Chris Ballard reverted to his old free-agent playbook.He re-signed his own players first.Instead of making a big first-day splash https://www.coltsfanshop.com/Margus-Hunt-Jersey
, he barely made a ripple on the second day. And he’s probably not finished yet.As the first big wave of free-agency signings were announced Wednesday, Ballard made two under-the-radar moves — re-signing backup cornerback Chris Milton a one-year deal and bringing back starting cornerback Pierre Desir with a three-year deal — before signing former Carolina receiver Devin Funchess to a one-year deal Thursday.It’s all part of the grand plan.“We have a very strict criterion of what we want to bring in,” Ballard said recently. “We want players that want to get better, want to be great, want to be a part of the team, that are willing to sacrifice sometimes their individual stats for the betterment of winning and being a good teammate. If they fit into that criterion, absolutely they’ll fit in.”After taking some risks last season, Ballard is betting on Funchess, Carolina’s second-round pick in 2015. At 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, he gives Andrew Luck a bigger receiver than he’s worked with in the past.And if Funchess replicates what he did in 2017, when he caught 63 passes for 840 yards and eight touchdowns, he could emerge as the perfect complement to three Pro Bowl pass-catchers already on the roster: receiver T.Y. Hilton and tight ends Eric Ebron and Jack Doyle.Last year, though, Funchess regressed. He had 44 receptions for 549 yards and four TDs and reinforced his reputation for drops. So Ballard reportedly gave Funchess a $10 million deal that could go up to as much as $13 million.“I think the Colts are a great fit and I think they’re ready to take that next step,” Funchess said Thursday during a conference call. “I think if we win the Super Bowl, everything will take care of itself.”Ballard has made this journey before.A year ago, he gambled on Ebron, the Detroit Lions’ underachieving first-round pick from 2014. Ebron wound up catching more touchdown passes in 2018 than any tight end in the league and made his first Pro Bowl appearance.Every move doesn’t pay off, though. Ballard also signed Ryan Grant, the Washington Redskins’ 2014 fifth-round pick Peyton Manning Jersey
, last year. Indy expected Grant would emerge as the No. 2 receiver. Instead, Grant’s playing time steadily dwindled.Now, Ballard is at it again, this time with Funchess, Carolina’s second-round pick in 2015 — though it’s not a terribly risky move.The Colts went into free agency with the most cap space in the league and if Funchess doesn’t work out, the Colts could let him walk away next year and recoup all of their cap room — just like they did with Grant.But the Colts’ more important moves might have come before free agency opened Wednesday.Kicker Adam Vinatieri, the league’s career scoring leader, signed a one-year deal worth $3.875 million in January. Right guard Mark Glowinski agreed to a three-year, $16.2 million deal in February — a move that keeps Indy’s offensive line intact after allowing a league-low 18 sacks in 2018.Last week, versatile defensive tackle Margus Hunt decided to stay in Indy after the best season of his career. His two-year deal is worth $9 million. On Wednesday, Ballard brought back Desir back for three years at $25 million and Milton, a key backup and special teams player. Desir recorded 79 tackles in 12 starts last season.And Ballard has said he would like to keep oft-injured Clayton Geathers — if he can.“We are going to make some tweaks to our program internally, but our mission will never change,” Ballard said. “Everything we do matters. Our building understands that.” HOUSTON — A year ago at this time Andrew Luck was at home struggling with an injured shoulder that cost him the entire season.On Saturday he wrote a happy ending to the latest chapter of his comeback season, throwing for 222 yards and two touchdowns and the Indianapolis Colts raced out to a big lead and cruised to a 21-7 win over the Houston Texans in the wild-card game.Luck put on a show in his hometown in a stadium where he’d attended games throughout childhood and played in them since high school, throwing for 191 yards and two touchdowns before halftime to help the Colts (11-6) build a 21-0 lead.He denied feeling “at home” at NRG Stadium, but admitted to having warm feelings for the city he grew up in and where his grandparents and many friends still reside.“But it’s still an away stadium,” he said. “It was very loud, very energetic, but fun to win, certainly.”Running back Marlon Mack had 148 yards and a touchdown for Indianapolis Al Woods Color Rush Jersey
