Arian Foster, who spent most of last season on the practice squad, ran for a team record 231 yards and scored three touchdowns to carry the Texans to a 34-24 victory over the defending AFC champion Colts on Sunday.
"Coming into the league, you don't know what to expect, especially if you are not heralded and there's not a lot of publicity," Foster said. "You see guys like Andre Johnson and Matt Schaub and the way they carry themselves, and you try to mimic it and make your own personality. I feel privileged to be here."
Foster had the NFL's second-best opening weekend rushing performance since 1933, topped only by Buffalo's O.J. Simpson's 250 in 1973 against New England. He also surpassed Domanick Davis' team record of 158 yards, set in 2004 at Jacksonville.
The Texans (1-0) ran for a franchise record 257 yards and backed up their bold talk in the offseason that they were ready to challenge Indianapolis. The Colts came into the game with 15 wins in 16 games in the series, including rallying from 17 points down in the previous two meetings in Houston.
"We had to have patience," Foster said. "It didn't feel like I was going to be able to get going early, but you keep pounding and pounding, and they start getting a little tired and we start gettimg a little tired. It's a test of wills."
Foster, acquired by the Texans last summer, had 33 carries in gaining the most yards by a Colts' opponent.
"We failed to rise to the occasion, which we don't normally do," Colts linebacker Clint Session said. "We normally get out of these kinds of games, but we couldn't do it."
Manning completed 40 of 57 passes for 433 yards and three touchdowns, the fourth-highest opening weekend passing yards total since 1933, and three touchdowns. He threw a 10-yard TD pass to Dallas Clark with 4:52 left to cut Houston's lead to 27-17.
But Foster ran for 41 yards on the Texans' next series and capped his day with an 8-yard TD run.
The Texans ranked 30th in rushing last season, and building a ground attack was a focal point at training camp. Foster beat out Steve Slaton for the No. 1 running back spot, despite spending the first 10 games of last season on the practice squad.
"We heard all offseason that our running game wasn't efficient," Foster said. "You can either let it get to you, or let it get in you, and I feel like we let it get in us, and we used it."
Houston led 13-10 at halftime and turned the offense over to Foster to start the third quarter. He rushed 10 times for 49 yards on the drive, finishing the eight-minute march with a 1-yard touchdown run.
"At halftime, we talked about the key to the game being the most physical team and our offensive line," Houston coach Gary Kubiak said. "That's what you want as a coach. You want those guys walking the sideline saying, 'Run the ball, coach."
The Colts' offensive line protected Manning better in the second half than it did in the first, and Manning guided Indianapolis inside the Texans 30.
Mario Williams sacked Manning on third down from the Texans 27, driving the Colts out of field-goal range. Williams has sacked Manning six times since 2006, the most by any player.
"We had great preparation this week," Williams said. "We studied film and figured stuff out for ourselves. It was pretty much on-the-go. Some of the things we did out there was, 'Hey, you do this, and I'll do that.' It was unorthodox, but it worked."
The Colts punted, and Foster went over 100 yards with an 11-yard run to open the Texans' next possession. But Schaub threw incomplete to Johnson on third down, and Indianapolis got it back with just over 12 minutes left.
Manning completed four straight passes to move the Colts across midfield. On third down, Austin Collie caught a pass from Manning at the Texans' 10, but fumbled after a hit by safety Bernard Pollard and cornerback Glover Quin recovered.
By then, even Manning was doubting whether the Colts had another unlikely comeback in Houston within reach.
"We've had some crazy games here in the past, where we've been down a number of points and we've come back, so it wasn't totally unfamiliar territory," he said. "We just didn't do enough as a group to kind of help each other out when one unit was struggling. That's something we've done in the past. That's something we're going to need to do starting next week."
Foster broke a 42-yard run on the next play. Slaton and Foster gained first downs on consecutive runs before Foster sprinted 25 yards to the end zone for a 27-10 lead with 8:41 left.
The Texans had been here before.
Two years ago, Houston blew a 27-10 lead in the fourth quarter when backup Sage Rosenfels had three turnovers. The Colts scored 21 points in just over two minutes and won 31-27.
Right tackle Eric Winston glanced at tight end Owen Daniels at that point on Sunday, and knew what he was thinking.
"We still remember the day when we looked at each other, too, thinking, 'We got this one,' and it didn't happen," Winston said. "A lot of guys just said, 'Hey, 60 minutes, 60 minutes.' That really helped."
Manning found Clark for a 10-yard touchdown with 4:52 left on Sunday. Instead of letting it slip away, the Texans went back to Foster and put the game away.
Foster ran 41 yards on the drive through more huge holes. He strutted into the end zone for his final score and slammed the ball as his teammates mobbed him.
Manning threw a 73-yard touchdown pass to Collie with 1:27 left. Schaub only had to kneel on two snaps to secure the victory.
Notes: Texans DE Connor Barwin was carted off the field in the first quarter with a dislocated right ankle. ... Manning has thrown 62 TD passes to Wayne, the most among active duos. ... The announced attendance of 70,974 was the largest for a Texans home opener and the third-largest home crowd in franchise history. ... Colts WR Anthony Gonzalez left in the second half with an ankle injury.