By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
Someone needs to step into Reggie Wayne's enormous shoes and take over the role as the Indianapolis Colts' No. 1 receiver. In the second half Sunday night, rising second-year star T.Y. Hilton raised his hand and volunteered.
Of course, Hilton's big night — seven catches for 121 yards and all three of Indianapolis' touchdowns in a 27-24 come-from-behind victory against the Houston Texans — came with an assist from Wayne himself.
"We talked before the game, we talked during the game, we talked at halftime," Hilton recalled Monday during a media conference call. "At halftime, he looked me in the eyes and told me, 'You owe me one, man. Go out there and do what you do best, just go out there and have fun.' Once I hit the second half, I was able to get it going, and after the game he said, 'Now, that's what I'm talking about. That's what I'm talking about.' We just kind of took that moment in."
Hilton has looked up to Wayne ever since Colts general manager Ryan Grigson traded up to select him in the third round out of Florida International in 2012.
From his first days in an Indianapolis helmet, Hilton began mimicking Wayne's every move. He copied the veteran's legendary work habits and took every opportunity to pick the all-pro's brain.
Now the 5-foot-10 speedster is being asked to do his best Wayne impression. And the early returns were not promising.
Quarterback Andrew Luck was just 3-for-12 in the first half, and Hilton had a single catch. An early drop on third down helped kill a drive, but it also stirred something in the young receiver.
"I don't know what it is, I always seem to drop the ball to get me going," Hilton said. "I don't know why I always seem to do that, but I got to stop. That's going to hurt us."
Hilton was far from alone in his slow start Sunday.
The defense allowed Houston quarterback Case Keenum — making his second NFL start — to throw three first-half touchdowns to veteran wide receiver Andre Johnson, and the Colts went into the locker room trailing 21-3.
Indianapolis was still down 24-6 when Luck and Hilton connected on a 10-yard pass for the team's first touchdown with just 11 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
After the 2-point conversion attempt failed, Texans' kicker Randy Bullock capped a promising drive by missing a 43-yard field goal. Two plays later, Luck hit Hilton for a 58-yard touchdown and the Colts suddenly were in the game.
Luck later told a national television audience, "If you don't know T.Y. Hilton's name already, you will now."
Nothing the wide receiver did Sunday came as a surprise to head coach Chuck Pagano.
"No, because, again, he does it during the week," Pagano said Monday. "We hit those plays, Andrew hit those plays to T.Y. and the other players during the week."
Hilton's final score came with 4:05 remaining in the game and put Indianapolis in front for good. He caught a pass in the flat from Luck, came to a complete stop at one point to allow a defensive back to overrun the play and then sprinted into the end zone for a 9-yard touchdown.
A 2-point conversion pass to Coby Fleener moments later provided the final margin of victory.
"Coby practiced really well," Pagano said of the tight end who caught three passes for 64 yards. "Usually when you do it in practice, we say if you make those plays in practice, you're going to make them in the game. We see it all the time, and so it's a byproduct of preparation."
Hilton generally has been well-prepared to play the Texans. In three career games against one of the most respected defensive teams in the league, he has 14 catches for 310 yards and five touchdowns.
His timing couldn't have been better Sunday, helping the Colts (6-2) survive a tremendous road test and maintain a comfortable lead in the AFC South.
If there's a secret to his success against Houston, however, Hilton isn't willing to share it.
"I don't know, I really don't know," he said. "But it was division game, and it was one we had to get. They're the defending division champs, and we had to give them everything we had to get the win."