AFC South: Darrius Heyward-Bey

The Carolina Panthers made an offer to Hakeem Nicks thinking they had a legitimate shot to sign the former New York Giants receiver.

That was until the Indianapolis Colts stepped in and not only offered Nicks a one-year contract worth up to $5.5 million, but also an opportunity to be on the receiving end of passes from quarterback Andrew Luck and be a part of a team that could be one of the best in the AFC next season.

ESPN.com Panthers reporter David Newton and Colts reporter Mike Wells talk about Nicks' decision to sign with Indianapolis

[+] EnlargeHakeem Nicks
Al Bello/Getty ImagesHakeem Nicks chose the Indianapolis Colts over the Carolina Panthers.
Wells: David, Carolina quarterback Cam Newton proved last season that he's one of the best young quarterbacks in the league. But Luck has proven in just two years -- with 22 victories -- that he has the complete package: arm, foot speed and mental toughness. So it seems Nicks made the right decision to sign with the Colts. What are your thoughts?

Newton: Totally agree. When Nicks picked Indy over Carolina I mentioned one of the reasons may have been Luck was the more proven quarterback. It didn't sit well with Carolina fans. My argument was simple. Two trips to the playoffs to one. But the bigger reason is Nicks will be surrounded by proven receivers in Indy. Maybe that would have happened at Carolina, but at the time of the decision the Panthers didn't have a receiver on its roster with an NFL catch. When Brandon LaFell signed with New England on Saturday that guaranteed Newton won't have any of his top four wide receivers from last season. At Carolina, Nicks risked the possibility of being double-teamed because there wasn't anybody proven to take coverage away. He would have been the clear-cut No. 1, and I'm not sure he's a No. 1. Luck also has a more established offensive line. So when I said Luck was more proven there were other factors around that.

Having said that, if you were starting a team from scratch would you pick Luck or Newton?

Wells: I like how Newton played last season, but I've still got to give Luck the edge over him and players such as Seattle's Russell Wilson and San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick. Luck's résumé speaks for itself. He led the Colts to an 11-5 record during a rookie season when his coach, Chuck Pagano, missed 12 games while battling cancer. He repeated that record last season while losing five offensive starters by Week 7. Luck has led the Colts on 11 fourth quarter or overtime game-winning drives in his young NFL career. Should I continue? It also helps that Luck's Colts have already beaten the Seahawks and 49ers. Maybe you and I can corner Rob Chudzinski somewhere after the season and ask him his thoughts because he obviously coached Newton in Carolina and he's about to coach Luck with the Colts next season.

It seems like the Panthers don't seem to know which direction they're headed with players like receiver Steve Smith being released. Am I wrong to think that could sway a free agent's decision?

Newton: It would have to cast doubt. It certainly casts doubt in my mind. It'll all come down to how convincing general manager Dave Gettleman is on selling his plan. And yes, there's a plan. Jerricho Cotchery is coming in for a visit on Monday and James Jones says he'd like to play for Carolina. If the Panthers can get a couple of solid veterans -- even if they aren't bona fide No. 1s, and select a dynamic receiver with either their first- or second-round pick, the receiving corps potentially could be better than last season. Even Smith admitted he's not a No. 1 anymore. So for all the grief I've given Gettleman for making a mistake in dumping Smith, in the long run it could work out. I mean, the beef on LaFell last season was he wasn't a bona fide No. 2. Ted Ginn Jr. had a nice season, but he had only two catches the year before. Domenik Hixon had only one catch that impacted a game. So big picture, they didn't really lose a lot.

So how do you expect Nicks to fit in at Indianapolis? Can he help put Indy over the top?

Wells: Colts fans are a little leery because there was high hope last year when Darrius Heyward-Bey, the No. 7 pick in the 2009 draft, signed a one-year contract the same way Nicks did. Heyward-Bey, to put it as nice as possible, was brutal last season. So brutal that he ended up being demoted to special teams where he actually did a great job downing punts inside the 20-yard line. I think Nicks will fit in nicely because he doesn't have the pressure of being the No. 1 receiver. He simply has to just fit in alongside of fellow receivers Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton. Tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener are also receiving options for Luck. The fact that Nicks had almost 900 yards receiving last season and that was considered a down year for him is a good thing for the Colts. Luck will find him as long as he can get open.

