On January 5, 2019, the Indianapolis Colts arrived at NRG Stadium in Houston to take on the Texans in an AFC South Wild Card showdown.
The Colts, who were coming off of a win against the Tennessee Titans in Week 17 to clinch the sixth-seed and final playoff spot, were riding a hot streak and looking to steal a victory over the third-seed Texans.
Earlier that season, after a nine-catch, 199-yard performance in that building, Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton called NRG Stadium his “second home.” Texans cornerback Jonathan Joseph didn’t take too kindly to that comment.
"Nah, man, that's for clowns," Joseph said before the matchup. "That's for TV. That's what they do. You put something in their face, anybody can say it."
Hilton heard the comments the night before the game. Now Hilton isn’t one to use his words, but instead, let his actions and play speak volumes.
So, as the Colts got off the buses, it was none other than “The Ghost” himself sporting a clown mask as he walked into his second home.
Hilton then proceeded to have a five-catch, 85-yard game that helped get the Colts the 21-7 victory that afternoon. He wasn’t 100%, as he had been playing on both high and low ankle sprains through the latter portion of the season, but you knew that Hilton wouldn’t be stopped in Houston.
In 20 career games against the Texans, Hilton has been dominant. The wide receiver has racked up 1,883 yards and 11 touchdowns against the divisional rivals. 1,061 yards and eight touchdowns have come in Houston alone.
It’s no surprise that Hilton also made his return from injury earlier this year against the Texans. This time, he was sporting a Chicago Bulls Michael Jordan #45 jersey instead of the clown mask. And after four catches and 80 yards in his season debut, Hilton was glad to be back.
“I came back today like Jordan when he came back wearing the 4-5, it ain’t to play games with you,” Hilton said, quoting Jay-Z’s “Encore” after the 31-3 win over the Texans in October.
However, since that Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium, Hilton’s season hasn’t been what he had wanted. After missing the first five weeks with a neck injury, Hilton missed a game each for separate quad and concussion injuries.
He’s also seen his role diminish some as well. Hilton is only averaging 51% of the offensive snaps this season, which would be a career-low. Only 13 catches for 155 yards and a touchdown in five games does not seem like the T.Y. Hilton we’ve become accustomed to over the years either.
But that doesn’t mean he can’t still be a valuable member to this team.
“T.Y. is just a big playmaker all over the field,” Colts head coach Frank Reich said earlier this season. “He’s so smart and he’s so instinctive. He just has a knack and a feel. Not only does he have the speed to get deep, but against zone coverages … he just has a knack of finding the right spot.”
While Hilton may not be the burner he once was as a constant deep threat, he still possesses uncanny route running ability. Hilton is savvy with his ability to make all of his routes look the same and find ways to get open, whether against man or zone coverage. The way he runs his routes are a little unconventional, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
“It’s definitely different,” Colts quarterback Carson Wentz said this week. “I saw that right after I got traded this offseason, just watching film and figuring out the receivers and the skill positions. It’s unique. It’s unique but it’s also why he gets open. It’s just different. His body language is different, he doesn’t have a lot of tells when he’s going to break one way or the other.”
Before the season began, there was a lot of hype surrounding the Wentz to Hilton connection. After a training camp that saw the two begin to build a connection, the series of injuries to Hilton has complicated things as the two continue building chemistry.
“Just kind of figuring it out as we go to some extent,” Wentz admitted. “You only get so many reps and this late in the year, you’re not practicing three times a week full-speed. So, you just make the most of the reps that you get and a lot of it comes down to just talking through, ‘Okay, how do you see this route? How do you see the top of this route so I can feel your body language?’ All of those things. So, a lot of it is just communication and not even so much all of the physical reps but we do take advantage of all the reps that we can get.”
“We’re still learning each other,” Hilton said this week “We’re deep in the season now, so we’ll continue to get that work whether it’s a walk-thru, jog-thru. Just continuing to get that work on the side. When we’re out there in practice, just continue to trust one another and just get that timing down. Come Sunday, we try to put it together.”
This weekend presents an opportunity for these two to take off. The Texans’ pass defense has struggled mightily this season. Wentz had 223 yards and two touchdowns in the win earlier this season on only 11 completions. The Colts’ offense has stepped it up to another level since then and should have plenty of success.
The Texans also do not like to disguise much of their coverages. For an experienced veteran like Hilton, this makes things much easier as he works down the field and finds the open spots. All signs point to Hilton having a big game once again on Sunday.
With this being the last time the Colts face the Texans this season and Hilton mentioning he considered retirement after his neck injury, we could be witnessing the last time we see him terrorizing opponents in NRG Stadium. However, if one thing is certain, it’s that #13 will always be known as the “owner” of the Houston Texans.
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