From 1999 to 2002, Marvin Harrison posted 100 or more receptions every season, with his highest output coming in 2002 when he posted a league record 143 catches. He has gained 1,000 or more yards receiving every season since 1999. Harrison and Peyton Manning have connected on more touchdowns than any other quarterback-receiver duo in NFL history. When a player of Harrison's caliber misses a significant amount of time to injury, the effects of that missed time should have a profound effect on the offense.
However, the Colts offense finished third in the league in scoring this season, averaging 28.1 points per game. Manning finished with another 4,000-yard passing season and threw over 30 touchdown passes for only the fourth time in his career. Though Dallas Clark and Anthony Gonzalez contributed and saw their production increase, as well as running backs Joseph Addai and Kenton Keith helping out in the passing game, no one on the Indianapolis offense experienced an increase in production to the level that Reggie Wayne did.
This season, Wayne caught 104 passes for 1,510 yards, both career highs. He also caught 10 touchdown passes, which marks only the second time in his career that he has recorded double digits in touchdown receptions.
Reggie Wayne celebrates with Jeff Saturday
AP Photo/Michael Conroy
Though he came into 2007 with three consecutive 1,000 yard seasons, his previous highs in receptions and yards were 86 and 1,310 — with both those previous career highs coming in the 2006 season.
Wayne's 1,510 receiving yards this season led the NFL, while his 104 catches finished second to the 112 receptions posted by Wes Welker and TJ Houshmandzadeh. As the de facto go-to receiver for a potent passing attack, those numbers may seem to be what any receiver that is Manning's primary target should put up in any season, especially considering that Wayne's achievements this season did not set any franchise records — all of which are held by Harrison, Manning's former primary target.
But when he was busy setting all those records, Harrison had Wayne to occupy opposing defenses, taking at least some attention away from him. Gonzalez had a fine season and it looks as though he's going to be a good player at the NFL level, but he does not possess the talent of Wayne or demand the attention that Wayne did when Harrison was in the lineup. Wayne was the only skill position player on offense aside from Manning to start every game this season.
Gonzalez missed time, Clark missed time, both tailbacks missed time. Defenses knew that, if they concentrated on taking Wayne out of the game, they could stifle the Indianapolis offense.
In order to be viewed as dominant, a player must be able to raise the level of his game above whatever obstacles are presented to him. Wayne was able to not only overcome the fact that he was the only player that was consistently in the lineup for the Colts passing offense all season, he was able to flourish and ended up leading the league in receiving.
Nothing is more frustrating for a defense than when they know what's coming but are unable to prevent it from happening. Instead of becoming frustrated with his situation, Wayne stepped up and became the dominant player for the Colts on offense, thereby frustrating opposing defenses.
In a season marked by adversity, overcoming injuries, and a number of players on both sides of the ball being pressed into service, Wayne took on the biggest burden and had the best results.