Newton needs somebody to throw the ball to. What are the Panthers going to do since Smith is gone and Nicks decided playing with the Colts was a better option?

Newton: As I mentioned above, Cotchery is coming in for a visit and I still believe they'll get Jones. The plan is to find a few bargains and blend them in with a draft pick. Smith would have made a nice No. 2 receiver in this package in my opinion. But from everything I gather Newton won't be heartbroken to see his top receiver gone. Smith has gotten in Newton's face more than a few times the past few years. As much as that may have been needed, there is a belief on the team that Smith might have been a distraction to Newton as the central leader of the offense. It will be interesting to hear how Newton spins it when we finally hear from him.

Now that the Colts have Nicks, what's the rest of their free-agency plans?

Wells: General manager Ryan Grigson has put an emphasis on defense so far. They still need to find a safety to replace Antoine Bethea, who signed with San Francisco last week. The interior part of the offensive line could use some help, too. They signed former Dallas center Phil Costa last week. The Colts haven't completely shut the door on Cleveland center Alex Mack even though it is a longshot that they'll be to get him because the Browns used the transition tag on him. Adding another guard wouldn't be a bad idea, either.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Former Indianapolis Colts general manager and current ESPN analyst Bill Polian has grades for each player scheduled to hit the free agent market on March 11.

Here’s are the grades Polian gave for each of the Colts’ key free agents:

Antoine Bethea: A

Donald Brown: B+

Pat McAfee: B

Vontae Davis: B-

Adam Vinatieri: C

Here's a breakdown of what each letter grade is worth financially.

A: $6+ million AAV (annual average value), 3+ years guaranteed money

B: $2-6 million AAV, 2 years or fewer guaranteed money

C: $2 million or less AAV, 2 years or fewer guaranteed money

D: Minimum salary, 1 year contract

I was a little surprised Polian had Bethea graded higher than Davis, and I was surprised Davis was also graded lower than McAfee and Brown.

One other noted free agent is offensive lineman Mike McGlynn. Polian gave McGlynn a D. He lost his starting job at guard momentarily but was still a better center than Samson Satele. This should help you put into perspective how low McGlynn graded out, receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey was given a C. Yes, Heyward-Bey, who went from starting the season as the Colts’ No. 2 receiver to ending the season on special teams, graded out higher than McGlynn.

Click here for an explanation of the grading system.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The scouting combine is less than a week away at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. NFL draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. talked about how the Indianapolis Colts should be able to draft an interior lineman (guard or center) when they select in the second round during a recent conference call.

Bush
Wayne
Receiver is another position Kiper Jr. is excited about. He believes there could be up to eight receivers going in the first round if they test well. There are 19 underclassmen receivers entering in the draft, so there is a chance the Colts could have an opportunity to get one in the later rounds.

“A lot these kids are underclassmen, so you have to be conservative,” Kiper said. “They have to test well to be a legitimate first-round pick.”

The Colts entered last season with depth issues at receiver. The depth became even more-dire when Reggie Wayne went down with a torn ACL and Darrius Heyward-Bey struggled.

There is still concern at receiver because Wayne has to prove he can regain his form following surgery, and young receivers like Da'Rick Rogers, Griff Whalen and LaVon Brazill continue to develop. T.Y. Hilton is currently the only sure thing at receiver for the Colts.

Colts tight end Dwayne Allen will be happy because Kiper Jr. has Clemson’s Sammy Watkins as the top receiver in his list of the top 10 at that position in a pre-combine breakdown.

Click here Insider to see Kiper’s top-10 receivers heading into next week’s combine.
INDIANAPOLIS – Indianapolis Colts receiver Da'Rick Rogers' self-confidence is off the charts. That's understandable when you think that he used to run his mouth all the time to upperclassmen defensive players as a freshman at the University of Tennessee. He was confident he would be effective with the Colts once his opportunity came after spending most of the season on the practice squad.

Rogers, however, was humbled during the Colts' 43-22 AFC divisional playoff loss to the New England Patriots. He dropped two passes in the first quarter under the bright lights of their nationally televised game. And it's for that reason that it'll take Rogers to move past those drops.

Rogers
"That's not me," said Rogers, who was targeted four times but didn't have any catches in the Colts' final game of the season. "That's going to sting me for a while. I'm still disgusted."

