Dynamic receiver Austin Collie finally returned to form Sunday in Jacksonville (Photo by Matt Kryger/The Star).

Horseshoe Hero: Lassie Came Home

The Colts won again! No, not another football game…the race for the first pick in the NFL Draft! By falling in their final game of the 2011-2012 season to the Jacksonville Jaguars, 19-13, the Colts “surpassed” the Saint Louis Rams and secured the rights to the first over-all selection in April’s draft.

In Weeks 14 and 15, the Colts reversed their misfortunes and pulled off two surprising victories against division rivals Tennessee and Houston, but Indy couldn’t keep the streak going in Jacksonville on New Year’s Day. Instead, quarterback Dan Orlovsky threw two interceptions and fumbled the ball twice more. The defense struggled equally when trying to stop the league’s leading rusher, Maurice Jones-Drew. It wasn’t until late in the second half that the Colts found their rhythm, but the comeback was staged a bit too late. However, it was during this surge in Colts’ momentum that the season’s final Horseshoe Hero emerged.

During a dramatic 82-yard drive in the fourth quarter, wide receiver Austin Collie reeled in five passes from Orlovsky, the final for a 12-yard touchdown. His score brought the Colts to within six points of their opponent with just a little over three minutes remaining in the game. Collie caught nine passes for 96 yards on the day: a 10.7-yard average that led all other Colts’ receivers. All in all, he gave the Colts their greatest chance to win the football game.

As a sophomore last year, Collie established himself as one of Peyton Manning’s favorite targets. In the first eight games of the 2010 season, Collie caught 44 passes for 503 yards and 6 touchdowns, including a 12-reception, 171-yard effort against Denver in Week 3. However, in Week 9 of that year, Collie took a hard hit from Philadelphia’s Quintin Mikell and Kurt Coleman and fell to the field, unconscious, remaining motionless for several agonizing minutes. The hit resulted in a concussion, but Collie returned to play just two weeks later. Collie took another hard hit in Week 15 against Jacksonville, and a second concussion ended his season.

In the offseason, Collie was outfitted with a new prototype helmet designed by Bill Simpson, and Collie has not had a problem with head injuries since. However, he has had a problem returning to form. It took Collie until the final week of the Colts’ 2011 season to shine again. On Sunday, the “real” Austin Collie was back.

Whether Collie’s drop in production was due to his own health concerns or Manning’s absence is uncertain. Regardless, it’s a relief to know he can still play at a high level, especially with Reggie Wayne’s contract renewal in doubt. As loyal as Lassie, Collie has hung in with his fellow Horseshoe Heroes and persevered through a tough season.

A lot of changes are likely to occur within the Colts’ organization in the coming months. A lot of questions remain, and more speculation is likely to arise before any of them will be answered. The future is far from clear, but at least there’s the brightness of a first-round pick at the end of the tunnel. And, of course, many Horseshoe Heroes will remain.

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