INDIANAPOLIS – There’s nothing complicated about Michael Pittman Jr.’s emergence Carson Wentz’s go-to guy.
What’s going through his mind when Wentz lofts passes in his direction?
“I have to catch ‘em,’’ Pittman said after doing just that in the Indianapolis Colts’ 30-18 win over the San Francisco 49ers in Levi’s Stadium. “Carson can really throw it out there, so I just got to make sure that I’m the one that comes down with it.’’
Wentz targeted Pittman six times, and the results were game-changing.
Pittman hauled in four passes for 105 yards, including a 28-yard touchdown on a critical third-and-10 that gave the Colts a 30-18 lead with 2:49 remaining. On two other passes from Wentz, he drew interference penalties against cornerbacks Emmanuel Moseley (19 yards) and Jaquiski Tartt (38 yards) that set up touchdown runs by Wentz and Jonathan Taylor.
On the game-sealing TD, Pittman went over cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick for the contested catch, then turned and dove into the end zone.
“What I love about Pitt is he’s so stinking competitive,’’ Frank Reich said. “He’s got such a beast mentality, that he can dominate versus anybody.’’
With T.Y. Hilton missing six of the first seven games – a quadriceps injury kept him out of the Niners’ game – Pittman has assumed the No. 1 wideout role. He leads the team with 35 catches and 508 yards, and is on pace for 85 receptions and 1,233 yards.
Pittman also has developed a quick chemistry with Wentz on down-the-field throws. He’s averaging 14.5 yards per catch, and had a season-long 57-yarder against San Francisco.
“I think that’s why they drafted me here,’’ Pittman said. “Last year we couldn’t really get it going for whatever reason, but we brought in Carson and Carson just loves to throw it deep.
“I love it, too.’’
Pittman took advantage of several opportunities to work with Wentz during the offseason, and that’s paying off.
“I think we are on the right path,’’ he said.
Wentz said nothing Pittman does in games surprises him.
“Not anymore,’’ he said. “I’ve seen it enough in practice. I know what he brings to the table, and so that’s the reason I’m so confident in letting it fly.
“You got a guy like that you just got to give him a chance. He came up big tonight.’’
More from Leonard
Linebacker Darius Leonard continued his early-season takeaway binge. He forced a fumble by wideout Deebo Samuel in the second quarter with his patented punch-out technique.
Leonard has forced a turnover in five straight games and six of seven overall. He has two interceptions, three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.
The defense generated four takeaways: forced fumbles by Leonard and end Al-Quadin Muhammad on a sack of Jimmy Garoppolo and interceptions from Xavier Rhodes and Khari Willis.
The Colts have had at least one takeaway in eight straight games, which is the third-longest active streak in the NFL.
The Colts have recovered from their 0-3 start to win three of their last four.
Next up: Sunday’s rematch with the Tennessee Titans at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Titans moved to 5-2 Sunday with a 27-3 blowout of the Kansas City Chiefs.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.