This is an article that I've put off writing for a while. I wondered if it was worth it, and then I could always find ways to justify not writing this, so I didn't. Even now, I can find reasons to justify not writing it, but they're no longer strong enough to prevent me from doing what it's my job to do: cover the Colts as objectively as possible. So here it goes: the drop off in Reggie Wayne's play is evident. It was perhaps most evident on Sunday afternoon.
Against Houston and Cincinnati? Just a couple of off games in which the offense didn't really revolve around him. Against New York? He still put up 70 yards and a score. Against New England? He still hauled in 91 yards receiving, plus he was guarded by Darrelle Revis for much of the game. But against Jacksonville? The fifth in a string of sub-par performances from the veteran? It's hard to ignore, as much as we might like to. His 10 yards receiving on Sunday were the fourth lowest total of his career in a game in which he caught at least one pass. The three lower all came in either his first or second year and in none of them did he catch more than 2 passes. His 3.3 yards per reception was the lowest single-game average of his career. And let's not ignore that a month ago he had a game with just 15 yards receiving while averaging just 3.8 yards per reception.
On Sunday, it fell to the level where the Colts were throwing bubble screens to Reggie Wayne at the end of the game in order to preserve his NFL record streak of consecutive games with at least 3 catches intact, extending it to 81 games in a row. It's an incredibly impressive stat, but Sunday wasn't. Not with the Colts throwing bubble screens to Reggie to extend the streak before then taking a knee to run out the clock. I loved that the Colts were aware of it, and I don't have a problem with the Colts looking to extend it. But didn't something about it just feel strange? Didn't it feel kind of sad to see a future Hall of Fame wide receiver catching two bubble screens with a 20-point lead as his team waited to run out the clock just to get him another game toward his streak? Chuck Pagano, to his credit, said that Reggie Wayne had no input into it and that it was a coach's decision, and on Monday he said that he has no regrets about it. Nor should he. But it's just another indication of something that has become evident: this isn't the same Reggie Wayne we're used to.
On Sunday, Andrew Luck threw 9 passes toward Reggie Wayne and only 3 of them were completed. Two of the completions were bubble screens and on the other Reggie was wide open on a crossing route. On only one of the nine passes thrown Reggie's way was it a throwaway from Luck (he was moving to his left on the run under pressure and threw it at Reggie's feet). On the other throws, Luck's timing with the veteran receiver just seemed off. There were several near misses that left fans confused, because it's so incredibly rare to see a play with Reggie Wayne feature a pass missed over timing. On Sunday, Luck completed just 3 of 9 passes (33.3%) and averaged just 3.3 yards per attempt while throwing Reggie's way. While throwing to anyone else, he completed 18 of 23 passes (78.3%) for an average of 10.6 yards per attempt. Could it be that Reggie Wayne has lost a step? Unfortunately, I think so.
Here's the thing: it's not like this should be totally unexpected. Reggie Wayne is a 36-year old receiver coming off of a torn ACL. Only three players in the history of the NFL have recorded a season with more than 1,000 yards receiving after they turned 35. History told us that we would see a drop off in play from Reggie, and we expected it to a degree. But then again, he's Reggie Wayne. Somehow we came up with this notion that the star would just continue his pace forever - or at least for another year or two. We thought he could totally become the fourth player to top 1,000 yards after the age of 35. But perhaps Father Time caught up to Reggie Wayne after all. Perhaps that, coupled with a blown out knee last year, has resulted in the receiver losing a step, and there's nothing wrong with that. Even if he walked away at this very moment, he'd have one of the best statistical resumes of any receiver in history - and he's not walking away right now, either.
Reggie Wayne is a free agent at the end of the year. If he wants to return, the Colts will make a way for him to come back. That's not really the question. Now, some are wondering about whether he'll hang up the cleats after this year, and I truthfully have no idea. What I do know, however, is that the Colts have his replacement. T.Y. Hilton has already stepped into the number one wide receiver role for the Colts, and he'll likely remain there for quite a while. Rookie Donte Moncrief has shown the flashes that make him so intriguing and he has certainly impressed in the limited action he has gotten this year, and even when the Colts drafted him in the spring it was clear that he was viewed as hopefully the compliment to T.Y. Hilton after Reggie retired. It definitely looks encouraging and that it might turn out that way. So this isn't an issue of the Colts not being prepared. They have plenty of weapons aside from Reggie. It's more sad than anything else for Colts fans, as they've watched a guy who has long been a fan favorite and is a future Hall of Fame receiver turn into the guy who needs two bubble screens at the end of the game to extend his streak. And it's tough to watch.
It was the same way with Marvin Harrison. When his play declined it was hard to watch, what with seeing a star struggle to create separation and make plays. Marvin was never the same after an injury, and I certainly want to address the possibility that Wayne's struggles are due to an injury as well. Keep in mind that it has been since that Bengals game in which he injured his elbow that we've really noticed this (though there were some signs beforehand). He's said the injury will likely linger all season - so it could very well be that he's playing hurt. But is that much better? Is it much better that he's dealing with an elbow injury a year after tearing his ACL at 36-years old? I'm not sure. It would explain it, but it wouldn't make it much better.
Look, Reggie Wayne isn't going anywhere, nor should he. He'll continue to get the playing time and get passes thrown his way. And we saw in the games against the Giants and Patriots that he can still make plays. He's going to be a major part of the Colts offense moving forward for the rest of this year and then perhaps next year, depending on what he decides to do. This isn't an article saying that Reggie Wayne will or should lose his role in the offense. This isn't an article saying that the Colts were wrong to so purposefully extend the streak on Sunday. This isn't an article to say Reggie Wayne is completely washed up and can't contribute anymore. Rather, this is an article reflecting on the recent struggles and ineffectiveness we've seen from the great receiver and how difficult it is from a Colts fan's perspective to watch it. It's never easy watching a fan favorite who has been so incredibly good over his career be so limited in his effectiveness that bubble screens are necessary to get him the football. I'll be the first one chanting "Reggie! Reggie!" along with Colts Nation as Reggie makes plays, but I can't ignore it any longer: Reggie Wayne has lost a step. It makes sense considering he's 36-years old, coming off of a torn ACL, and likely still dealing with an elbow injury, but it doesn't make it easier to watch.