How Reggie Wayne worked behind scenes in Colts' epic win

INDIANAPOLIS -- Reggie Wayne offered a sheepish smile when a reporter approached the injured, six-time Pro Bowl wide receiver inside a euphoric Indianapolis Colts locker room after Saturday's epic 45-44 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC wild-card game.

The 35-year-old who suffered a season-ending knee injury on Oct. 20, zipped up his backpack and politely answered a question before excusing himself.

He deferred the spotlight to Andrew Luck, record-setting receiver T.Y. Hilton and his teammates. Yet others cited Wayne's role as a vital motivational coach to Luck's young receivers, contributing with words the way he long has with yards and big catches during 13 seasons in Indianapolis.

"I'm proud of how those guys never wavered, kept making plays and just found a way to get it done," Wayne told USA TODAY Sports. "They just wanted to get this playoff win.

"Talk to them, boys, they deserve it."

It took Luck's unflinching playmaking and a lot of resolve for the Colts to roar back from a 38-10 deficit 1:21 into the third quarter to cement the second biggest comeback in postseason history.

Yet Luck couldn't have done it without Hilton, Wayne's second-year protege, posting a franchise-record 13 catches for 224 yards with two touchdowns, including the 64-yard game winner with 4:21 left.

Although it wasn't Wayne catching the passes, his impact was felt on the offense.

"Reggie's been on injured reserve, didn't necessarily have to be helpful or be around. But he spoke to the offense Friday night about his feelings and perspective on playoff football," backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. "Reggie and T.Y. are very, very close. And T.Y. has had to step up to be that go-to guy for us.

"Having Reggie there to share some of that load has been very helpful."

Hilton, a third-round pick in 2012, had 82 catches for 1,083 yards and five touchdowns this season as he helped fill the void left by Wayne. He has 24 catches for 379 yards the past two games as the Colts head into next weekend's divisional round riding a four-game win streak.

"I can't put a price tag on it," Pagano said during Sunday's conference call referencing Wayne's influence. "For him to come into this building day after day going through the circumstance that he went through … he spends more time here than anybody between rehabbing, going to meetings, staying with the offense, then mentoring those guys.

"It's meant the world to all of us, especially those young guys. They should be forever in debt to Reggie Wayne."

Wayne's injury ended his consecutive games streak at 189, the third longest for a receiver in league history. He has 1,006 catches for 13,566 yards for his career, and 92 receptions in the postseason for 1,242 yards.

Hilton's play Saturday was reminiscent of Wayne's, especially when he split safeties Kendrick Lewis and Quintin Demps to track Luck's 64-yard winning strike with 4:21 left as Lucas Oil Stadium erupted in a raucous roar.

"He has helped me a lot," Hilton said of Wayne. "He helps all of us in the receiving group.

"We all came in and made big plays. One thing Reggie told us: 'When your number is called, make sure you're ready.' We all stepped up and made plays in our own special way."

Wayne has tutored a young receiving group of Hilton, Darrius Heyward-Bey, LaVon Brazill, Griff Whalen and Da'Rick Rogers on opposing defensive back tendencies. And he knows just when to provide a pep talk.

"One thing he told us before the game even started and at halftime, 'Hey, leave it out on the field,'" Hilton said. "That's what we all did. We're all dead tired right now."

And yet they never felt more elated.

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