T.Y. Hilton often finds his accomplishments dwarfed by those of fellow Indianapolis Colts rookie Andrew Luck.
Not Sunday. Not after returning a punt 75 yards for a touchdown and scoring a second on an 8-yard pass from Luck in the Colts’ 20-13 victory against Buffalo at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The team’s smallest player (5-foot-9, 183 pounds) played impressively large at a time when his team needed him most.
Following this past week’s 59-24 loss at New England, the Colts with so many first- and second-year players ran the risk of being emotionally deflated. But with head coach Chuck Pagano studying every snap from the coach’s box at Lucas Oil Stadium, it was Hilton who helped push the Colts to 7-4 on the season.
“I think T.Y. just keeps getting better every day. You can see it. He plays confident. He plays fast, and that goes for all the young guys,” Luck said. “They’re playing fast, and when so much attention is attracted to Reggie (Wayne), I think T.Y. is starting to thrive on that.”
Hilton finished the game with three receptions for 33 yards and the score. His punt return is what set the tone, Hilton hauling in Shawn Powell’s 48-yard punt at his own 25, finding a crease along the right side and then applying the afterburners to put Indianapolis on top 7-0 barely five minutes into the game.
Buffalo never led in the game. Twice the Bills crept to within four points (7-3 and 10-6), but when Luck connected with Hilton in the back of the end zone with 4:08 remaining in the third, it lifted Indianapolis to what appeared to be an insurmountable 20-6 advantage.
The Bills added some drama early in the fourth quarter by capping an eight-play, 78-yard touchdown drive with a 1-yard scoring pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick to tight end Lee Smith.
Buffalo’s ensuing offensive series began at its own 25 and featured all sorts of twists and turns.
After taking seven plays to move the football all the way to the Indianapolis 32, Fitzpatrick was intercepted by Colts safety Tom Zbikowski. The Notre Dame product was nearing the midfield stripe with the return when Bills receiver Stevie Johnson stripped him of the football. Buffalo recovered at its own 47 with 4:31 remaining.
This time the Indianapolis defense stiffened, forcing the Bills into a three-and-out. The Colts took over possession from its own 5 at the 3:22 mark and managed three first downs — the last on a pass interference against Wayne on third-and-10 — to run out the clock.
Hilton’s performance proved history-making as it’s the first time in franchise history a Colts player scored a touchdown on a punt return and reception in the same game.
“It was about time, right on time, and made a big difference in the game,” he said of his first-quarter heroics. “Just stretch and cut. I was able to stretch and cut, and the guys were able to block. We needed it. Coach told me just make plays. Be smart back there and just have fun. That’s what it’s all about.”