INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Mid-week, T.Y. Hilton put the weight of a franchise, and a season, on his shoulders. He guaranteed a big game against the San Diego Chargers.
Sunday evening at Lucas Oil Stadium, the Indianapolis Colts’ two-time Pro Bowl receiver put his talent where he mouth was.
The Ghost, nearly invisible during the team’s 0-2 start, backed up his talk with an eight-catch, 174-yard outing that included the game-winning 63-yard touchdown with 1:17 to play.
Presto: Colts 26, Chargers 22.
Welcome back, T.Y.
“I just wasn’t giving my team a chance to win,’’ Hilton said as the media encircled his cubicle in the locker room. “They look for me to make big plays and I wasn’t doing that the first two games.
“I told them, ‘I’m going to be the difference-maker today.’ I said early on in the week I wanted to put it on me, put the game on my shoulders. That’s what I did today.’’
The game – and the season, the truth be told – was very much on the line at the 2-minute warning. The Colts trailed 22-20. Andrew Luck faced a convert-or-else fourth-and-7 at his own 20.
The sellout crowd was more than a little anxious.
Luck, outwardly calm, looked toward his go-to guy.
“You look to your playmakers in those situations,’’ he said, “and T.Y. Hilton is that playmaker.
“He’s one of the heartbeats of the team. We roll through him.’’
Hilton snared a pass over the middle from Luck and, unable to catch it in stride, stumbled and stretched for 8 yards.
It kept the drive alive, and served as a precursor. Hilton quickly found Luck and pulled on his offensive coordinator’s hat.
“I said, ‘12, just give me one more of those balls . . . let me run with the ball,’’’ Hilton said. “We kind of laughed. We ran it again, but with a different formation.
“He gave it to me and I took off, but it was all 12.’’
Lined up in the slot to the right, Hilton ran a quick slant. Cornerback Jason Verrett cut under the route and just missed tipping the ball on a dive. Hilton snared the pass, spun out of the tackle attempt of safety Dexter McCoil and outran safety Adrian Phillips for his first touchdown of the season.
Earlier in the game, Hilton caught a similar slant, but was unable to keep his balance. There would be no game-breaker that time.
After that, he insisted, “I said I’m not going to go down anymore. If they were going to tackle me, it was going to take two or three of them.
“Once I caught it, I saw (McCoil). He didn’t think I saw him so he tried to hit me and I spun off him and did the rest.’’
Sunday was vintage Hilton. Big plays, difference-making plays after a slow start. Consider his output from the previous two games: 10 catches, 120 yards.
He posted the 19th 100-yard game of his career, fourth-most in club history. Ahead of him is an elite group: Marvin Harrison (59), Reggie Wayne (43) and Raymond Berry (23). Harrison and Berry are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Wayne soon will be in the discussion.
The 63-yard touchdown was the 25th of Hilton’s career, and the sixth that’s covered at least 50 yards. The 174 yards are the second-most in his regular-season career, topped by his 223-yard game at Houston in 2014.
Normally quiet, Hilton was the loudest of the Colts when it mattered. And just think, earlier in the week, he predicted it.
“That’s been the way he’s been since we’ve played together since our rookie year,’’ Luck said. “That’s why he’s one of the great receivers in the league.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.