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Houston — Deshaun Watson threw two touchdown passes to DeAndre Hopkins and finished with 298 yards to help the Houston Texans beat the Indianapolis Colts 20-17 on Thursday night to take the AFC South lead.

The Texans (7-4), who were embarrassed by Baltimore 41-7 on Sunday, trailed by four early in the fourth quarter when Hopkins got in front of Pierre Desir and stretched out to haul in a 30-yard reception to give the Texans a 20-17 lead. The Texans got things going on that drive with a 33-yard run by Carlos Hyde.

Houston’s defense stepped up after that, forcing a punt on the next drive before stopping the Colts (6-5) on fourth-and-7 with 3 minutes left. Jacoby Brissett threw for 129 yards, and came up a yard shy of a first down on Indy’s fourth-down attempt late in the fourth quarter.

Hopkins finished with had 94 yards receiving and his first TD reception came on a 35-yards grab in the second quarter. Will Fuller, who returned after sitting out three games with a hamstring injury, had seven catches for 140 yards for the Texans.

T.Y. Hilton had topped 100 receiving yards in four of his last six games against the Texans and entered averaging 133.3 receiving yards in seven career games at NRG Stadium. He wasn’t a factor, finishing with just 18 yards receiving in his return after missing three games with a calf injury.

There were about 6 minutes left in the third quarter when Jonathan Williams, who helped fill in for injured starter Marlon Mack, wriggled away from three defenders and dashed 13 yards for a touchdown to put the Colts up 17-10.

Fuller had a 51-yard reception on the first play of Houston’s next drive, but the Texans couldn’t move the ball after that and settled for a 36-yard field goal to cut the lead to four.

The Texans led 3-0 after a field goal early in the second quarter.

There were about 8 minutes left in the second when Kenny Moore tipped a pass from Watson and intercepted it. It was the first time Watson had thrown an interception at home since Oct. 14, 2018, against the Bills, a streak of 303 attempts which was the longest active run in the NFL.

The Colts cashed in on the mistake when Brissett scrambled 5 yards for a touchdown to make it 7-3.

There were 2 minutes left in the first half when Watson avoided the rush and found Hopkins wide open in the end zone for a 35-yard touchdown pass to put Houston back on top 10-7.

Indianapolis added a field goal at the end of the first half to leave it tied at 10l at halftime.

Rudolph says he didn’t use racial slur

The on-field fight between Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph and Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett has turned into a war of words off it, with Rudolph denying an anonymous report alleging he used a racial slur shortly before their now infamous confrontation last week.

ESPN, citing anonymous sources, reported Garrett told the NFL during the appeal of his indefinite suspension Rudolph used a racial slur just before a confrontation between the two players that included Garrett ripping off Rudolph’s helmet and then hitting the quarterback in the head with it.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league investigated Garrett’s claim and “found no such evidence” of the slur. The NFL upheld Garrett’s indefinite suspension on Thursday, though the accusation added another complex layer to an already emotionally charged rivalry, with members of both clubs rising to the defense of their teammates.

“I was never sure what provoked Myles in the first place,” Browns guard Joel Botino said. “Obviously something was provoking him, if it was in the pile or not and I think it just shows that he was provoked and if it was a racial slur, if it was something else that was said, something was said to kind of make it, it always takes two to tango. Most times people don’t just freak out on that and we understand that, but we’ll see what happens from here.”

Cleveland coach Freddie Kitchens said he supports Garrett “in every way possible” but did not comment when asked if Garrett told Kitchens about the slur in the aftermath of the fight.

Defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson said Garrett “wouldn’t lie on nothing like that” but later added “(Rudolph) could have called him anything. I don’t know.”

Rudolph was scheduled to speak to reporters on Thursday but declined shortly after the ESPN report surfaced. Steelers spokesman Burt Lauten said Rudolph “vehemently denies” the allegation. Rudolph, who has not yet been disciplined for his role in the fight, spoke about the incident on Wednesday, saying there was “no acceptable excuse” for his behavior while adding he “definitely didn’t say anything that escalated” the situation.

Pittsburgh defensive lineman Cam Heyward said Rudolph approached him as practice ended on Thursday when both players saw the report on a television while walking past the team’s weight room. Heyward, a captain and nine-year veteran who is among the club’s longest-tenured players, said he believes Rudolph and questioned why Garrett would wait until the appeal to bring up potentially damaging information.

“I thought it would have been brought up right after (the game), there would have been multiple guys speaking up about it,” Heyward said. “You know, I don’t condone racial slurs ever and Mason, dealing with that, he’s going to be labeled for it. That’s just not right. I don’t appreciate that.”

Extra points

Former Vikings kicker Fred Cox, one of the last of the straight-on placekickers and a standout on several conference championship teams, has died. He was 80.

Cox, who also co-created the Nerf football, scored a Minnesota-record 1,365 points in his 15 seasons, often kicking in nasty conditions because the Vikings played outdoors during his career from 1963-77.

... Quarterback Matt Ryan and receiver Julio Jones returned to practice for the Falcons and appear set to start against Tampa Bay.

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