- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 12, 2005

INDIANAPOLIS — It’s easy to go unnoticed playing alongside Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison and Edgerrin James.

That may have been the case for talented receiver Reggie Wayne in his first three years in the league, but he’s no longer an afterthought, particularly after Sunday’s AFC wild-card game with Denver.

Wayne caught 10 passes for 221 yards and two touchdowns as the host Colts clobbered the Broncos 49-24 to advance to a playoff rematch with Super Bowl champion New England on Sunday in Foxboro, Mass.

“It was a heck of a game, [but] Reggie has been outstanding all year,” said Manning, the Colts’ two-time NFL MVP quarterback. “Whoever has been guarding Reggie is always in for a challenge. Hopefully everybody around the league saw today just how great he really is.”

In the Colts’ 52 seasons, only Hall of Famer Raymond Berry — against Washington in 1957 — topped Wayne’s yardage. And only Buffalo’s Eric Moulds — in 1998 at Miami — and Minnesota’s Anthony Carter — in 1987 at San Francisco — compiled more receiving yards in a playoff game.

“Every time I do something, it seems like it’s my career best,” said Wayne, whose previous best was 11 catches for 184 yards and a touchdown in Week 3 this season against Green Bay. “I’m always asking myself how I do it. I’m just glad that Peyton and coach [Tony] Dungy believed in me. I just wanted to make something happen.”

A first-round choice out of Miami in 2001, the 6-foot, 198-pound Wayne caught 27 passes as a rookie while sharing time with Terrence Wilkins and Jerome Pathon. In 2002, Wayne caught 49 balls while splitting duty with Qadry Ismail. All-Pro receiver Harrison had a staggering 252 catches those two years, but in 2003 Wayne became an effective counterpart with 68 catches and seven touchdowns to Harrison’s 94 and 10.

“Clyde Christensen, our receivers coach, had been telling me for years to stay patient and wait for my opportunity,” Wayne said. “It’s all about hard work. I watch Marvin every day in practice and try and do some of the same things.”

Wayne’s patience and diligence paid off this season with 77 catches, 12 touchdowns and a team-best 1,210 yards — 97 more than Harrison. With third receiver Brandon Stokley also having a career year, opposing defenses haven’t had it easy.

The Broncos gambled with rookie nickel back Roc Alexander on Wayne and lost. Badly. Wayne had six catches for 112 yards before Harrison or Stokley touched the ball.

“Roc’s kind of learning on the job,” Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. “He went against an excellent receiver and a quarterback that knows how to get him the football. Wayne’s very talented, and he made some big-time plays.”

Indianapolis failed to score after Wayne burned the diving Alexander for a 49-yard bomb from Manning to the Denver 9-yard-line in the second quarter, but Wayne took care of matters himself two series later, fending off attempted tackles by Alexander and Kelly Herndon for a 35-yard touchdown that made it 28-3.

And after the Broncos closed within 35-17, Wayne caught a short pass in front of Denver’s bench, cut back toward the middle and used emphatic blocks from Stokley and Harrison to end any hope of a miracle comeback with a 43-yard score with 12:48 left in the game.

“Reggie’s smart and tough, and he has excellent hands,” Dungy said. “We get a lot of coverages that roll toward Marvin, and Reggie was able to take advantage of that all year.”

With Pro Bowl perennial cornerback Ty Law out with a foot injury and fellow cornerback Tyrone Poole also sidelined, an inexperienced group of Patriots corners will have to deal with the Colts’ arsenal of receivers. Patriots coach Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel really will have to be masterminds to prevent Wayne and Co. from taking similar advantage in Foxboro.

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