INDIANAPOLIS – A little more than a week shy of his 34th birthday, wide receiver Reggie Wayne knows the end of his career is closer than the beginning.
He does not know when that will be and he is not hoping it is soon, but playing in his 12th season in the NFL has put things in perspective on how precious each year is in a career that has lasted this long.
Wayne's younger teammates realize that while they have a bulk of their careers ahead of them, the time to win is in the present, and that message comes from their Pro Bowl mentor.
"People like me, I can't speak for Rob (Mathis), but people like me, I see the light," Wayne said last Friday. "I don't have the time to sit back and rebuild and say, 'Oh, we'll be better at that next year or in a couple years, we should be in the hunt.' We need to be in the hunt now. We are in the hunt. We're in a good situation. That's why we want to continue to win games."
On Sunday against the Dolphins, there was Wayne flanked in the huddle by a half dozen offensive teammates at least 10 years his junior.
Along with the six rookies that played a majority of the second half together, the Colts had three offensive linemen with two years or less of NFL experience, along with a backup tight end and a backup running back.
Yet despite all the youth, the Colts pulled out another narrow victory in moving their mid-season record to 5-3.
"It's just a testament to the program we've been dealt by Coach (Chuck) Pagano and everybody buying in and being effective," second-year running back Delone Carter said.
Rookie wide receiver T.Y. Hilton had the second 100-yard receiving game of his young career. His terrific effort on a 36-yard touchdown reception gave the Colts their first lead of the second half against a tough Miami unit.
To Hilton, it is no surprise that his fellow first-year teammates are succeeding at this level either.
"We've got a great rookie class. We kind of feed off one another, and we pick one another up after every game," Hilton said.
"I feel like we are growing up real quick, and that's what you have to do in this offense and on this team because everybody is being accountable. Right now, we are being accountable and helping our team."
Quarterback Andrew Luck has said on numerous occasions that he realizes the veterans who surround him in the locker room do not have time to "rebuild."
The rookies have brought more than their share of production to the table, but Luck wanted to credit the veterans' support in close games for a reason why the Colts are currently one of six AFC teams with at least five victories.
"Obviously this franchise knows how to win," Luck said. "Robert Mathis, Dwight Freeney, Reggie Wayne, they know how to win. Relying on them and as young guys, myself included, learning in the close games how to close them out is big not just this year but in the future for guys' careers."
Luck and Wayne have formed a combination that ranks among the tops in the league in 2012.
Wayne has a team-leading 61 receptions for 835 yards and three touchdowns. He had a nine-yard scoring reception against Miami, and his reception and yardage totals lead the conference.
It was not an easy offseason for Wayne but once he heard Coach Chuck Pagano call to let him know the team wanted to re-sign one of the most storied players in franchise history, he was not going anywhere.
And no matter how old or young, the winning mantra was not about to change, either.
"The team that they built, Ryan Grigson and Coach Pagano, they built a pretty good team," Wayne said. "Everybody is believing in the system, believing in everything that we have, and everybody is playing together.
"I think the media, everybody put us in the beginning in the power rankings at 32 and all that. That's something we never believed in, we never fell for. We know we can control our own destiny, just continue to win games and we have a better shot of getting into the playoffs. That's all we can control."