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Veteran Colts receiver stuck around to help lead young team

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So, where would the Indianapolis Colts be without Reggie Wayne?

Interim coach Bruce Arians doesn’t know.

Then again, it’s not a puzzle he has to solve.

Because contrary to what was widely speculated, the veteran wide receiver did not bail when the Colts began rebuilding. Instead, he signed on for a 12th season and is enjoying one of the best campaigns of his career.

The Wayne File

Name: Reggie Wayne

Position: Wide receiver

Age: 34

College: Miami

Drafted: First round (30th pick) by Colts in 2001

Pro Bowls: 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010

2012 stats: 94 catches, 1,220 yards, four touchdowns

Career-highs: 111 catches (2010), receiving yards 1,510 (2010), touchdowns 12 (2004)

Not surprisingly, his production — and leadership — are paying huge dividends for a team that continues to defy all expectations.

At 9-4, the Colts need only one more win to clinch the playoffs. It could happen as early as Sunday, when they travel to AFC South leader Houston (11-2).

“Whether we would be 9-4 without (Wayne), I couldn’t say,” Arians said. “But I doubt that we would have made as much progress, especially in the receiver room with all the young guys and (rookie quarterback) Andrew (Luck).

“We would desperately miss his leadership, the quality of a player he is.”

The Colts’ record speaks volumes of Wayne’s leadership. Teammates, particularly young ones, continually attribute their quick learning curve to his wisdom, guidance and insight.

Wayne’s production, of course, speaks volumes of his skills, which seem just as sharp — if not sharper — today as they were during his 2001 rookie season.

At age 34, the five-time Pro Bowler is on pace not only for another Pro Bowl nod but for perhaps the best season of his career. With three games left, his 94 catches are only 17 short of his career-best 111 in 2010. The total is also the fourth-highest in the NFL this season.

In addition, his 1,220 yards are on track to break his career-high of 1,355, also established 2010. And it is the league’s third-highest total.

Yet the only numbers Wayne obsesses about are the ones in the Colts’ wins column. Nobody has to remind him that they weren’t supposed to have many, if any. In fact, he delights in doing the reminding.

“We were 32. That’s fine,” said Wayne, referring the Colts’ preseason power ranking. “At the end of the season, we’ll see where we fall then. At one point in time, I still had my doors open for (skeptics) to jump on the bandwagon, but I think we can close them doors now.

“If you aren’t a Colts believer by now, you’re not going to be one.”

With a victory Sunday, the Colts would keep alive their long-shot odds of winning the division. They host Houston in the Dec. 30 regular-season finale.

“It’s a conference game, division game, division championship basically on the line,” Arians said. “I mean, this is what you live for in December, a chance to play for your division title.

“If you can’t get excited about this, then you shouldn’t be playing.”

Winning, or the prospect of it, is what drew Wayne back in the first place.

And he’s confident the Colts, with a 10-plus win season within reach, aren’t finished.

“Hopefully, we can just win some games, period,” Wayne said. “It (10 wins) is special, but we’ve got something a little bit more special going on right now, and that’s kind of where my attention is. That’s our first goal, period, is to win the division.

“We’ve done some good things to this point, and we’ve got a chance to reassure ourselves of our fate.”

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