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October 21, 2013

Colts will rally around Wayne

INDIANAPOLIS — For better or for worse, the 2013 Indianapolis Colts received their rallying cry Monday afternoon.

#ReggieStrong, anyone?

Just hours after Sunday night’s epic 39-33 victory against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, the Colts learned veteran wide receiver Reggie Wayne will miss the remainder of the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

Wayne was injured during the fourth quarter on a poorly thrown ball by Andrew Luck. As the team’s leading receiver went down to attempt a catch near his feet, his foot got stuck in the Lucas Oil Stadium turf.

Wayne remained down for several minutes on the field — an early sign of trouble from the receiver who almost always bounces up immediately after a hit — and had an emotional reaction on the sideline before heading to the locker room.

On Monday, an MRI revealed the extent of the damage and ended Wayne’s season.

“We hate to lose anybody, but this one stings,” head coach Chuck Pagano told reporters at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center. “See, you just don’t replace guys like 87.”

Wayne had 38 catches for 503 yards this season, and he made his 1,000th career catch last week at San Diego. But as much as Indianapolis will miss his production on the field, Wayne’s impact on his fellow receivers is just as important.

Defenses must scheme for the wily veteran, and that opens up more opportunities for Darrius Heyward-Bey and T.Y. Hilton. Now, both of those men will have to run sharper routes and win more one-on-one battles.

The plan, for now, is to replace Wayne by committee. LaVon Brazill and David Reed also are on the active roster, and Da’Rick Rogers and Griff Whalen are available on the practice squad.

“You can’t replace him, but somebody will rise up,” Pagano said. “Just like you lose anybody else, it’s next man up.”

A pair of Broncos collided on the play on which Wayne was injured, leaving the Colts receiver wide open. If Luck had been able to throw a better pass, Wayne might have scored a long touchdown.

The second-year quarterback was hard on himself in the immediate aftermath Sunday night, feeling responsible for the injury. His opinion hadn’t changed much Monday.

“I think I feel sick to my stomach about it a little bit,” Luck said. “But I also realize it’s football. I don’t think Reggie wants me holding it over my head that it happened. So, after the game though, a big part of me almost felt like it was a loss in a sense because of what happened to Reggie and my involvement in it.”

Pagano took the news as hard as anyone. He’s known Wayne since their days together at the University of Miami, and his hiring last season played a big role in the receiver’s decision to return as a free agent.

When Pagano was being treated for leukemia last year, Wayne donned a pair of orange gloves to honor the absent head coach. Now, Pagano said it’s his turn to return the favor.

“I’ll put the gloves on now,” he said. “He wore them a year ago. I’ll wear them now. And so will the rest of the team and coaches and everybody in that locker room. We’ll get him through this. Certainly, we’ll all be there and I’ll be there every step of the way with him.”

Pagano said Wayne will continue to be around the team and attend meetings after his surgery is complete. He also shot down any notion that the 35-year-old’s injury could be career-threatening.

“He’s not going out like this,” Pagano said. “He’s not going to leave the game like this. There’s no way. So he’ll fight. He’ll get his surgery, and he’ll rehab and he’ll grind like nobody’s ever grinded. And he’ll do whatever it takes to get back on that football field.”

Pagano said Wayne’s biggest regret is that he won’t be around to help his young teammates chase a championship.

At 5-2, the Colts lead the AFC South by two games heading into their bye week. Only Kansas City (7-0) and Denver (6-1) have better records in the conference overall.

Indianapolis will be back on “Sunday Night Football” for a Nov. 3 trip to Houston after the bye, and the team is being treated as a serious Super Bowl contender after wins against the Broncos, Seahawks and 49ers.

But Wayne’s injury cast the immediate future in doubt.

Pagano said his players will respond as they always have to adversity, by working even harder to overcome it.

“That group in that (wide receivers) room, you just watch how they play,” he said. “Because when you lose a family member, we’re tight as it is, but this will make us even stronger. It’ll make that room even stronger. And they have a responsibility, and they’re accountable to one another. They’ll go out and they’ll play better than they’ve ever played for 87.”

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