Stretching the Field: Colts high on Hilton

( – It was hard to imagine at the time that there could
actually be someone worthy of filling Marvin Harrison’s shoes.

Harrison and Peyton Manning made sweet music and won a Super Bowl together
with the Indianapolis Colts, and later in the duo’s time on the big stage
there was a receiver on training wheels.

It didn’t take long for Reggie Wayne to begin cruising on two tires and
freestyling down the path which was paved by Harrison. It was Wayne who caught
Manning’s lone touchdown pass in Super Bowl XLI and he will soon hang ’em up.

Now the question so many asked years ago concerning the Colts’ future at
receiver is back.

It wasn’t a guarantee right away that Wayne would be the next star after
Harrison, and it’s not written in stone that T.Y. Hilton can handle the
passing of the torch. His play says otherwise and was clearly evident in
Thursday’s 33-28 battle with the Houston Texans.

Forget that Hilton owns the Texans in his career to the tune of 31 catches for
611 yards and six touchdowns in five games. He torched the AFC South foes with
223 yards on nine receptions, and Hilton’s 33-yard score late in the third
quarter gave the Colts some breathing room. It turned out to be a huge score
because Texans defensive freak J.J. Watt got his team and the crowd back to
life with a 45-yard fumble return for a touchdown.

Hilton, though, wrestled the show away from Watt and the fans to help the
Colts claim sole possession of first place in the division with a 4-2 mark.
The Texans are now 3-3 on the season and are probably fed up with the beatings
Hilton puts on them. Too bad for them because Hilton’s not going anywhere for
a while.

When asked about Hilton giving the defense fits, Texans cornerback Kareem
Jackson responded, “Yeah, definitely. First half, man, he was all over the
place and like you said gave us some fits. That’s something we can’t let
happen. We just have to be better on the back end.”

Hilton had Houston on its back end all night in the first half, catching six
passes for 156 yards. He hauled in a 40-yard strike from Andrew Luck in the
first quarter and had a 54-yard TD catch reversed. It turned out to be a 49-
yard completion and set up Trent Richardson’s five-yard touchdown run.

“Something told me the time was now,” Hilton said Thursday. “I’ve been saying
it all week, I felt like I was going to have a big game and I did.”

Hilton and the Colts will host the Texans in Week 15 and that game could have
huge playoff implications. If history has any bearing, it should be another
long day for the Houston defensive backfield.

Big pass plays were common for Harrison and it didn’t take long for Wayne to
get on board. Wayne can still do it from time to time, but Hilton’s the foie
gras on the dinner menu.

“The kid is just awesome, man. Two-hundred-plus yards, come on, man,” Colts
defensive end Cory Redding said. “I’m just glad that he’s on my team.”

Redding’s not the only one. Luck told reporters it’s obvious how “fantastic”
Hilton is on the field and perhaps one day their connection will reach the
record books and Super Bowl. If Hilton keeps getting behind the defense on a
weekly basis the possibilities are endless.

Climbing personal record books will take time for Hilton. While Wayne’s
passing Cris Carter and James Lofton in receiving categories, Hilton, who left
Florida International with school records for receptions (229), receiving
yards (3,351) and touchdowns (24), is starting to scratch the surface. In his
rookie season of 2012, Hilton contributed immediately with 50 catches for 861
yards and seven touchdowns.

He didn’t stop there.

Hilton busted out last season with 1,083 yards and five scores on 82
receptions, and played all 16 games. Competing in the postseason hasn’t been a
problem either for Hilton, who’s played well so far in three chances to claim
a Vince Lombardi Trophy. Hilton had eight catches for 66 yards in a Wild Card
loss against Baltimore in 2012.

And then came the fireworks in a 2013 Wild Card win over Kansas City.

In what is arguably one of the top playoff games of all-time, Hilton and Luck
led a resurgence in a 45-44 win and helped erase a 38-10 deficit with patience
and time. Hilton was on the end of 13 Luck passes for 224 yards and two
scores, none bigger than his 64-yard touchdown late in the game to cap the

The following week Hilton showed up again with his work boots and posted 103
yards on four receptions in a 43-22 loss at New England.

Hilton continued to grind in the offseason and has 604 yards on 40 catches in
six games. He has posted 80 or more receiving yards in each of the past four
games — all Indy wins — and is averaging Harrison-like 139.3 receiving
yards in the previous three.

The NFL’s current receiving yards leader is averaging 100.7 yards per game and
seems to have carved a niche for himself and his future in Indianapolis.

It’s too early to determine if Hilton’s ready to take the next step in team
lore like Harrison and Wayne have, but at least he is approaching the path
before him.