Rogers can't let the drops eat at him for too long because there were some people who weren't sure he'd even be in the position to catch passes from quarterback Andrew Luck when the Colts signed him after he was released by the Buffalo Bills in late August.

Rogers patiently had to wait his turn to be put on the active roster. That happened Nov. 11, 2013, then he was activated for his first game against the Tennessee Titans on Dec. 1, 2013.

Rogers' breakout game came against Cincinnati the following week. He had six catches for 107 yards and two touchdowns.

He ended the season with 14 catches for 192 yards and two touchdowns.

"I believe I showed the Colts that they can trust me, that I can come to work and be professional every day," Roger said.

Rogers, who led the SEC with 67 receptions for 1,040 yards during his sophomore year at Tennessee, has an opportunity to stick with the Colts.

Depth at the receiver was an issue for the Colts last season. Veteran Reggie Wayne will be back next season but he'll be coming off ACL surgery. Darrius Heyward-Bey likely won't be back.

It's up to the 22-year-old Rogers to continue to improve and to also avoid the off-the-field temptations. He was dismissed from Tennessee because of substance abuse problems and maturity issues.

"That stuff is in the past," Rogers said. "It's all about football for me. I'm still pretty disgusted with the loss and dropping those passes. I'm going to take a little bit of time off and then I'll be back here in Indy working out all the time."

Indianapolis Colts season wrap-up

January, 15, 2014
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Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 8
Preseason Power Ranking: 10

Biggest surprise: The questions were valid. Was linebacker Robert Mathis' production a product of having sack-machine Dwight Freeney playing on the other side? Could Mathis still be an impact player without Freeney? Mathis silenced the naysayers when he led the league in sacks with 19.5, including seven strip sacks. Mathis didn't hide the fact that he wanted to quiet the doubters. What made his season even more special is that he did it without much help elsewhere, as the Colts had only 42 sacks as a team. Mathis is one of the front-runners to be the league's defensive player of the year.

Biggest disappointment: Safety LaRon Landry was supposed to have the same kind of impact Bob Sanders had when he played for the Colts. That's why general manager Ryan Grigson signed him to four-year, $24 million contract. Landry was good when he was able to come up with the big hits or touchdown-saving tackles, but it was too often that he ended up whiffing on a play. The plays on which he missed running back Jamaal Charles on a touchdown run in the regular-season game against Kansas City and New England's LeGarrette Blount on his touchdown run last weekend are two examples that quickly come to mind. It also doesn't help that Landry missed four games because of injury this season.

Biggest need: Help on both lines -- offensive and defensive -- should be at the top of Grigson's list during the offseason. The Colts are set at offensive tackle with Anthony Castonzo and Gosder Cherilus. Donald Thomas will be back to take one of the guard spots after he missed most of the season with a quad injury, but the other guard spot and center could use upgrades. The Colts need a defensive tackle who can clog the middle of the line.

Team MVP: This is a no-brainer. Quarterback Andrew Luck was mentioned as a league MVP candidate at one point in the season. The second-year quarterback overcame injuries to five key offensive starters -- including future Hall of Fame receiver Reggie Wayne -- to cut his interceptions in half, increase his completion percentage and throw the same number of touchdown passes despite 52 fewer attempts. Take Luck out of the lineup and the Colts would have won maybe six games this season.

 
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Darrius Heyward-Bey will be best remembered as a former top-10 pick who started the season as the Indianapolis Colts’ No. 2 receiver, was demoted, became a special-teams ace and missed the team’s last game of the season -- unless the Colts beat the New England Patriots in the AFC divisional playoff game Saturday.

Heyward-Bey
Heyward-Bey has been ruled out of the game against the Patriots because of a hamstring injury, which happened in the wild-card game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Don’t get me wrong, Heyward-Bey is a nice guy. It’s hard not to like him. He’s very polite and he has some clever riddles that always seem to stump you. Those were supposed to be added bonuses Heyward-Bey brought to the Colts this season. But his play on the field was the focal point.

Unfortunately his niceness overshadowed his on-the-field production.

Heyward-Bey hasn’t caught a pass since the Cincinnati game on Dec. 8. That was four games ago. He caught his lone touchdown against Denver on Oct. 20. Reggie Wayne was still playing then.

