Lovie Smith didn't need a night to contemplate his scrutinized decision to punt on fourth down in overtime Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts, a choice that meant the Texans' first game of the season would end in a tie.
The Texans' first-year head coach reflected Monday on why he made that choice, emphasizing that the AFC South franchise is tied for first place in the division with the Colts in the standings at 0-0-1 after Sunday's season-opener.
On 4th and 3 at the Colts' 49-yard line, Smith had seen enough. He made a critical decision. After watching running back Rex Burkhead get stuffed for a loss of two yards on 3rd-and-1 instead of giving rookie Dameon Pierce the football, Smith opted to have Cameron Johnston punt the football with the knowledge that the Texans were unlikely to get the football back with 20 seconds remaining. The game ended in a 20-20 tie.
“That’s what I did then, that’s what I’d do now," Smith said Monday. "I said the plan when we had third-and-1, the plan was to go two downs then. Once we got to fourth-and-3, we didn’t like our odds. The way we had played the previous plays and how we were playing defense, didn’t feel like giving them the ball on the other sides, so you have a decision to make then on whether a tie, to me a tie or a potential loss as I saw it right then. All week, going through that day, I felt okay with that. We’ll see how it turns out the rest of the year on that decision.”
It was that kind of day for a rebuilding Texans team that tied the heavily favored Colts at NRG Stadium after a scoreless overtime and surrendering a 20-3 advantage by allowing 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter.
Ultimately, Smith called for a punt in overtime rather than risk a potential loss in the first game of the season because of a defense that appeared tired and an offense that ceased to be effective after a solid start.
"We're devastated," Pro Bowl left offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil said. "It feels like we took an L, but it's better than a loss. It was our fault. There's some things on film we've got to fix. We've got 24 hours to let it go. You've got to give respect to us. You've got to earn it."
Led by veteran quarterback Matt Ryan and All-Pro running back Jonathan Taylor, the Colts took control in the fourth quarter and didn't relinquish it until overtime when they squandered a prime chance to put the Texans away and complete their comeback. Kicker Rodrigo Blankenship shanked a 42-yard field goal try wide right of the upright.
Despite that misfire, the Texans still were unable to put the Colts away.
"Disappointment is still there," Smith said. "We can’t lose sight of the big picture with what we have. As far as the game is concerned, it’s not the ideal position to be in with the tie. Last I checked, I guess we’re still up at the top of the AFC South. You have to look at the big picture a little bit.
"There’s a lot of good things we did to be able to get a lead like that, good things have to happen. It is about finishing an entire game. Decisions I made, I made most of them, not really looking back an awful lot on situations we made at the time. The fourth down at the end of the game, I would do that over again."
Smith saw what everyone else in the stadium witnessed: Ryan had taken command, completing 32 of 50 passes for one touchdown and one interception after a rough start. And Taylor was building momentum with a lot of downhill runs, gaining 161 yards on 31 carries with one touchdown after rushing for just 68 yards in the first half.
Smith addressed why have Burkhead run the football instead of a different strategy.
“We thought that was our best play at the moment," Smith said. "Every play that we call, I understand you say this, that, why you do that. We thought that was our best opportunity to have a successful play. Sometimes, that’s the answer and it’s not going to change, so that’s the answer for that play right there. Believe it or not, we’re trying to win. Those are the things that are going to happen in those situations.”
The Texans could have had Ka'imi Fairbairn attempt a long field goal, but that wasn't what Smith wanted to do.
“I absolutely feel the same way about that," Smith said. "I realize exactly how far it was. At the time, we weren’t going to kick the field goal at 37-yard line. When you say take the five-yard penalty there, that was insignificant. We had made up our mind.
"On that situation, we’d like to pin them down there and play defense. There as a similar situation last year against New England and we went a different direction. That was the base part of the plan. As we go forward, right at that area, sometimes we may kick it. Sometimes, we may not.”
In the fourth quarter alone, Taylor, the NFL rushing champion a year ago with 1,811 yards and 18 touchdown runs, gained 70 yards on nine carries. He averaged 7.8 yards per run, pounding the Texans' defense.
The Texans' defense ran out of gas as several players were on the field for every snap. That may change going forward.
"We’re in the ball game now," Smith said. "Just some things that we need to do, we’ll figure out how to finish games a little bit better."
The Texans' offense didn't score after tight end O.J. Howard's 22-yard touchdown catch, his second score of the game, on a Davis Mills pass since 7:16 of the third quarter. The Texans would never score again after manufacturing a 20-3 lead.
"We didn't lose, but we didn't win," offensive tackle Tytus Howard said. "The ultimate goal is to win. We didn't get that job done. I don't think it's nothing they did. I think it's all us. On offense, we didn't play good football in the second half and didn't play complementary football for our defense. We had a turnover. We had a couple of sacks off bad communication. We didn't finish.
"We got complacent. We didn't finish as an offense and we didn't come out with the W. I really feel like we've got a pretty good football team and I think we can win a lot of games if we play to our potential and execute and be consistent. I'm happy to know we've got a team that can compete this year and play some good football."
Aaron Wilson is a Pro Football Network reporter and a contributor to Sports Talk 790.