INDIANAPOLIS – In a game that will be remembered more for Mother Nature, the Colts handled the elements better than the home team.
On Sunday Night Football, it was the Colts (3-4) finishing this one and beating the 49ers (2-4), 30-18.
What did we learn from the Colts earning a win as a road underdog in Week 7?
FIVE THINGS LEARNED
1. Colts Handle The Elements: So much of this game was about who would handle some pretty awful weather the best. It’s hard to have tons of concrete takeaways from this game due to the elements. But a football game was played on Sunday night and the Colts needed it. And they handled the rain and wind better than the home 49ers did over the course of 60 minutes. The Colts had nowhere near as many penalty yards (45 to 122), didn’t turn it over as much (4 takeaways to 2 giveaways) and won 4th down on a night where the kicking game could have gotten really weird. Who knows? Maybe come playoff time—if the Colts can get there—an outdoor venue in Buffalo or Cincinnati will have the Colts thinking back to this Sunday night game in a ‘bomb cyclone.’ Whoever was going to win this one in Week 7 hovered around a team having the ability to handle some wild adversity and odd bounces. Some credit needs to go to timely strips by Darius Leonard and Al-Quadin Muhammad (With a hat tip to Kwity Paye) to help set-up the offense with short fields. The Colts took a pretty big first punch or two on Sunday night, but hung in there to get a win (as a road, underdog) that had to come at some point this season, if January is going to be possible.
2. Michael Pittman Is Here: Listeners to the podcast or morning show will often hear me describe Michael Pittman as having ‘zero USC pretty boy’ when he puts that helmet on. The whole nation saw that on Sunday night. Michael Pittman put this game on ice with a 28-yard touchdown on a jump ball with 2:49 to play. The TD came on a 3rd-and-10 and kept the Colts away from trying a long field goal in the elements (with the offensive staff not trusting Jonathan Taylor to put this game away). Plays, and chances, like that seem to be the last missing ingredient in Pittman showing what he can bring to this offense. As Pittman said after the game, he was drafted to make those type of plays down the field. With the Colts missing top wideouts in T.Y. Hilton and Parris Campbell, they never needed Pittman even more to be that alpha of the wideout group. He finished Sunday with 4 catches for 105 yards and was a big part in the Colts attempting so many vertical shots, despite the rain and wind, knowing that San Francisco had a propensity to commit pass interference fouls. As the half-way point of Pittman’s second NFL season nears, he’s showing more and more signs of being a No. 1 wideout.
3. Different Carson Wentz Appears: This was not the Carson Wentz we have seen through the first six games of his Colts tenure. There’s good and bad with that. Getting the bad out of the way, Wentz made several questionable choices early in Sunday’s game that were costly, or could have been. Wentz had an awful turnover (ruled a fumble) on a 2nd-and-Goal that took points off the board for Indianapolis. He also threw by far the most interceptable balls of the season. But we also saw the most run threat/ability from Wentz this season. It’s that part of his game that this team needs in having an offense with a higher ceiling. We saw Wentz really excel with his RPO decisions on Sunday, and then he had a huge first down scramble on a 2nd-and-15 in the fourth quarter. And Wentz and Reich were on the same page in having trust to still take vertical shots, despite the conditions being less than favorable. That risk worked for the Colts, with the 49ers committing some fatal defensive pass interference penalties, leading directly to Indy scores. As long as those poor decisions prove to be an anomaly, Wentz is still looking like a more than capable QB to lead this team moving forward. Chances to prove himself on grander stages, in games with higher stakes, are now here for Wentz.
4. Colts Finish In Primetime: For the second time in three weeks, the Colts had an opportunity in primetime to finish off a road victory. Unlike Baltimore two weeks ago, Frank Reich’s team made the plays on Sunday. Let’s point to a couple that really stood out. First, was a Michael Badgley field goal from 42 yards out with 7:04 to go to push the lead to 23-18. Next up was a hobbled Xavier Rhodes bringing down an interception on 3rd-and-3 to set the Colts up in great field position to try and ice the game. Frank Reich said he didn’t think Rhodes was going to play after the veteran corner got hurt in warm-ups on Sunday Night Football. But he gutted it out and got the last laugh. And then the play everyone will remember is the touchdown to Michael Pittman on a 3rd-and-10. Following the Baltimore game, when Reich called a run late in that one on a 3rd-and-long, he told his team that if such a situation arose again, he wouldn’t make that same mistake. Reich said he would take a shot to go and win the game. And Reich dialed up a brilliant play, faking a screen (a play they had run a lot on Sunday), and giving his blossoming wideout a chance to go and seal this victory. Pittman came down with it and the Colts had this win. From plays by struggling guys (Rhodes), an example of adapting from the play caller (Reich) and then trust in this emerging lead QB/WR combo (Wentz and Pittman), the Colts put this one away and learned from not doing that against Baltimore. That’s a sign of growth, necessary growth.
5. Massive Halloween Tilt: In all seriousness, Sunday’s Halloween matchup between the Colts (3-4) and Titans (5-2) is the most important October game for this franchise since when? I know that sounds weird, but it’s true. The expectations at the start of this season were for the Colts to win the division (haven’t won one since 2014), and do something of note in the month of January (have won just one playoff game since 2014). Well, with the Titans two games up in the standings, beating the league’s top-flight teams and having already won the first matchup between these two teams back in Week 3, the Colts need this one much, much more than the Titans. A loss for the Colts would be crippling to division hopes and a huge hit to earning a playoff spot, and that’s with 8 games still remaining. A win for Indy would put serious pressure on the Titans and set up a two-team race in the second half of the season. Sunday at 1:00 inside of Luas Oil Stadium is massive.
-Injury Report: BoPete Keyes left the game in the first half and did not return. The team’s inactives were as followed: OT-Braden Smith (foot), RB-Jordan Wilkins (illness), DE-Kemoko Turay (groin), CB-Rock Ya-Sin (ankle), WR-T.Y. Hilton (quad), QB-Sam Ehlinger, OL-Will Fries.
-Key Stat: Jonathan Taylor now has 4 straight games with at least 100 yards from scrimmage. That’s the first time a Colts player has done that since Joseph Addai in 2007.
–What’s Next: The Colts (3-4) will now have 3 straight games at home, starting with a Halloween ‘must win’ against the Titans (5-2). That’s a 1:00 PM kickoff inside of Lucas Oil Stadium.