Thanks to a career-high performance in a game that will no one will soon forget, Wayne delivered with a game ball for Pagano as the Colts (2-2) evened their record with a 30-27 win over the Packers on Sunday.
Wayne’s 212 yards receiving was a career-high and it was his four-yard touchdown catch with 35 seconds left that proved to be the game-winner.
“It was a big game,” Wayne said. “It seemed like a long week, with a bye week coming off a loss and with all the emotions going on with Coach Pagano.
“As a team, we wanted to put on a good performance. We kind of shot ourselves in the foot in the first half. We came in at halftime and made our corrections. We were able to play the second half together and come out with a win.”
The second half, and mainly the third quarter, had plagued the Colts offense all season long but down 21-3 at intermission, Indianapolis showed the resiliency it needed following halftime.
Wayne’s seven catches for 108 yards in the second half was slightly more than his production in the first half but it was the timeliness of his catches that proved to be most critical.
The only catch from Wayne in the third quarter came on the first play of the second half for the Colts offense.
His 18-yard snag came immediately after cornerback
The Colts scored later on in the drive on a touchdown pass to tight end
Wayne remained relatively quiet (one catch) for the next quarter and a half, and the Colts took over with 4:30 remaining in the final quarter, down 27-22 at their own 20-yard line.
First, it was Wayne hauling in a 15-yard gain to convert a third-and-nine from the Indianapolis 21-yard line.
Next up for Wayne was a 12-yard gain, on a second-and-three, as Packers cornerback Tramon Williams was draped all over the Colts Pro Bowl receiver.
On the first play after the two-minute warning, quarterback
Wayne wasn’t anywhere close to being done. On the very next play, his 18-yard reception moved the Colts to the 14-yard line with 1:26 remaining.
A pair of runs by running back
Luck once again found Wayne over the middle, and the 12-year veteran stretched the football across the goal line to complete one of the finest comebacks in franchise history.
Wayne’s 13 catches mark the third-highest total of his career, and his teammates took notice of the caliber of player they were witnessing.
“He’s the best football player I’ve ever played with,” Luck said. “His leadership at halftime, on the field before the last drive, I learn a lot from him watching him operate. I’m very fortunate and blessed to be on the same team with him.”
Colts Interim Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator Bruce Arians said he needed the “five-star” players for Indianapolis to bring it on Sunday, and Wayne’s play emphatically answered that question.
“I think everybody knows what this game meant to Reg,” Arians said. “He brought his ‘A-game.’ Wednesday, I challenged our five-star players. Our five-star players showed up. He led the way.”
Pagano and Wayne have known each other for 16 years and No. 87 didn’t shy away from explaining that this one did mean a little more with his head coach in the hospital.
This offseason Wayne had a decision to make as a free agent. He wanted to continue his historic career in Indianapolis and take on a new challenge with Pagano at the helm.
“Chuck has instilled a lot in us. He’s a great human being, great coach, great personality, great husband. He identifies the word ‘great,’ ” Wayne said.
“He’s come in and he’s built his own foundation. He’s got everybody playing together. His whole model since day one and the first meeting has been, ‘Team, team, team,’ nothing else. That’s all we practice. That’s all we preach. This whole second half it was a team effort.”
As Wayne entered the Colts locker room filled with jubilation, his teammates broke out in the chorus he has heard so many times at Lucas Oil Stadium, ‘Reggie, Reggie, Reggie.’
Wayne simply bowed his head acknowledging his teammates and letting them do the talking for his career day.
“I’ve never seen a receiver have a better game than that,” center
Colts Owner and CEO Jim Irsay was en route to deliver the game ball to Pagano as Wayne spoke to the media Sunday afternoon.
Irsay might have wanted to throw Wayne’s orange gloves in there with him. Wayne wore the gloves and orange mouthpiece to honor leukemia awareness, the disease that has his coach fighting.
The gloves and mouthpiece sat in Wayne’s locker after the game as a symbol for a “five-star” coach who just watched a “five-star” effort.
“This did mean a whole lot with how the whole week’s been going,” Wayne said. “I talked to Coach Pagano and he wanted us to win so bad.”
“This was for Chuck.”