I’m sure Heyward-Bey wants his teammates to beat the Patriots for more than one reason: to advance to the AFC Championship Game and so that he can play another game with the Colts -- if his hamstring improves -- as the two sides will likely part ways once the season ends.
INDIANPOLIS -- Indianapolis Colts receiver Deion Branch will catch 10 passes for 150 yards and three touchdowns against his former team, the New England Patriots, in Saturday's AFC divisional round playoff game.

Come on now, that's probably one of the first things you thought about when you heard the news of the Colts signing Branch late Monday afternoon.

Sorry, I don't see that happening. In fact, I'd be surprised if Branch has much of a presence on the field against New England.

[+] EnlargeDeion Branch
Rob Tringali/Getty ImagesDeion Branch, who has not played since last season's AFC Championship Game, has 39 career touchdowns in 11 seasons with the Seahawks and Patriots.
He has only three days to learn the Colts' system and try to develop some timing with quarterback Andrew Luck.

“I think it'll be a seamless transition for him,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “Again, time will tell with that. [We'll find out] when we get him in here, when we get him in meetings and get him out [on the practice field]. It's probably a matter from a terminology standpoint. I'm sure he's run all the concepts that we've run. It's just a matter of becoming familiar with the play calls and terminology, which I don't think he will have a problem with.”

The Colts didn't sign Branch to suddenly become T.Y. Hilton's sidekick as the No. 2 receiver. Branch, a former Super Bowl MVP, hasn't played in a game since having two catches for 16 yards against the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship Game on Jan. 20, 2013, while he was with the Patriots. He has 518 receptions for 6,644 yards and 39 touchdowns in his career.

Pagano mentioned signing Branch because of injury concerns at receiver. Darrius Heyward-Bey will miss Saturday's game with a hamstring injury, prompting the Colts to elevate wide receiver Josh Lenz from the practice squad Monday.

Heyward-Bey had been relegated to mainly special teams the past few weeks. The Colts are set at the top four receiver spots with Hilton, Da'Rick Rogers, Griff Whalen and LaVon Brazill. There would be a reason to have more optimism about Branch passing those guys on the depth chart if he had actually played during the 2013 season.

Branch, 34, will provide any information he can about the Patriots and he'll also help the receiving group prepare for the biggest game of their young NFL careers. Anything he provides on the field will be a bonus.

There's nothing wrong with the Colts signing Branch. Just don't expect an out-of-this-world performance by him against the Patriots on Saturday.

“If you look at as far as bringing in a veteran guy that's played at a level he's played at for such a long period of time, I don't see how it could hurt you,” Pagano said. “Again, we'll see how fast he picks up the terminology in the offense. We all know he's more than capable of making plays. Again with DHB being out for a period of time, all those types of things, just adding him to the mix, it can't hurt.”
INDIANAPOLIS – Nine.

That’s the number of receptions the Indianapolis Colts’ receivers have in their playoff career. Take starting receiver T.Y. Hilton out of the mix and that number goes down to one.

The Colts will head into Saturday’s wild-card playoff matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs with an inexperienced receiving group.

[+] EnlargeT.Y. Hilton
Thomas Campbell/USA TODAY SportsColts receiver T.Y. Hilton gained valuable experience during last season's trip to the playoffs.
Hilton and veteran receiver Reggie Wayne plan to talk to receivers Griff Whalen, Da’Rick Rogers and Darrius Heyward-Bey, who will be making their playoff debuts, about what to expect Saturday.

The coverage will be tighter. It’ll be harder to get off jams at the line of scrimmage. Defenses will be quicker.

“It’s very different from the regular season,” Hilton said. “It’s one and done, so guys are playing extra hard, going 1,000 miles faster than the regular season. All in all it’s about who is better that day.”

Hilton had eight catches for 66 yards in the Colts’ playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens last season. LaVon Brazill had one catch for 17 yards.

Two of the receivers – Whalen and Rogers – spent a significant amount of time on the practice squad this season. Whalen at least played in bowl games while at Stanford, so he has something he can sort of compare the playoffs to. Rogers doesn’t have that luxury.

“I personally prepare like it’s any other game, but with emphasis that it is the playoffs and you have to find that extra gear to get the game won,” Rogers said. “I’ve been on the practice squad most of the season. I’m more excited to get out there. So I’ll be revved up on adrenaline.”

