Emerging star of the weekend.
T.Y. Hilton was so tired 90 minutes after the Colts’ 45-44 win Saturday that he said he hoped he could find someone to drive him home from Lucas Oil Stadium—even though he’d brought his car to the game. “I left everything out there,” he said. “I’m too tired to drive. I just want to go to sleep.”
There are many amazing things to consider coming out of one of the craziest playoff games in history. Here are two: The Colts scored five touchdowns in 24 second-half minutes often using four-receiver sets of Hilton, Griff Whalen, LaVon Brazill and Da’Rick Rogers. And Hilton’s 13-catch, 224-yard performance was the biggest receiving day in Colts’ playoff history—bigger than any that Raymond Berry, Marvin Harrison or Reggie Wayne ever had.
We’ve learned one thing about the future of the Colts while the 35-year-old Wayne recuperates from midseason ACL surgery: When the day comes that Wayne can’t play anymore—at least at a high level—Hilton could morph into Andrew Luck’s No. 1 receiver long-term. Check out what Hilton’s done over the past four weeks, all Colts wins, as Luck continues to get used to life without Wayne.
“I’ve always been the No. 1 receiver on my team,” he said. Well, until being drafted by the Colts. Hilton, at 5-9 and 183, doesn’t have the size NFL teams today want in a franchise receiver, and he’ll have to prove that a smaller guy can take the beating over time that top guys do. But the recent production—Hilton’s averaging a nine-catch, 127-yard game over the last month—shows the chemistry between him and Andrew Luck is getting better as time goes on.
Take Saturday night. Indianapolis trailed 44-38 with just under six minutes to play. Just before the Colts took over at their 20 to try to complete the comeback from 28 points down, coach Chuck Pagano had seen enough of the battered Chiefs’ secondary to say to Hilton: “T.Y., go win the game.” He’d not said that to Hilton before, and Hilton loved what he heard. On the fourth play of the drive, from the Colts 36, Luck sent three receivers—Rogers, Hilton and tight end Coby Fleener—in a close bunch to the left, with Hilton in the middle, and before he got too far out of earshot, Hilton heard this from Luck: “Run. Just run.” Rogers would take the corner on a short out, and Fleener a clear-out route across the middle. Hilton, Luck hoped, would beat his man off the line, and with the Chiefs curiously playing Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry close to the lane, Luck hoped the deep middle would be open for Hilton.
“I got to the line and saw 39 [safety Husain Abdullah] across from me, and I thought, ‘We’ve got to take advantage of this,’ ” said Hilton. The speed matchup, he meant. “[Brandon] Flowers was out for them and so was [Dunta] Robinson, so I knew they were running out of corners.” After Hilton got by Abdullah, he bisected safeties Kendrick Lewis and Quintin Demps. Watching the play a few times, it’s clear the trust Luck has with Hilton. When he wound up to throw the ball, which traveled 45 yards in the air, Luck didn’t see Hilton open; he hadn’t cleared either of the two safeties running with him. But by the time the ball landed in Hilton’s hands, he had three yards on his pursuers. The throw was perfect. The touchdown was easy.
A little Hilton history: His given name is Eugene T.Y. Hilton, but no one calls him Eugene. His dad’s name is Tyrone, and the T.Y. is for “Little Ty.” Raised in Miami, T.Y. became a dad in high school and had several schools competing for him to come play wide receiver. The night before he decided where to go, he put two caps—West Virginia’s and the hometown Florida International’s—in front of his infant son. He said he son put his hand on the FIU cap six straight times. And that’s why Hilton stayed home and became the best player the fledgling program has ever produced.
Now the Colts play the Patriots in Foxboro in the divisional round Saturday night. Luck and Hilton have been there once, for an embarrassing 59-24 loss last season. The Pats had better find someone to cover Hilton (Aqib Talib, physically, perhaps) because Luck’s going to him a lot. For now, Hilton’s his go-to guy. “I’m ready for the role,” Hilton said. Apparently so.
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And it’s another game of Manning versus the One-And-Done Guy.
When Peyton Manning was deciding on his next team in March of 2012, he had a meeting at the Broncos training facility that included the offensive coordinator, Mike McCoy, and the defensive coordinator, Jack Del Rio. “Tell me something,” said Manning, who wanted badly to come to a stable environment without the threat of coaching change. “Are you guys one-and-done? If we have a good year and you get an offer, are you guys out of here?”
Del Rio was new to Denver and assured Manning that it’d take a tremendous job for him to leave after his Jacksonville experience.
“I was honest with him,” McCoy said from Cincinnati Sunday afternoon. “He looked right at us and asked the question, and I understood where he was coming from. But I told him I couldn’t promise him anything. If an opportunity came up, I was going to explore it.”
Manning really liked McCoy. As did the Chargers. After the Broncos’ divisional-round playoff loss to Baltimore last January, it took 48 hours for the Chargers to decide McCoy would be the best partner for new GM Tom Telesco, and McCoy got the head-coaching job.
“What Peyton did for my career—and what everyone in Denver did, John Fox and John Elway and Pat Bowlen and the players, I owe them everything. I’m here today because of those people,” McCoy said.
“Here” is the NFL’s Final Eight, hugging just-had-to-be-there Chargers fan Phil Mickelson and his family (and Telesco too) after beating Cincinnati 27-10. McCoy and the Chargers return to the site of their biggest win this year, the 27-20 Thursday-nighter in Denver a month ago, to challenge Manning for the third time this year.
I’m not saying McCoy has the institutional knowledge of a Bill Belichick (who has 17 games against Manning as a head coach). But since Manning returned from his neck problems, he’s had two offensive coordinators and confidants: McCoy and Adam Gase, this year’s coordinator. So McCoy clearly know the routes Manning likes and the plays he wants to run. But this will be a classic spy versus spy scenario. Manning knows McCoy knows, and so Manning’s going to take McCoy’s knowledge and try to counter how he thinks McCoy will play him. And so forth.
“Hey, he’s going to do what he wants,” McCoy said. “They’re the best offense in history. We could call out every play before the snap, and he’s still going to make play after play. He dissects people. We just have to try to be efficient as we can.”
“Score touchdowns,” McCoy said, “not field goals.”
McCoy’s a great example of a guy who’s been waiting for the day he got a chance to be a head coach, full of ideas he’s packed away over the years. He always knew he’d want to take a head-coaching job with an established quarterback and might turn down opportunities with no quarterback in-house. He knew he’d empower a smart staff to be idea people. McCoy and his staff—credit offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and quarterbacks coach Frank Reich too—have made Philip Rivers more efficient by giving him more alternatives. Danny Woodhead and Keenan Allen give Rivers two options in space he didn’t have a year ago, and Ryan Mathews finally is playing like a first-round running back. There’s a strong backup tight end, Ladarius Green, behind Antonio Gates now. And the defense in Cincinnati was superb. “John Pagano does a phenomenal job of studying tendencies and coming up with ways to disguise them. The interception by Melvin Ingram [off Andy Dalton] was a perfect example,” said McCoy.
I think San Diego-Denver’s the game of the weekend.