HOUSTON – Nico Collins accelerated smoothly into his routes, immediately creating separation and conflict for an overwhelmed Denver Broncos secondary.
At 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, Collins has rare speed for his size. And that was on full display against the Broncos as he bolted past their cornerbacks and made an immediate statement that they couldn’t match his athleticism, size and body control.
Collins caught passes of 59 and 52 yards in the first quarter for 117 yards in the first quarter, the second-most of any player in the NFL all season and second-most in franchise history behind Andre Johnson. That set the stage for his career milestone performance.
Collins led the Texans’ passing game with rookie wide receiver Tank Dell lost for the season to a broken fibula, finishing a 22-17 win at NRG Stadium with nine catches for a career-high 191 yards and the game-winning touchdown on 12 targets. He’s up to a career-high 59 receptions for 991 yards and six touchdowns on 85 targets. At his current pace, Collins would finish the regular season with 84 catches for 1,404 yards and nine touchdowns. Yes, those are Pro Bowl worthy numbers.
Celebrating the Texans’ victory that boosted their playoff outlook in the crowded AFC wild-card race and his alma mater, Michigan’s Big Ten Conference title championship win and playoff inclusion, Collins is feeling good about a lot of things, including his game.
“It’s high, but I can’t get comfortable,” Collins said. “Anything can happen in this league, so I’ve got to continue to chase my goals. I’m not there yet. I’m just going to continue to attack what I need to improve on and keep making plays whenever my number’s called. Just keep going, one foot in front of the other, brick by brick.”
It’s a laudable attitude that has served Collins well. He combined for just 927 yards and three touchdowns in his first two NFL seasons, but has been much more durable and explosive this season after taking up yoga this offseason and honing his diet and workout regiment.
The Texans expect a lot from Collins, who’s averaging 16.8 yards per reception, and has been extremely consistent.
“Nico shows up every week,” Texans coach DeMeco Ryans said. “I tell Nico, ‘You’re a big-time playmaker, believe it. Go put it on display every week.’ And he continues to show up for us. Really proud of the work he’s done improving as a player, showing his playmaking ability as well. Big-time deep threat for us, and just one of our most reliable receivers.
Collins stepped to the forefront as rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud’s primary target against a talented Broncos defense that hadn’t allowed a quarterback to pass for more than 250 yards during their five-game winning streak that was snapped Sunday.
Collins was targeted a dozen times by Stroud, a former Heisman Trophy finalist from Ohio State who confidently lobbed passes high into the air for his teammate, a Michigan man.
“Amazing, blessing to see your brother ball out like that,” Stroud said. “I know he puts in a lot of work throughout the week, and I sit there and am just in awe of him and how he comes to work every day with a great attitude. I’m just proud to see his work kind of pay off. Blessed to be able to be in a position to feed him like that. He has definitely stepped up where we needed him to.”
Playing without Dell and tight end Dalton Schultz due to a hamstring injury, Collins was on a heater against the Broncos.
He surpassed his previous best of 168 yards against the Steelers and generated his fourth 100-yard performance of the season.
“Continue to be myself, life will throw obstacles, and that’s part of it,” Collins said. “Can’t let that distract you from your personal goals. I’ve just been keeping my head high with a positive mindset and continued to be myself game by game.”
The Broncos couldn’t slow Collins down at all.
He had a 39-yard reception to go with his big gains from the first quarter.
“Trusting the process, trusting our play-calling, trusting each other,” Collins said. “That’s what it all comes down to. I know he’s going to put the ball where it needs to be.”
When Dell broke his leg during Dameon Pierce’s touchdown run as he got caught up in the pile of large bodies, Collins took it upon himself to do more.
“You see the hard work he put in every single day, and to come out like that, it hurt,” Collins said. “I can’t really say much on it. Hate to see one of our brothers go down like that. He will be missed, most definitely. So now it’s time to step up, everybody. We can’t skip a beat.
“When one goes down, we all need to step up and continue to be us. Hate to see my dawg go down like that, but we’ve got to keep going.”
And, now, the Texans are well-positioned to make a playoff run.
“Keep winning, keep going. It’s there,” Collins said. “It’s knocking on the door,. Got to continue to grind and put the work in. All the grind, it’s for situations like this.”
Aaron Wilson is a contributor to Sports Talk 790.