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Colts' passing game scuffles a bit without Wayne

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP)

The Indianapolis Colts know that no single player can replace wide receiver Reggie Wayne.

Still, Indy will need to be more effective and balanced in its passing game since Wayne is out for the season with a torn right ACL.

The Colts continued their winning ways with a 27-24 comeback victory against the Houston Texans last Sunday night.

But they got off to a slow start in their first game without their 13-year veteran receiver who stabilized the offense and provided a veteran presence for Andrew Luck.

T.Y. Hilton caught seven passes for 121 yards and three touchdowns against Houston, but Indy still is looking for more from the rest of the receiving group heading into Sunday's home game against the St. Louis Rams.

The Colts say the passing game has the talent to step forward with receivers Darrius Heyward-Bey and Griff Whalen, running back Trent Richardson and tight end Coby Fleener.

''This team has always bought into the mentality and the mindset of next man up,'' Colts coach Chuck Pagano said.

''We haven't wavered from that. They haven't wavered from that. Fortunately, we've been successful and we've been able to overcome. So, from a confidence standpoint, that's why these guys don't flinch.''

Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton said Luck trusts his receivers, so his approach won't change.

''I think Andrew has done a pretty good job of distributing the ball to different guys, and that's a big part of our system and our approach,'' he said. ''Defensively, they can't zero in on one guy and scheme up a way to take that one guy away. Those guys (other receivers), I think they're up to the challenge.''

Luck was one of the league's most efficient passers in the first half of the season, but he completed just 18 of 40 passes against Houston in his first game as a pro without his favorite target. Hilton noticed things were much different without Wayne early.

''It wasn't the same not having him out there in that first half,'' Hilton said. ''So we went back in there the second half, adjusted - we had to man up. Since 87 wasn't there, somebody had to make a play.''

Hilton already was starting to garner attention. Now, as Luck's No. 1 target, he'll be an even bigger focus of defensive game plans. He enters 12th in the AFC with 533 yards receiving.

''His numbers will certainly change because of the loss of Reggie, which is very unfortunate,'' Rams coach Jeff Fisher said.

''It appears that obviously he's able to do the same things. They're moving him around, asking a lot of different things of him. He's got exceptional speed. He can make the tough catch. He's got run-after-catch ability.''

There were bright spots on Sunday. Fleener had three catches for 64 yards, and he caught a 2-point conversion in the fourth quarter that gave Indianapolis a 27-24 lead with four minutes left.

Richardson, the Colts' running back, caught two passes for 33 yards against Houston after catching just two passes in the previous five games combined. The Colts are trying to find ways to get him more opportunities in the passing game.

''We know he's got that ability,'' Pagano said. ''I think as he gets more comfortable with the scheme and terminology and all those types of things and the game, the situation, the score, all those things kind of line up - if the stars all line up we'd love to get him in space more and get the ball in his hands more.''

Not all the connections went well on Sunday. The Colts targeted Whalen nine times, and he caught just three passes. Heyward-Bey was targeted six times and caught just one pass.

Luck said he's looking ahead.

''I think you hopefully learn from your mistakes,'' he said. ''We did some good things. It's nice to say, `We can win without Reggie in the lineup.' It's a mental sort of checklist thing that's nice. Hopefully, you learn from the mistakes more than anything from the past game. We're 100 percent onto St. Louis now.''

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

Tagged: Colts, Reggie Wayne, Andrew Luck, T.Y. Hilton

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