Bradley Handwerger / Sports Reporter
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METAIRIE, La. ― All you need to know about Marques Colston is that two weeks after surgery to fix a broken collarbone, he was back on the field, catching passes and helping the Saints.

At least, that's according to quarterback Drew Brees and, well, are you not going to listen to the owner of several NFL records and New Orleans' collective football voice?

'He came back and he was playing probably earlier than most guys would,' Brees said. 'I think that speaks to his toughness and that he wanted to come back and contribute. But I don't think he was 100 percent.'

So that's why, 10 games into the season, Colston re-acquainted the football-watching public with his name with an eight-catch, 113-yard performance against Atlanta.

Since then, Colston has had three more 100-plus yard games and two multi-touchdown games.

'I think he's really been consistent,' Saints coach Sean Payton said.'He's made a lot of big plays for us not only outside, but inside for us, on third down and in the red zone.'

In fact, Colston emerged midway through the season as one of Brees' go-to players on third down. Of his 80 catches, 23 came on third down, tied for ninth-most in the NFL. And only six players had more than his 348 yards on the down.

Colston's exploits could appear to come at a cost. He takes shot after shot over the middle, continually finding himself forced to pick himself off the ground time and again.

And when he goes up to catch a pass, he rarely drops the tough ones despite knowing he's about to get drilled.

'You kind of get used to it knowing that if the catch isn't strong, a lot of times they're going to jar the ball loose,' Colston said. 'Just really focusing in on the ball. For whatever reason, I can focus on the ball and not the hit. I just think that was something I was born with.'

Does he enjoy showing off his toughness? Not at all.

'Oh no,' he said. 'It's definitely not fun. It's definitely not something that's enjoyable to get beat up but it's something that comes with what I do. Like I said, I take pride in being able to do it and get up and go do it again.'

The big hits worry his fellow receivers, but it's his actions after that embolden them to go on.

'It's tough on us to see him take those shots because we know we need him,' receiver Robert Meachem said. 'We don't really want him to take those shots. But when he takes the shot, gets up, a lot of times it does motivate him even more to go out and play harder.'

Since 2006, when Colston was found deep in the seventh round, he has caught 48 touchdown passes, seventh-most in the NFL over that period.

His 449 career catches, 6,240 yards and touchdowns are among the best in franchise history, the catches and yards ranking third with the touchdowns second-most ever.

In fact, he has gone over 1,000 yards receiving every year in the league except for 2008, when he missed five games after tearing a ligament in his left thumb.

Yet, what gets lost in all the numbers is his mental and physical toughness.

When he lost a fumble early in the first quarter of New Orleans' 45-28 wild-card round win over Detroit, he didn't sweat it, moving on instead of dwelling on the mistake.

Not that he has always been that way.

'I had to learn over time,' Colston said. 'It actually took me a couple years here. It's something that just comes with getting a little older and a little wiser.'

As for that broken collarbone, the one that now has a plate covering it, you'll never hear Colston talk about it or use it as an excuse, another reason his teammates respect him.

'Through the six years, he's always had something, or some injury to play through,' Brees said. 'That's his mentality. He's a tough guy. He'll never let you know something's bothering him. You never know just by watching him.'

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