years from now I'll tell grandkids I played with Robert Mathis. He's everything you could ask for."
Adam Vinatieri kicked field goals of 37, 43 and 40 yards for Indianapolis, which travels to Kansas City next week in a possible playoff preview.
Running back Ben Tate rushed 16 times for 72 yards for Houston. Following cornerback Johnathan Joseph's interception of Luck, Randy Bullock's 49-yard field goal made it 7-3. The Texans never scored again and host Denver next week before concluding at Tennessee.
"We've got to keep fighting," Phillips said. "That's what I expect and demand. The Colts have a good football team. I thought we had a good chance against them. We didn't play well."
Phillips said Keenum will continue as the starter despite an uninspiring performance. Keenum was 18-of-34 for 168 yards and took four sacks. Offensive coordinator Rick Dennison shook his head in frustration after Keenum threw into triple coverage for his second interception.
Meanwhile, Luck had just one pick and completed 19 of 32 throws. Trent Richardson gained 102 yards from scrimmage, his best effort since coming to the Colts via trade from Cleveland in October. He gave Indianapolis a 17-3 lead on a 9-yard shovel pass from Luck in the second quarter.
The Colts enjoyed their second halftime lead since Oct. 20. They had been outscored in the first half by an average of 16.7 points over their previous six games.
NOTES: Colts fill-in RG Joe Reitz left the game in the first half and was evaluated by medical personnel for a possible concussion. … Hall of Fame RBs Marshall Faulk and Eric Dickerson were inducted into the Colts' Ring of Honor during a halftime ceremony. Dickerson played parts of five seasons for Indianapolis, leading the NFL in rushing in 1988. Faulk, drafted second overall by the Colts in 1994, was traded after five seasons with the team. … Texans WR Andre Johnson, who burned Indy for three touchdowns and 229 yards on nine catches on Nov. 3, was held to four receptions for 18 yards.