INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — T.Y. Hilton insists he's a happy man these days.
Sure, he’s off to his slowest four-game start since his rookie season, but Hilton doesn’t seem to mind.
The Indianapolis Colts have won three consecutive games and it's the only number that really matters to the four-time Pro Bowl receiver.
“I've got no problem with what’s going on," Hilton said Thursday. “We’re winning and I’m having fun."
This wasn't by design.
From the moment Philip Rivers signed with the Indianapolis Colts, he couldn't wait to start working with Hilton.
He still remembered how Hilton's 63-yard touchdown catch with 1:17 left beat his San Diego Chargers in 2016. On tape, Rivers had seen Hilton's speed and precision route-running, and in person he anticipated throwing to Hilton early and often this season.
Instead, Rivers has more often been getting rid of the ball quickly on underneath routes to running backs and tight ends than taking advantage of Hilton's deep speed.
The numbers show it.
Through four games, Hilton has 13 catches for 162 yards and no touchdowns. His average of 12.5 yards per catch would be the second-lowest of his career, behind only an injury-marred 2019 season that included the abrupt retirement of Andrew Luck.
His last 100-yard game came on Dec. 23, 2018 against the New York Giants, and over the past three weeks, Rivers has only thrown 12 passes in Hilton's direction.
It's not an ideal situation for a 30-year-old receiver in a contract year.
But rather than fuss, Hilton has continued to focus on his his job, look at the bigger picture and promise to make plays when the balls start coming his way.
“I can only control what I can control and when the ball comes my way, I’ll be ready," he said. “Whatever my team needs, I’m always there to make a play."
So far, things seem to be working out just fine.
The Colts (3-1) have relied on a strong ground game, ball control and the league's No. 1-ranked defense, a combination that has given Indy its longest winning streak in 12 months. Another win Sunday, at Cleveland (3-1), would give the Colts back-to-back road victories for the first time since early last season.
As for the numbers, coach Frank Reich believes they're deceiving.
“He (Rivers) made some huge plays on third down trusting his receivers — the throw to T.Y., the throw to Marcus (Johnson) down the field, we get the pass interference,” Reich said, referring to Sunday’s victory at Chicago. “We had the other one that we missed to T.Y. down there. I know Philip said something about that missed throw. There was a little collision down the field that kind of precipitated that.”
Eventually, though, Indy knows its top playmaker must become more involved to make a playoff run, and they could certainly use his game-breaking ability against the high-scoring Browns.
Cleveland has the league’s top rushing offense and a pair of Pro Bowl receivers, Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry.
Meanwhile, Indy's top-ranked defense could be missing Pro Bowl linebacker Darius Leonard, who has not practiced this week because of an injured groin. Another starter, linebacker Bobby Okereke, returned to practice Thursday after having surgery on his left thumb Tuesday and sitting out Wednesday.
Backup linebacker E.J. Speed also returned to practice after being limited Wednesday because of an elbow injury and middle linebacker Anthony Walker was added to the injury report Thursday. An ankle injury kept Walker out of action.
With so many injuries, the Colts brought back linebacker Najee Goode to the practice squad. He played in Indy in 2018. To make room, they released cornerback Christian Angulo from the practice squad.
So getting Hilton back on track could be essential to extending the winning streak — and keeping Hilton happy.
“We know that the pass offense runs through T.Y. and getting him the football," offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni said. “We’re just going to continue to do what we do as far as planning it and practicing it against the different looks we’re getting. It will get going. I have no doubt about that."