INDIANAPOLIS – When 7:15 remaining in the Colts' eventual 39-33 win over Denver, the season pivoted once again for a team that regularly has overcome adversity.
Reggie Wayne crumbled to the ground with a torn ACL, a pillar player down and a realization hours later that others must step into the void of his absence – one that is immense with his contributions and guidance.
"He is more than a teammate. I think undoubtedly, unquestionably, (he) has been the leader of our offense and one of the great leaders of this team," said Andrew Luck. "A phenomenal football player, so it stinks. It really does.
"We know this is not the end of Reggie Wayne as a Colt. We know he'll be back stronger than ever. We have to move forward and trudge along. We know he'll still be there to lead us, just not on the field with us."
With Wayne on the ground, leaders like Antoine Bethea and Robert Mathis surrounded him, pillars themselves who have helped bridge the past with the present as the Colts have re-emerged as contenders.
Luck said Monday he feels "sick to my stomach" about the injury. He said his pass could have been better thrown, sounding like countless quarterbacks have sounded for years in a league when injuries like this occur.
Luck has commented about the unique dynamic on the team where a player at Wayne's position can be such a leader. Often in the NFL, leaders are found elsewhere.
Wayne's integrity was such that he felt he had to prove himself daily, even in his 13th year. Like many elite performers, he wants to be coached vigorously to ensure peak performance and to provide a path for others to follow.
"It's easy for the young guys, I told them, 'Just get in his hip pocket. Do exactly what he does on a daily basis. You want to stick around for a long time, you want to write your own legacy, just do exactly what Reggie does,' " said Chuck Pagano, who saw Wayne rebound from a significant knee injury in college to author a Canton-like career.
T.Y. Hilton said his rookie season was made better by having Wayne in the locker room for advice. He found Wayne to be encyclopedic, an in-person search engine who could be accessed verbally rather than at a library or by clicking a button.
Now, Hilton will be thrust more into the fore, along with other teammates.
"He's a great leader. He's very positive. Everybody looks up to him," said Hilton. "He's a 13-year veteran, it's something we hate to see happen. We're praying for him. We're going to play for him and play with him."
Luck figured the injury to be significant since a player of Wayne's pedigree does not remain down otherwise. The Colts later forced two turnovers after his departure to ice down the win.
"We were going to fight for this win regardless, but what you saw was love for one of our family members on the ground, one of our veterans, our troops," said Cory Redding. "He's a big part of what we do. The boys rallied around him. That just showed the love and the heart of the guys in this locker room."
Wayne is a unifying forced like Redding, Mathis, Bethea and others. It is a locker room Pagano and Ryan Grigson has stocked with performers who prefer to lead than follow.
"Not every team is like this, man," said Redding. "I've been in three other organizations and to see the closeness and everybody just fight for one another, just put themselves out of the picture and put the teammates first, you can't beat that. That's what you saw, a great display of love for our teammate."
Luck said a big part of himself almost felt like the win was a loss because of Wayne's injury. It is the fifth season-ending injury suffered this year by an offensive player.
Chuck Pagano was away 12 games last year battling leukemia. Bruce Arians and others pointed the way from a 1-2 start to a 10-5 record until Pagano returned.
Pagano said Monday he will put on the gloves himself this year to battle for a receiver who gave his all last year in tough times. Luck, too, knows the realities of the sport mean the fight goes on.
"I remember talking to my dad after the game and saying football can really be a war of attrition in some cases," said Luck. "It's true. So many guys have gone down. It just stinks.
"You don't really know how to talk about it. As cold-hearted as it may seem, you move on. You have to move on. The guys that are injured want you to move on. Reggie wants us to work harder than ever to keep going. Vick (Ballard) has always wanted us to work harder. Donald Thomas, Dwayne (Allen), they don't want our pity once it happens. They want us to work harder. We'll continue to do that."