INDIANAPOLIS — If it seemed as if the Indianapolis Colts were intentionally targeting T.Y. Hilton more than usual in the first drive of Saturday's Wild Card Round game against the Houston Texans — well, that was actually the case.
While feeding Hilton as much as possible is always part of the game plan, Colts head coach Frank Reich disclosed today that he knew he had to in some way account even more for an especially fired-up Hilton, after Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph told reporters last week that Hilton's comment that NRG Stadium was like a second home to him was "for clowns."
The Texans won the opening coin toss on Saturday, kicking off to the Colts to begin the game. Three catches and 63 yards later, Hilton had hauled in the most receiving yards on an opening drive in his entire career.
The Colts really made it hurt when they closed out that drive with a six-yard touchdown pass from Andrew Luck to Eric Ebron to take an early 7-0 lead. Indianapolis would eventually use that momentum to fly home with a 21-7 victory and advance to this Saturday's Divisional Round matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs.
"You know, we always think about trying to get T.Y. the ball early, when we can," Reich said Monday night in his weekly appearance on "Colts Roundtable Live" on 1070 The Fan. "There's a lot of things that go into how the first plays get scripted, but certainly one of the thoughts every week is, 'Hey, how do we get it to T.Y.?'"
"And this week in particular, given everything that was going on and the chatter back and forth, to get T.Y. going early, we thought, was pretty important."
Heading into Saturday's contest averaging about 133 receiving yards and a touchdown in seven career games in Houston, Hilton joked with reporters last week that he was going to his second home, referring to NRG Stadium.
Joseph, who has been on the other side of many of those matchups against Hilton, wasn't shy about giving his opinion last week when asked his reaction to the "second home" reference, however.
"Nah, man, that's for clowns. That's for TV. That's what they do," Joseph said, via The Houston Chronicle. "You put something in their face, anybody can say it. Sounds good, it's easily said. I could easily say that, too. We could call the division our division since I've been here, last five out of eight years. It's not our first rodeo, so we'll be ready."
Hilton, not especially known for using the media to banter back and forth with his rivals, decided to respond in his own unique way. First, he was seen wearing a backpack that featured the famed clown Batman character, Joker, as he boarded the team plane to Houston.
Then, as Hilton got off the bus at NRG Stadium for Saturday's game, he was wearing a clown mask, which he donned for the long walk from the bus all the way to the Colts' locker room.
Reich said Monday he didn't know Hilton was going to wear the mask, and while he's not particularly fond of his players creating potential "bulletin board material" for the other side, he was confident that Hilton — despite the fact he's continuing to play through a painful ankle injury — would back up the gesture on the field.
"You know what? I love T.Y., what a leader he is on this team, and when I saw it, I just kind of chuckled — knowing that it was probably going to end up being bulletin board material," Reich said. "But there's some players, and T.Y. being one of those, that you know he's pulling that thing out for the right reason, you know? That it's just about him getting ready for the game, his leadership on the team, his belief in himself and in our team. But certainly doing it in a respectful way."
Hilton, by the way, finished Saturday's game with a team-high five receptions for 85 yards, but his early action was especially notable, as two of his catches on the opening drive moved the chains on third down, and his third reception, a perfectly-placed ball deep down the middle of the field, netted 38 yards and got Indianapolis to the Houston six-yard line, setting up the touchdown to Ebron on the very next play.
No thanks to Saturday's performance, Hilton's averages at NRG Stadium fell to a measly six catches for 127 yards in eight total games.
But that clown bit? It's over now. On to the Chiefs.
"I got a lot of messages last night with what (Joseph) said," Hilton said after Saturday's game. "I said, you know what, let's have fun with it. So it was something I did, I wanted to have fun with it, but now it's over.
"I wanted to have fun," he continued. "My teammates, they look for me for a lot of stuff. I wanted to go out here and set the tone. I didn't want to be a distraction. Once I got here, I wanted to let them know I'm totally focused. Even though I did that and said what I said, my focus is, 'I'm here for y'all.'"