In 2013, the Colts lost 17 players to injured reserve. And, of all those that suffered season-ending injuries, the player most difficult to lose was–without a doubt–Reggie Wayne, who tore his ACL in a Week 7 win over the Denver Broncos.
For second-year quarterback Andrew Luck, Wayne was more than a six-time Pro Bowler and a three-time All-Pro. He was a security blanket. When it was third-and-six late in the fourth quarter, Luck knew he could count on Reggie.
Wayne’s injury could and probably should have been a death sentence. It’s not easy to lose your best playmaker–who also happens to be your leader–and still win 11 games, but that’s exactly what the Colts did.
Now, obviously, Luck deserves much credit for the Colts’ success after Reggie’s injury, but so does the wide receiver who stepped up and filled Reggie’s shoes almost to perfection after the injury.
Yes, that would be T.Y. Hilton.
In the nine regular season games after Wayne’s injury, Hilton was, by all accounts, Luck’s favorite target. He caught 55 balls for 671 yards and three touchdowns. With his help, the Colts were able to win six of those games and earn the AFC South crown for the first time since 2010.
And, perhaps most impressively, Hilton was at his best when the stakes were the highest.
Against the eventual Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks in Week 5, he caught a touchdown (his second of the day) late in the third quarter to pull the Colts within two. And, on the game-winning drive, Hilton had two more catches, including a 12-yard reception on third-and-8 that gave his team a first-and-10 at Seattle’s 33-yard line.
At Houston in Week 8 (the first full game Wayne missed), he caught three touchdowns–including the game-winner–in the second half to help the Colts overcome a 21-3 halftime deficit and win.
Once the playoffs arrived, Hilton’s production and responsibility continued to increase. In a Wild Card round meeting with the Chiefs–a game the Colts managed to win after trailing by 28 in the third quarter–T.Y. was, along with Luck, the evening’s co-MVP. He had a season-high 13 receptions for a season-high 224 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winning, 64-yard score in the fourth quarter. Against the Patriots in the Divisional Round–on a night the Colts’ season ended–Hilton didn’t manage to score, but he did catch four passes for 103 yards, and he had several key receptions in the second half to keep Indianapolis in the game.
Bottom line: After a respectable 50-catch, 861-yard season as a rookie, 2013 was T.Y. Hilton’s coming out party. He finished with 82 catches and 1,083 yards receiving, and even those numbers–though impressive–were hardly indicative of his role in the Colts’ 11-win campaign.