INDIANAPOLIS – The game-winning touchdown Sunday against Jacksonville was Alec Pierce’s first NFL touchdown.

It should have been his second.

In the season-opening tie at Houston, the Indianapolis Colts’ rookie wideout put himself in position for one of those unforgettable career moments.

First play of the second quarter. Second-and-goal at the 11. After hand-fighting with Texans cornerback Derek Stingley in the back of the end zone, Pierce broke free and flowed toward the left corner.

Instead of his first NFL target resulting in his first catch and first TD, Pierce dropped it. He punched the ground in frustration with both fists.

Matt Ryan undoubtedly was disappointed – a TD would have pushed the Colts in front 10-0 and given them momentum that might have averted the eventual 20-20 overtime tie – but was quick to offer encouragement to Pierce.

“It was so early in the game,’’ Ryan said Wednesday. “It’s like, ‘Hey, man, there’s going to be another chance during the course of the game. You’re going to have to make a play for us.’

“It’s just a shame it was the first one.’’

Pierce wouldn’t make an impact until week 3 against Kansas City. On his second target at Houston, he suffered a concussion that kept him out of the ensuing game at Jacksonville.

Since then, Pierce has been a frequent option for Ryan and a reliable sidekick for Michael Pittman Jr. Over the past four games, he’s piled up 18 receptions for 271 yards and the game-sealing 32-yard TD with 17 seconds remaining that completed the 34-27 comeback against Jacksonville.

Ryan credits Pierce’s ability to quickly put a negative situation behind him and move forward.

“The best part of him is the way he responds to that,’’ Ryan said of the dropped TD. “I know it’s only one play, but that can be difficult for people to deal with.

“His demeanor never really changed. He’s the exact same way whether it’s after that catch or after a good catch. He has that demeanor of just continuing to compete no matter what.’’

General manager Chris Ballard and his personnel staff were attracted to Pierce after thoroughly vetting him at Cincinnati. They saw a wideout with size – 6-3, 211 – who not only could take the top off of a defense with his 4.41 speed, but be effective over the middle. He excelled in one-on-one situations and making contested catches.

In need of immediate help for Pittman, the Colts selected Pierce with the 53rd overall pick in the April draft. Their expectations were high, but rookies often take time to get acclimated to the ultra-competitive nature of the NFL.

“The interesting thing is the longer I’ve played, you’re never going to be 100% sure of what to expect,’’ Ryan said. “He impressed me as soon as he got here, just his ability to run routes, his ability to catch the ball. His ball skills are very good.

“Games can be different and how guys process games and what they do, you’re never quite sure. I thought he was going to be solid for us. I think he’s probably exceeded expectations. He’s had a lot of production, particularly late in games. In critical situations, he’s had a lot of production. That’s probably been the thing that maybe exceeds what I expected from him.’’

There was no more critical situation than Sunday afternoon at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Colts trailed 27-26 and faced a 3rd-and-13 with 23 seconds remaining.

Reich sent in a play that included a “conversion’’ route for Pierce, who was split out wide right. When the Jaguars gave Ryan a look he wanted – cornerback Shaquill Griffin pressing Pierce at the line – he immediately knew it was time to take a shot at a winning TD, not settle for a 51-yard Chase McLaughlin field goal.

“He gave me a chance and I’m grateful the coaches believed in me,’’ Pierce said after the game. “They have a ton of trust in Matt. They know he’s going to make a throw where he’s not going to throw an interception in that situation. It’s going to be our-guy, or no-guy.

“It’s great. I feel like I’m getting a lot of one-on-one looks because of the guys we’ve got. They like to shadow Pitt a lot.’’

Pittman is in the process of building on last season when he finished with 88 receptions and 1,082 yards, both career highs. In five games – he missed week 2 with quadriceps injury – he leads the team with 38 catches and 417 yards on 52 targets.

But Pierce’s impact has been instrumental in the team’s 3-2-1 start heading into Sunday’s meeting with the Tennessee Titans in Nashville. His 29 targets trail only Pittman. Of his 18 receptions, 12 have produced first downs. The 32-yard TD remains Pierce’s signature moment thus far, but Ryan pointed to an earlier moment in week 3 win that reinforced his trust in Pierce.

“I think back to Kansas City,’’ he said. “He made a great catch for us on the sideline in the fourth quarter to kind of put us in position to allow Jelani to make a play.’’

With less than 2 minutes remaining and the Colts trailing 17-13, Pierce extended his 6-3 frame and secured Ryan’s pass along the right sideline for a 14-yard completion and a 1st-and-10 at the Chiefs 12. Two plays later, Ryan hooked up with rookie tight end Jelani Woods for a game-winning 12-yard TD.

Two factors have influenced Pierce’s quick development.

First, the Colts decided early on they would throw as much as possible at him.

“I really do feel like from the time he got here, we sat down and said, ‘Hey, is this going to be one of these guys that we’re going to slowly develop over the year?’’’ Reich said. “We made a conscious decision as a coaching staff, an offensive staff: ‘Nope, this is not going to be a slow development process.’

“‘We’re just going to accelerate this and just throw him in.’’’

Also, Pierce has benefitted from the presence of first-year position coach Reggie Wayne. One of the most prolific receivers in NFL history has been hands-on with Pierce and the rest of the receivers from the outset. It’s difficult to quantify the value of Wayne’s experience and ability to share it.

“That might be one of the keys to the whole thing because maybe the hardest adjustment isn’t physically, it’s the mentality you need and Reggie has that mentality,’’ Reich said. “I think that just oozes out of Reggie, into all the guys, but I think it’s particularly helped Alec.’’

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You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.