Frank Reich, Colts learn lesson, put finishing touches on win over 49ers


INDIANAPOLIS – There wouldn’t be a repeat, by the coach or the players.

They finished.

They remained aggressive. Frank Reich and his Indianapolis Colts.

Amid the wind and driving rain at Levi’s Stadium Sunday night, the painful memory of a pedal-to-the-floor coach going conservative and a defense having zero answers when it mattered 13 days earlier on the primetime stage at Baltimore were washed away.

Colts 30, San Francisco 49ers 18.

Live and learn from that primetime collapse to the Ravens. You remember, falling 31-25 overtime after holding a 16-point fourth-quarter lead.

Reich wasn’t going to run the football and run clock with a 23-18 lead and facing a third-and-10 at the San Francisco 28-yard line with 2:56 remaining. That’s what he did against the Ravens – third-and-8 at the Baltimore 15, leading 25-17 with 4:37 to play – and it blew up in his face.

“I told the guys, ‘I’m not doing that again. I’m calling a pass,’’’ Reich said with a wide smile in his post-conference press conference. “I literally said that.

“I said, ‘I’m calling a pass. I don’t care what anybody says.’’’

In need of a third-down conversion, the Colts got so much more.

Carson Wentz looked to his right and faked a flare to Ashton Dulin, then looked to his favorite receiver on this night. Michael Pittman Jr. went up, used his 6-4 frame to high-point the catch over cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick – he’s 6-2 but looked so much smaller against Pittman – and dove into the end zone for a 28-yard touchdown that clinched the Colts’ third win in four games following their 0-3 start.

“It really comes from trusting your quarterback and trusting your receivers,’’ Reich said. “I didn’t envision that play being made like that honestly. We were running a double-move play. They were playing zone and didn’t really jump on it like we thought.

“Carson just threw it up and gave him a chance. Pitt made an unbelievable play.’’

Wentz was in an aggressive mode from the outset, and embraced Reich’s attacking style on the critical third-and-10.

“I love that Frank was aggressive and trusted us with that,’’ he said. “That’s the first thing I went and told him. I said, ‘I appreciate you trusting us.’ Me, just trusting Pitt and his ability to go up and get that . . . make that play and really seal the deal.’’

It was an exclamation point on Pittman’s evening. He finished with 105 yards and the TD on four catches. Along with a season-long 57 reception in the first quarter that came while being interfered with by cornerback Josh Norman, he also enticed two interference penalties against corners Emmanuel Moseley (19 yards) and Jaquiski Tartt (38 yards).

“Hidden yards,’’ Reich said.

The first DPI led to Wentz’s nifty 1-yard touchdown run on an RPO (run-pass option) while the second positioned the offense for Jonathan Taylor’s 5-yard TD that pushed Indy in front 20-12 in the third quarter.

Consider Taylor’s message to his teammates as he broke down the team before the game downright prophetic.

“I said, ‘Prime-time players make prime-time plays,’’ he said. “And Pitt was a prime-time player today.’’

While Pittman was posting his second 100-yard game of the season, Taylor was pounding the Niners for 107 yards 18 carries. It was the third time in four games he’s cracked the 100-yard barrier.

And his workmanlike night came after he lost a fumble on the Colts’ first offensive snap.

“First snap,’’ Taylor said in disbelief. “We knew we were going to have adversity. You don’t know what way or shape or form it’s going to come in, or it’s going to be you facing adversity specifically.

“Then it just falls on you. ‘How can I handle this adversity?’ My team’s going to look at me and say, ‘Is this guy in his shell now? Is he in his own head? Or is he going to be able to bounce back and be able play basically the whole game?’’’

Wentz also had to deal with a bit of adversity. Despite passing for 150 yards and two touchdowns, he lost a fumble when the football slipped out of his hands while he was being tripped up by end Nick Bosa. It occurred on the first play of the second quarter and with the Colts facing a second-and-goal at the 4.

“That one hurt because I thought we had six points,’’ Wentz said. “The next thing you know it slipped out of my hand . . . shoveling to (Zach Pascal). Thought we were going to have a cool one there.’’

While the offense made the plays that mattered, so did the defense.

But not before there was a momentary flashback to the week 5 breakdown against the Ravens.

The Colts led 20-12 at the end of the third quarters, and the defense was in smother mode. After allowing 78 yards and Elijah Mitchell’s 14-yard TD run on San Francisco’s first possession of the game, the Niners’ next nine drives generated just 85 yards.

Then came their first drive of the fourth quarter: three plays, 70 yards, Jimmy Garoppolo’s 14-yard TD pass to Deebo Samuel. The 2-point conversion failed, leaving the Colts clinging to a 20-18 lead.

Darius Leonard’s mind raced back to Baltimore. The Ravens overcame a 22-3 third-quarter deficit by scoring touchdowns on their final four possessions, including overtime.

“Man, I ain’t going to lie,’’ he said. “When they came out in the fourth quarter and they scored in three plays, first thing that went in my mind was, ‘Oh hell, here we go again.’ You’ve got to think about that.’’

But only briefly.

“We stepped up and stopped them on the 2-point conversion, stopped them on the next two series,’’ Leonard said.

Cornerback Xavier Rhodes, whose status for the game was uncertain after he limped off the field during pregame warm-ups, ended one drive with a contested interception against Samuel.

“It didn’t look like he was going to play,’’ Reich said. “I don’t know how he fought through it. He was limping around out there pretty bad.

“Real credit to Xavier for his toughness and being there in a big moment.’’

Safety Khari Willis took care of San Francisco’s next possession with an interception and, for good measure, ex-Niner standout DeForest Buckner sacked Garoppolo on the game’s final play.

The defense came up with four takeaways – that’s seven in the past two games – and sacks by Buckner and Al-Quadin Muhammad. It limited the Niners to 1-of-11 on third-down conversions.

 “That was great coming to a hostile environment, game on the line, defense gets a stop,’’ said Leonard, who finished with seven tackles and a forced fumble, his eighth takeaway of the season. “Definitely what we needed, especially after what we did Monday night.

“Came out Sunday night and finished the ball game.’’

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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