, which advances to face the top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs in the divisional round next weekend.“We know we have an elite quarterback and we can throw it for 400 and win when we have to,” Indianapolis coach Frank Reich said.“But the margin for error in playoff football when you try to do it that way is very thin. When you can win like this — running the football and stopping it — that’s just everything.”Houston (11-6), which overcame a 0-3 start to win the AFC South, gave up too many big plays and couldn’t get anything going on offense in the first half to fall into the huge hole.Deshaun Watson, who was sacked an NFL-leading 62 times in the regular season, was sacked three times and hit eight more times in a disappointing playoff debut. He finished with 235 yards passing with a touchdown and an interception.“Just a lack of execution on our part,” Watson said. “We didn’t make plays. I didn’t make plays. Communication was a little off. You just got to give the Colts the credit.”The Colts, who opened the season 1-5, continued an impressive run by winning their fifth straight and for the 10th time in 11 games. Saturday was their first playoff appearance since the AFC championship game loss at New England in the “Deflategate” game in the 2014 season.It was another good game in a splendid season for Luck. He threw for 4,593 yards and 39 touchdowns in the regular season after missing all of 2017 with a shoulder injury.The Texans didn’t score until rookie Keke Coutee grabbed a 6-yard touchdown pass to cap a 16-play, 89-yard drive that included a fourth-down conversion that cut it to 21-7 with about 11 minutes left.They led the NFL with nine comeback wins this season, but their attempt at a rally ended on their next possession when Watson’s pass on fourth-and-10 from the Indianapolis 24 fell short with about four minutes left.Luck threw for 863 yards with six touchdowns as the teams split two meetings in the regular season. He picked up right where he left off in this one, when he found Eric Ebron on a 6-yard TD pass on their first drive. That play was set up by a 38-yard catch by T.Y. Hilton, who had 63 yards receiving on that drive.“We didn’t have a lot of guys that made the playoffs so the guys that made the playoffs wanted to go out there and set the tone early, try to get the crowd out of the game,” Hilton said. “That’s what we did.”Hilton didn’t have any catches on the next drive, but the Colts still drove down the field easily and made it 14-0 on a 2-yard run by Mack later in the first.Houston went for it on fourth-and-4 from the Indianapolis 45 on its second possession and Watson was intercepted by Kenny Moore II. It was his first interception since he threw two against the Redskins on Nov. 18.The Colts got to the 17 after that before J.J. Watt deflected Luck’s pass and he was intercepted by Brandon Dunn. But the Texans couldn’t move the ball and had to punt.Indianapolis pushed the lead to 21-0 when Luck connected with Dontrelle Inman on an 18-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter.“It’s very frustrating when they’re able to execute and get their job done,” Watt said. “We had a couple of big penalties early in the game as well. But you have to overcome it and you have to find a way to win.”The Texans had a fourth-and-1 from the 9 late in the second quarter and went for it again instead of settling for a field goal. The gamble didn’t pay off when Watson’s pass to DeAndre Hopkins was low and bounced in front of him in the end zone.INJURIESColts: Safety Malik Hooker left in the third quarter with a foot injury. … S Mike Mitchell injured his calf in the third quarter and didn’t return.Texans: Safety Justin Reid injured his ribs in the second quarter and didn’t return. … Hopkins said he played most of the game with a Grade 3 AC sprain of his right shoulder after injuring it in the first half.UP NEXTColts: Travel to Kansas City where the Chiefs were 7-1 in the regular season.Texans: The Texans have some decisions to make in the offseason with defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and safety Tyrann Mathieu both becoming free agents. They might use the franchise tag to keep Clowney, who was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft.