Thank you, T.Y. Hilton.
The Indianapolis Colts wide receiver who typically celebrates scores by signaling “T” and “Y” couldn’t have been more appreciated on a wild Thursday night at Houston’s NRG Stadium.
While perseverance required a multitude of Colts contributions to withstand the Texans’ J.J. Watt, Arian Foster and Andre Johnson, it was the smallest guy on the field who loomed largest in the visitors’ 33-28 triumph.
The 5-9, 178-pound Hilton destroyed the Texans secondary with nine catches for 223 yards, a career-best in the regular season, and one yard shy of Raymond Berry’s 1957 franchise record. He’s just the sixth Colts receiver to ever have a 200-yard receiving game in the regular season.
There’s something about Houston that brings out the best in Hilton. In three games on the road against the Texans, he’s caught 19 passes for 422 yards and five TDs.
Hilton scored what proved to be the deciding touchdown on a 33-yard reception in the third quarter. Surprisingly, the 24-year-old Miami native told ESPN afterward he eschewed his usual “T.Y.” TD celebration for a tribute to former Miami Heat star LeBron James.
“Yeah, it was a shout-out to ‘Bron, ‘Bron," Hilton said. "That was for you.”
And he beat double coverage on the play, out-jumping the last defender in the end zone.
“I was fresh,” Hilton said, despite the short week. “I took care of my body the whole week and we went out there and executed the game plan. We wanted to come out there and start fast and get the crowd out of the game, and that’s what we did.”
In the season's first two games, his longest catch in 11 receptions was for 16 yards. In the last three games, he's caught 29 passes for 498 yards with receptions of 39, 37, 40, 49, 37 and 33 yards.
“We’ve seen the past couple of games, T.Y. kept breaking out, a little more, a little more, a little more,” quarterback Andrew Luck said on the NFL Network TV set. “It sure paid off tonight. … He’s a fun, fun guy to play with.”
One of his defensive teammates, a Houston native, also gushed.
“The kid is just awesome, man,” defensive end Cory Redding said to ESPN. “He’s playing lights out right now.”
Hilton’s first grab during the Colts’ opening possession went for 40 yards on a third-and-15 pass and set up Adam Vinatieri’s 27-yard field goal. The Colts grabbed the ball back after Pat McAfee recovered his own onside kick, and Hilton burned a busted coverage for 49 yards to the Texans’ 5. The play was initially ruled a touchdown, which Hilton celebrated with his “T.Y.” gesture. But replay ruled he was down at the 5. The next play, running back Trent Richardson rumbled in for the score and a 10-0 lead.
When the Colts got the ball back, Hilton contributed a 14-yard catch to another touchdown drive as Ahmad Bradshaw caught a 5-yard scoring pass. And Hilton wasn’t finished yet in that first quarter. He gained 37 yards on a third-and-9 pass and added a 7-yard reception before Luck found Coby Fleener in the end zone for a 4-yard score.
The Colts were ahead 24-0 against a Texans defense that had not surrendered a first-quarter point in five previous games. It’s the most Colts points scored in an opening quarter since the Baltimore Colts put up 27 against Chicago on Oct. 4, 1958. Hilton already had five catches for 147 yards.
The Texans dominated much of the play for the middle two quarters to make it a one-score game as Foster ran for two touchdowns and Johnson caught a TD pass. The Colts’ lead was trimmed to 27-21. The offense needed to respond.
Enter Hilton once more as he grabbed an 18-yard pass to get the Colts across midfield, then finished the seven-play, 80-yard drive with his 33-yard touchdown catch.
Watt brought the Texans to within one score again with a 45-yard TD fumble return in the final quarter. But the Colts’ defense closed it out.
“We managed to weather a storm,” Luck said after his fourth consecutive game of 300-plus passing yards.
The Colts (4-2) have won four consecutive games, including a sweep of their three AFC South foes, and they sit atop the division by one game over the Texans. They've won 10 in a row against division opponents and on Thursday nights.
They achieved this at Houston with some timely defense, an explosive offense early on and a whole lot of Hilton.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.