By George Bremer CNHI News Media
---- — INDIANAPOLIS — The more T.Y. Hilton touches the ball, the better things get for the Indianapolis Colts.
Andrew Luck found the second-year wide receiver early and often Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium, and it helped set the tone in a 30-10 blowout against the Jacksonville Jaguars (4-12).
Hilton set career highs with 11 catches and 155 yards as Indianapolis (11-5) won its third straight game to close out the regular season.
“We know how dynamic he is, and we talk a lot about how much of a playmaker he is,” said Luck, who completed 26 of 37 passes overall for 282 yards and one touchdown. “So if we can get the ball in his hands, good things happen.”
That didn’t keep Luck from spreading the football around. He completed passes to 11 different receivers and directed touchdown drives on the first two possessions as the Colts sprinted to a 20-3 halftime lead.
Hilton, however, was by far the most popular target. He finished the season with 1,083 yards, topping even his accomplished veteran teammate.
“That was one of my goals coming in here, trying to get to 1,000,” said Hilton, who started the game 72 yards shy of the mark and reached it in the first quarter. “Right now, I did that. Reggie Wayne didn’t even do that in his second year.”
Hilton was far from alone in his production.
Indianapolis got touchdown runs of 1 yard by Donald Brown and 2 by Trent Richardson in the first 7:30, taking a 14-0 lead and effectively ending the game. Luck added a 7-yard scoring pass to Griff Whalen in the third quarter, and Adam Vinatieri converted all three of his field-goal attempts. Vinatieri’s big game pushed him past the 2,000-point mark for his career.
That was more than enough support for a defense that didn’t surrender a touchdown until the final 16 seconds.
“Defense is playing lights out, gaining a ton of momentum, a ton of confidence,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “Offense is gelling at the right time. Again, being able to get hot and play well in December and go 4-1 and go into the playoffs obviously with some momentum, some mojo, is hopefully going to work in our favor.”
Little worked against Indianapolis on Sunday.
Perhaps the biggest missed opportunity involved a fourth-quarter sack credited to inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman. Outside linebacker Robert Mathis grabbed Jacksonville quarterback Chad Henne by the shoulder and turned him in the pocket. Henne struggled free and began tumbling forward. Freeman came in to wrap up the quarterback and finish the play.
“I told him I really appreciated that layup he gave me,” Freeman said. “If they give it to him, I’m not going to argue that one. If they give him half, I’m not going to argue that one at all.”
Each defender will be awarded half a sack in many similar situations, and it makes a big difference for Mathis. With two other sacks of Henne, he passed St. Louis defensive end Robert Quinn for the league lead. But with a 19.5 total for the season, he’s just half a sack shy of becoming the 10th player in NFL history to record 20 sacks in a single campaign.
True to form, Mathis isn’t concerned with individual honors.
“It would be nice,” he said of winning the sack title, “but a ring is better.”
Mathis is referring, of course, to the bauble awarded to the Super Bowl champions each year.
The Colts’ road to the NFL’s championship game in New York City will begin next weekend at home against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Indianapolis scored a 23-7 victory at Kansas City two weeks ago but will take nothing for granted in the rematch.
“Every game is a bonus now so you really have to go in and prepare like any game could be your last game,” Brown said. “This is what you play for. All the hard work throughout the year, this is what you play for is playoff time.”