Hilton's big day leads Colts past Bills 20-13
Maybe T.Y. Hilton didn't need the advice about returning punts.
He heeded it anyway and turned the game.
After a pregame chat with coach Chuck Pagano about the art of returning punts, Hilton returned Buffalo's first punt 75 yards for a touchdown, then caught an 8-yard TD pass to lead Indianapolis past the Bills 20-13.
''He just told me to `stretch and cut, stretch and cut,''' Hilton said, describing the advice. ''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.''
It was a picture perfect day for Hilton, Indy's other emerging rookie star.
He became the first player in franchise history to score on a punt return and catch a TD pass in the same game and the first Colts player to run one back inside Lucas Oil Stadium. The last Indy player to score on a punt return was T.J. Rushing in 2007.
And the 5-foot-9, 183-pound receiver showed Pagano and everyone else how tough he could be, too, when he took a vicious high-low hit on his second punt return. He held his head with both hands and lay motionless briefly as fans held their collective breaths. A few minutes later, Hilton walked gingerly off the field to applause and a few series after the trainers checked him for a head injury, Hilton was back in the game - to the delight of his teammates and the dismay of the Bills.
''Big plays like that normally turn games, and that one turned the game for a while,'' Bills coach Chan Gailey said of the punt return.
While Hilton was the star of the day, he certainly had some co-stars.
Pro Bowl receiver Reggie Wayne 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.
Andrew Luck, the No. 1 overall draft pick 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 and became only the second Colts' rookie to top 3,000 yards in a season. The other: Peyton Manning.
And Pagano was there to see - and savor - every precious moment of it again. Two weeks ago, Pagano returned to Lucas Oil Stadium for the first time since being diagnosed with leukemia Sept. 26.
''I couldn't be prouder of the football team, because Chuck was here and the goal was to make him smile when he left,'' interim coach Bruce Arians said. ''I'm sure he's up there smiling.''
This time, it wasn't just the players who got to see Pagano.
During a fourth-quarter break, team owner Jim Irsay and Pagano walked out of the owner's box together and waved to crowd, which gave them a standing ovation. Two Colts cheerleaders also shaved their heads in support of Pagano, who has lost his hair as he continues to undergo chemotherapy treatments. The cheerleaders did that as part of a fundraiser that had generated more than $22,000 for leukemia research
That was just too much for the Bills (4-7), who came into Sunday with big hopes of ending their playoff drought.
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.
Though 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, it wasn't enough to avoid a devastating blow to their postseason dreams.
''It's frustrating, when you work hard all year to have a good season and get into the postseason,'' safety Jairus Byrd said. ''We dug this hole for ourselves.''
He 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 muster was Fitzpatrick's late TD pass, and Pagano went home a happy man.
''At the beginning when this thing was put together, Chuck built everything on `team,''' Arians said. ''I think that was a team victory right there - all phases. Our special teams showed up huge, I thought they won the game for us.''
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. ... The father of one of the cheerleaders who shaved her head held up a sign ''Megan, Bald is Beautiful You Are Chuckstrong Love, Dad.''
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