INDIANAPOLIS — Andrew Luck isn’t the only rookie having a pretty good season for the Indianapolis Colts.
T.Y. Hilton became the latest first-year player to come through for the surprising Colts with a little club history in Sunday’s 20-13 win over the Buffalo Bills. The third-round draft choice became the first Colt to return a punt for a score and catch a touchdown pass in the same game.
“That surprises nobody on this team and that’s what he’s paid to do,” fellow receiver Reggie Wayne said. “I’m excited for every one of these guys when they make a big play. Everybody on this team, their futures are so bright. I’m just glad to be part of it.”
Hilton scored on a 75-yard punt return in the first quarter and caught an 8-yard pass from Luck in the third to cap his big day. The 5-foot-9, 183-pound receiver came into the game with three 100-yard days, so he’s already made quite an impression.
He also showed he’s pretty tough, too.
After returning the first punt for a score, he took a vicious high-low combination hit on his second punt. The hit left Hilton holding his head with both hands and fans breathless as he lay motionless on the ground for several minutes. Hilton was cheered as he walked off gingerly off the field, and team officials announced he was being evaluated for a head injury.
But he returned later in the first half and helped Indy’s sluggish offense wake up in the second half. While he caught only three passes for 33 yards, he was the star attraction even though Wayne set a record of his own.
The veteran receiver broke Cris Carter’s NFL record for most consecutive games with multiple catches. Carter had done it 58 times in a row. Wayne’s streak is now at 59. He also passed Art Monk and Derrick Mason on the NFL’s career receptions chart and with 946 is now within five of moving into the top 10.
The Colts improved to 7-4, while the Bills fell to 4-7.
Luck, who has gotten most of the credit for Indy’s remarkable turnaround, was 20 of 37 for 240 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He became only the second Colts’ rookie to top 3,000 yards in a season. The other was Peyton Manning.
Hilton said he spoke to ailing coach Chuck Pagano before the game. Bruce Arians is the interim coach while Pagano is being treated for leukemia, but Pagano attended his second game at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“I talked to coach Pagano before the game and he just told me to ‘stretch and cut, stretch and cut,’” Hilton said, describing the advice he was given about returning kicks. “So I was able to stretch and my blockers did a good job of getting in front of their dudes, made two guys miss me and I went to the house.”
The Bills (4-7) couldn’t muster enough offense to keep up with the Colts.
C.J. Spiller ran 14 times for 107 yards, his sixth straight game with 100 yards from scrimmage. Ryan Fitzpatrick was 17 of 33 for 180 yards with one TD and one interception, and Stevie Johnson caught six passes for 106 yards, his first 100-yard game since December 2011.
The Bills did end their red-zone touchdown drought with Fitzpatrick’s 1-yard TD pass to Lee Smith with 11:30 left in the game.
Losing was a major setback for a team hoping to end a 12-year absence from the playoffs.
“This one was obviously really needed,” Fitzpatrick said. “I don’t really want to project or talk about the next however many games we have left. It’s all about ‘Go get back to work and try to win next week.’ It’s all we can worry about.”
Hilton got things started by fielding Shawn Powell’s 48-yard punt at his own 25, faking out Smith, breaking another tackle in the middle of the field and sprinting to the end zone for Indy’s first punt return for a score in five years.
After the teams traded four field goals, Hilton emerged again, pulling down Luck’s third-down pass in the back of the end zone.
All the Bills could come back with was Fitzpatrick’s late TD pass.
“I couldn’t be prouder of the football team, because Chuck was here and the goal was to make him smile when he left,” Arians said. “I’m sure he’s up there smiling.”
NOTES: Spiller’s six-game streak is the longest by a Bills player since Thurman Thomas in 1992-93. … Wayne also moved into the NFL’s top 15 for yards receiving, passing Monk and Irving Fryar. … Bills defensive end Chris Kelsay left in the first half with a neck injury and fullback Corey McIntyre left in the fourth quarter with a right ankle injury. Neither returned. … Buffalo hasn’t won in Indy since 1998 and has lost seven of the last eight in this series.