INDIANAPOLIS – It was a normal Wednesday, so the media had encircled Gardner Minshew II’s locker.
The starting quarterback talks on Wednesday. Always.
But to Minshew’s left, maybe a dozen cubicles away, Michael Pittman Jr. lurked. His routine generally is to pop into the locker room, grab something out of his stall and head to the lunchroom.
Not this Wednesday.
Pittman had something to get off his chest. So, he waited until Minshew was finished.
Then, his cubicle was surrounded.
The abnormal interest in Pittman – he’s always around, generally available, but usually later in the week – was rooted in his biting comments to the Indianapolis Star following Sunday’s 39-38 loss to the Cleveland Browns.
They just didn’t target me today, for whatever reason. Maybe I’m not a big part of the offense.
That wasn’t met with receptive ears in certain parts of the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.
And Pittman wanted to “clear that up.’’
“Obviously it was a very frustrating loss the way it happened,’’ he began. “I’ve never been a good loser. I’m actually a very poor sport. It’s something I’ve been working on my whole life. It’s just hard for me sometimes when you lose. You lose your composure. You lose your head.’’
There was more.
“I think I was a little dramatic when I said that,’’ he said. “Obviously I am a big part of this offense. . . . It was out of frustration and I just wanted to clear up that I love playing here, that I love Indy and everything we do here.’’
For the record, Pittman had two catches for 83 yards, including a career-long 75-yard touchdown. He was the target on five of Minshew’s 23 attempts. Only rookie Josh Downs had more: six targets, five receptions, a career-high 125 yards and one TD.
And then there’s this: Pittman ranks No. 9 in the NFL in targets (65, 18 more than Downs), No. 12 in receptions (42) and No. 16 in yards (489).
Frustration can be an accelerant after a game, especially the type Sunday when the Browns, aided by a pair of coverage penalties in the final 38 seconds, scored the game-winning touchdown with 15 seconds remaining.
And especially when the competitive Pittman is involved.
Listen to Shane Steichen earlier this week: “He’s the ultimate competitor.’’
And listen to Chris Ballard at the start of training camp in late July: “I love Pitt. That freaking dude likes to compete and he had frustrating moments (in 2022). He was frustrated because he’s a competitor . . . he was emotional, which I love. I don’t mind guys that are emotional and care because they want to win and guys that want the ball.’’
Confidence never is an issue with the unquestioned leader of the receiver’s room. Since being selected in the second round of the 2020 draft, Pittman leads the Colts’ wideouts in targets (396), receptions (269), yards (2,999) and TDs (13).
Whenever he watches video, he sees No. 11 presenting a prime option in the passing game.
“Yeah, I mean there’s not a lot of times when I watch film and feel like I’m not open,’’ he said. “That’s just how confident players think. Sometimes maybe to somebody else, I’m plastered. But I think I’m always open. I think I can catch the ball no matter what. I could be plastered, but I can go make the tough catch.’’
It was clear Pittman wished he could have a mulligan on Sunday. That, he insisted, is not how a veteran should have reacted.
“I like to think I have a lot of credibility around here just because of the past,’’ he said. “It was a very emotional game and came down to the last seconds. If I would have relaxed for 30 more minutes, I probably wouldn’t even have said that because I would have calmed down.’’
While addressing a serious subject, Pittman also intermixed some levity related to his Twitter (X) account.
“A funny thing. If anybody from Twitter is watching this, I cannot log in to my Twitter. I’ve got a new phone and I can’t get the authentication code. So if anybody on Twitter can help me get my Twitter back, I would love that because I’ve been locked out literally for four weeks. But honestly, it’s good because I don’t see that (criticism).’’
Pittman also addressed *a possible fine from the NFL for a taunting penalty against the Browns. He flashed a ‘Peace’ sign with his fingers as he completed his 75-yard TD.
“So, for the NFL reps, I was actually telling coach that I wanted to go for 2 when I scored. I wasn’t taunting. Don’t send me the letter.’’
After the game, Pittman explained he was mimicking Miami’s Tyreek Hill.
“I’ve seen Tyreek do that a bunch,’’ he said. “I have a little ‘Peace’ sign because I thought I was fast. Refs didn’t like it.’’
Regardless of how the season unfolds, the Colts have a major decision regarding Pittman. He’s in the final year of his rookie contract that carries a base salary of $2.99 million.
Someone will pay him. Thirteen receivers are being paid an average of $20 million per year. The top-6 earn at least $24 million annually.
The projected franchise tag for a receiver in 2024 is $22.9 million. A top receiver on the open market undoubtedly will command more than that.
Pittman was asked if he considers himself a No. 1 wideout.
“Obviously I think I’m very consistent and on a team that’s been constant change,’’ he said. “Obviously the receiver-quarterback continuity is huge and we haven’t had that.’’
In his four seasons, Pittman has had to adjust to seven different starting quarterbacks: Philip Rivers, Carson Wentz, Matt Ryan, Sam Ehlinger, Nick Foles, Anthony Richardson and now Minshew.
“AR goes down, so we’ll see what happens there,’’ he said. “But right now, Gardner’s running the ship and I think he’s doing a good job. I think we’re top 10 in almost every single category on offense. When it comes to receiver 1, I don’t like the title, but I do think I am.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.