INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Baltimore’s Steve Smith and Indianapolis’ Reggie Wayne have developed a mutual admiration over the years.
They came into the league together, played together in two Pro Bowls and now find themselves trying to prove that crafty 35-year-old receivers still have value in a young man’s sport. No, Smith and Wayne may not be the fastest guys around anymore, but the two ageless wonders aren’t slowing down in production as they prepare for a rare reunion Sunday in Indianapolis.
“When you’re one of the few older guys in there, you’re always watching the fellow senior citizen run some routes,” Smith said.
Somehow, these two seem to get better with time.
Smith, who was cut by Carolina in March, is the Ravens’ leading receiver. With three 100-yard games he’s one short of tying the franchise’s single-season record, and he’s been a major component in the resurgence of Baltimore (3-1), which has won three straight.
Wayne is coming off his most productive game of the season, seven catches for 119 yards and his first TD catch. He could pass Hall of Famers Cris Carter and James Lofton on the yards receiving list this week. Wayne is on pace for another 1,000-yard season, something many thought implausible after he tore the ACL in his right knee last October. He has played a major role in keeping the Colts (2-2) grounded after an 0-2 start.
It’s enough to make Smith tout Wayne as the early front-runner for Comeback Player of the Year — an award Smith won in 2005.
To those who have worked alongside Smith and Wayne, none of this is a surprise.
“He’s still explosive, still dynamic with the ball in his hands,” Colts cornerback Darius Butler said of Smith. “I played with Steve in 2011 (in Carolina), and you see the work ethic. He puts in the time. The same thing goes with Reggie. That’s really what it comes down to, how hard they work.”
And how much knowledge they’ve gleaned over the years to stay ahead of the competition — and defy time.
“I’m feeling even better each week,” Wayne said recently. “Whenever you can be around these guys in this locker room and out there on the field with these guys, and knowing that they’re getting better each day and knowing that they’re laying it on the line every day, every down, it just brings you back around more and more each time.”
Here are some more things to watch Sunday:
EASY ROUTE: Baltimore and Indianapolis have made winning look easy lately. The Ravens’ average victory margin during their winning streak is 17.3 points.
Indy has won its last two by a combined 85-34. This game might not be that lopsided, but with two of the NFL’s third-tier pass defenses on the field, it could still turn into a shootout.
HOT QUARTERBACKS: Nobody has been better than Luck over the past two weeks. He’s completed 60 of 80 passes for 763 yards with eight TDs and only one interception — numbers that put him on pace for the greatest statistical season by a quarterback in Colts history. Flacco has been equally impressive, going 62 of 91 with 710 yards, six touchdowns, one interception and no sacks in the last three games.
MIRROR IMAGES: When Chuck Pagano left Baltimore to become Indy’s head coach, he brought the Ravens’ overall philosophy with him. The Colts switched to the 3-4 defense, added size up front and even brought in some ex-Ravens in defensive linemen Cory Redding and Arthur Jones to help. Offensively, Pagano wanted balance. And Indy has rushed for 100 yards three straight times.
PLAYOFF PICTURE: The fast start bodes well for the Ravens, who have reached the playoffs each of the previous four times they’ve started 3-1 under coach John Harbaugh. The Colts are now looking to reassert themselves as the AFC South favorite, which they can do by beating Baltimore and winning at Houston next Thursday.
OLD GRUDGES: Thirty years ago, the Colts loaded the moving trucks and left Baltimore in the middle of the night, an image old-school Baltimore fans have never forgotten. Though an entire generation of NFL fans grew up never seeing the Colts play in Baltimore, the video of the move continues to be replayed each time this rivalry is renewed. Expect that to happen again this weekend as the Ravens try to win for the first time in Indy, where they are 0-4.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)