Whalen, Rogers and Brazill have made significant strides since Wayne was lost for the season with a torn ACL in Week 7.

The three combined for 50 catches for 612 yards and six touchdowns during the regular season.

Whalen had an advantage because he was Luck’s teammate at Stanford and their offensive coordinator there, Pep Hamilton, is the Colts' offensive coordinator and he’s using the same passing plays he used while coaching them in college.

“The quarterback-receiver dynamic is all about trust and the quarterback has to trust that the receiver is going to get to the spot and or beat man coverage,” Hamilton said. “That was one of the things that Reggie, of course, afforded for the offense. Once Reggie went down we had to recallabrate, if you would, and just find a way to mix and match guys with certain concepts and certain situations. Try to put guys in position to do what they do best and we feel like we picked the right time to identify the niche of different guys.”
INDIANAPOLIS – The Indianapolis Colts had their top cornerbacks on the practice field Wednesday, a day after only having three available in Tuesday's practice.

Cornerbacks Vontae Davis (groin), Darius Butler (quad) and Greg Toler (groin) were full participants in practice, giving an indication that the Colts could have a healthy group for Saturday’s wild-card playoff matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs. Davis injured his groin in last weekend’s victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

“They still have to get their feet under them,” Colts defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said. “They looked pretty good [at practice Wednesday]. Still evaluating and see how it goes come Saturday.”

The Colts are becoming healthy at the right time.

Defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin (knee) and defensive end Fili Moala (knee) were the only two players not to practice Wednesday. Receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey (hamstring) was limited in practice.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The first two games without Reggie Wayne lined up opposite of him were pretty easy for Indianapolis Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton.

A 121-yard, three-touchdown game was followed by a 130-yard game for Hilton. Then came double-teams by the opponents to slow the second-year speedster down. The 100-yard receiving games became non-existent for Hilton for six straight weeks for Hilton. He had a game with only 7 yards receiving during that stretch.

[+] EnlargeT.Y. Hilton
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesT.Y. Hilton had a career-high 11 catches for 155 yards in Sunday's win over Jacksonville.
Frustrated? No. It was just difficult for Hilton because he was in the position of having to be the go-to receiver a lot sooner than he or many others expected this early in his career.

A sign of change happened for Hilton against Houston on Dec. 15 when he caught a career-high eight passes.

His career day in receptions and yards happened against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.

Hilton had a career-high 11 catches for 155 yards -- also a career high -- in the Colts' 30-10 victory over the Jaguars.

“For me, I know the ball is going to come to me,” Hilton said. “It’s just about being patient. They were doubling me. They did that a little, but I’m adjusting to the double-teams and finding a way to get open and finding the spot [quarterback] Andrew [Luck] expects me to be at.”

Hilton was Luck’s primary target early in the game. He caught three passes for 26 yards on the Colts’ opening drive that ended with a Donald Brown touchdown. Hilton had already surpassed his previous career high of eight catches by halftime when he had nine receptions for 95 yards. Luck was 11-of-15 when he targeted Hilton.

Hilton surpassed 1,000-yards receiving for the first time in his career in the first half. Hilton said that was a goal of his coming into the season and even joked that he accomplished the feat quicker than Wayne. It took Wayne four years to record his first 1,000-yard season. When told of Hilton’s comments, Wayne joked back, “Let me know when you get to 11,000 [yards].”

Hilton was easy to defend earlier because he didn’t have much help at receiver. Darrius Heyward-Bey wasn’t cutting it. LaVon Brazill still hadn’t found a rhythm. David Reed was so bad that he ended up getting released. But things have opened up some for Hilton recently because Luck has developed continuity with Brazill, Da'Rick Rogers and Griff Whalen, which will help Hilton and the rest of the offense in the playoffs.

“We know how dynamic he is and we talk a lot about how much of a playmaker he is,” Luck said. “So if we can get the ball in his hands, good things happen. ... [The other receivers are] opening him up, and the tight ends and the running backs. We know the more you can spread the ball around, the better for T.Y. because the more he opens up I think.”

Colts Mailbag: Christmas edition

December, 25, 2013
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From receiver to special teams for DHB

December, 23, 2013
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INDIANAPOLIS -- It was one of those moments where you grab a tissue and wipe your glasses, blink several times to make sure your contacts haven't dried out or rub your eyes to make sure you aren't seeing things.

Darrius Heyward-Bey sprinted down the sideline in front of the Indianapolis Colts' bench, beat his man and tackled Kansas City Chiefs punt returner Dexter McCluster for a two-yard loss in the fourth quarter on Sunday. Heyward-Bey wasn't done. He raced down field and downed Pat McAfee's punt at Kansas City's 6-yard line a series later.

[+] EnlargeDarrius Heyward-Bey
John Rieger/USA TODAY SportsWho is that player tackling Chiefs returner Dexter McCluster? Why, it's Colts WR Darrius Heyward-Bey.
Darrius Heyward-Bey, the No. 7 overall pick in the 2009 draft, on special teams?

Darrius Heyward-Bey, the player Colts general manager Ryan Grigson signed to be the team's No. 2 receiver this season, on special teams?

Yes and yes.

Heyward-Bey isn't sulking or turning into a locker room problem about playing on special teams. He's actually embracing the role.

"I'm taking it and running with it," Heyward-Bey said. "This is the first time that I've ever been in the playoffs, first time with double-digit wins. I put my ego to the side. I'm all about this team. I think we're a special team. I just want to go out there and help anyway I can."

Heyward-Bey doesn't have a history of playing on special teams. The Dec. 15 game against the Houston Texans was the first time he has ever played on special teams. He didn't do it in high school. He didn't do it at the University of Maryland. And he didn't do it during his time with the Oakland Raiders.

Heyward-Bey gets credit for taking advantage of the opportunity. But you have to be realistic, too. The Colts didn't sign him to a one-year, $2.5-million contract to chase down punt returners. They signed him to start opposite of Reggie Wayne at receiver.

Heyward-Bey has 29 catches -- none the past two games -- this season and he's been surpassed by LaVon Brazill, Da'Rick Rogers and Griff Whalen on the depth chart at receiver. Heyward-Bey's playing time at receiver the past two games has been reduced to short yardage situations where he's lined up on the outside and it's obvious the Colts are going to run the ball.

"It's always hard for a guy who believes in his ability," Heyward-Bey said about his reduced role at receiver. "You know the situation at hand and you respect what the coaches are doing and that they're trying to win football games. You just adjust. That's life. You adjust to what's going on and try to make the best of the opportunity."

Heyward-Bey's positive attitude about the situation hasn't gone unnoticed by those in the organization.

"His type of behavior is not real common these days," Grigson said. "Regardless of the circumstances, a former seventh overall pick could have gone the opposite direction and acted like a diva, but that's not Darrius. He has handled everything with such high character, selflessness and grace. Whether it's helping the younger receivers with their assignments, running plays on card team or making plays on special teams, he is doing whatever he can to help us win. He is a true example of what our head coach has preached from day one. All about the team, not self."
INDIANAPOLIS – If last weekend’s production from receivers Da'Rick Rogers and LaVon Brazill didn’t signal that Darrius Heyward-Bey’s playing time would be reduced even more, Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano basically said it during his news conference on Wednesday.

Rogers
Brazill
Brazill
Rogers and Brazill combined for nine catches for 160 yards and accounted for all four of the Colts’ touchdowns in their loss Sunday to the Cincinnati Bengals. The Colts have been looking for a spark at receiver, and are optimistic that they will help ease the burden on fellow receiver T.Y. Hilton’s shoulders.

“You know what, they were productive in that football game and they gave us a spark in that second half,” Pagano said of Rogers and Brazill. “And so certainly they've earned a right to play more.”

Enough said.

Brazill played 42 snaps and Rogers was the field for 41 snaps, while Heyward-Bey played only 23 snaps. The Colts have just four receivers on the roster, so Heyward-Bey will continue to get snaps, just not as many as before.

Heyward-Bey had two catches for 23 yards Sunday, but he also another drop – his sixth of the season – on a third down in the first quarter.

“This [team] needs receivers on the outside to step up to open it up for T.Y. and [tight end Coby] Fleener,” Rogers said. “Hopefully we can be those guys to do it.”

Colts hope T.Y. Hilton can get it going

December, 11, 2013
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INDIANAPOLIS – The Indianapolis Colts went into Reliant Stadium in Houston early last month with the uncertainty of who would step up as their top receiver in Reggie Wayne’s absence.

Hilton
They walked out thinking the player who stands 5-foot-9, weighs 178 pounds and has lightning speed would be that player after he caught seven passes for 121 yards and three touchdowns in their come-from-behind victory.

T.Y. Hilton followed that up with seven catches for 130 yards against the St. Louis Rams the next week.

But how things have changed for Hilton since then.

Opponents have taken away the best part of Hilton's game – his speed – by providing help to slow him down.

He’s got 17 receptions for 135 yards and zero touchdowns in the four games since facing the Rams. His seven yards receiving against Cincinnati last weekend was the lowest of his career when catching at least one pass.

“There’s a lot of frustration on a lot of faces around here,” coach Chuck Pagano said. “When you’re a competitor and you want to contribute and all those things, that’s what you expect. You want guys that want the ball and want to make a difference.”

Keying in on Hilton was easy for opponents to do because quarterback Andrew Luck didn’t have a second receiver to turn to. Darrius Heyward-Bey doesn’t need a defender to slow him down because he slows himself down with the inability to catch the ball, and LaVon Brazill got off to a slow start this season.

That’s why defenses have been able to use an extra defender on Hilton. There wasn’t any fear of anybody else beating them.

“Oh no, you can’t get frustrated,” Hilton said. “When it’s my time to make a play, I’ll make a play. But I’m seeing double teams. Sometimes they roll the coverage my way. It just means guys got to step up, which they did last game, so we’re moving in the right direction with that.”

There’s finally some hope that Hilton will have some help at receiver. Brazill and Da’Rick Rogers had the best games of their young careers against the Bengals. Rogers had six catches for 107 yards and two touchdowns. Brazill had three catches for 59 yards, two touchdowns and a run where he broke six tackles.

“It’s huge,” Luck said. “I think the wide receiver room is great. They realize it’s such a team effort, such a group effort for getting each other open. So when DHB [Heyward-Bey] and LaVon and Da’Rick and even the running backs and the tight ends, it helps a guy like T.Y. get going. We know T.Y. is a special, special playmaker. I think anybody who has watched the last couple seasons realizes that. So hopefully we can all get on the right track.”

Rapid Reaction: Indianapolis Colts

December, 8, 2013
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CINCINNATI -- A few thoughts on the Indianapolis Colts' 42-28 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

What it means: The game started to change for the Colts when Adam Vinatieri missed a 44-yard field goal following their best drive of the first half. It really changed for them in the final 74 seconds of the first half. Indianapolis thought it stopped the Bengals on fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line when defensive tackle Josh Chapman appeared to trip running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis. The officials originally ruled that it was the Colts' ball. But they went to the review booth and Jeff Triplette reversed the call to put the Bengals up 14-0. Cincinnati received the ball at the start of the third quarter and drove down the field with ease to score again and go up 21-0. The Colts got to as close as 21-14 before the Bengals pulled away. The loss dropped the Colts to the No. 4 seed in the AFC playoff standings.

Still no ground game: I know it's surprising, but quarterback Andrew Luck was the Colts' best rusher. He led Indianapolis with 32 yards on only two carries. Donald Brown and Trent Richardson combined to rush for 31 yards on 10 carries. The Colts finished with 63 yards, marking the fifth time in the past eight games that they failed to gain at least 100 yards in a game.

Play at receiver: Receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, who has been a disappointment this season, finally had his snaps reduced. Da'Rick Rogers and LaVon Brazill were happy to step up for him. Rogers caught his first touchdown pass of the season when he bounced off two Cincinnati defenders and scored on a 69-yard catch and run. Brazill topped Rogers on their next possession when he shook off six -- yes, six -- Bengals defenders on a 19-yard catch-and-run touchdown. Brazill and Rogers both added a second touchdown reception in the fourth quarter. Rogers had a drop on third down that would have been a first down when the Colts were trying to get back in the game in the fourth quarter. Rogers had six catches for 107 yards. Brazill added three catches for 53 yards. And for those wondering about Heyward-Bey, he had two catches for 23 yards and a dropped pass that would have given the Colts a first down.

What's next: The Colts return to Lucas Oil Stadium to take on the Houston Texans, who fired coach Gary Kubiak last week, on Dec. 15.

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