Michael Pittman Jr. seized the Indianapolis Colts' No. 1 WR role with his 'beast mentality'

Colts WR Michael Pittman Jr. has 35 catches for 508 yards and 2 TDs in seven games this season after tallying 503 yards and 1 TD on 40 catches in 13 games as a rookie. Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

INDIANAPOLIS – The confidence has always been there for Indianapolis Colts receiver Michael Pittman Jr. No, not just when he was one of the top receivers in college while at USC.

In the NFL.

You’ve seen it when Pittman doesn’t hesitate to trash talk an opponent or when he’s not afraid to deliver a block like he’s a pulling guard to spring a teammate open.

But now the second-year receiver is excelling at the skill that made the Colts selected him in the second round: catching the ball.

He’s doing it in highlight fashion for the Colts (3-4), who are without their two fastest receivers in T.Y. Hilton and Parris Campbell.

Sunday night, it started in the first quarter, when it didn’t matter that Pittman had a San Francisco 49ers defensive back draped on him, as he drew a pass interference penalty and hauled in a 57-yard reception from quarterback Carson Wentz.

Pittman finished with four catches, including one that probably even had Randy Moss on the edge of his seat, for 105 yards and a touchdown in the Colts' 30-18 victory over San Francisco (2-4), where the wet and windy playing conditions were more suited for running the ball.

“He's a big-play guy,” Colts coach Frank Reich said. “He just has a mentality. We talk about it a lot, this mentality he has, the toughness, the playmaking, how hard he works, how hard he competes. You want to throw him the ball. Carson has developed a ton of confidence in him. I mean, just throwing it up to him.”

The questions about who would be the Colts' No. 1 receiver, especially with Hilton on the tail end of his career, can stop. They don’t need to be asked anymore. Pittman is that guy, the same guy scouts drooled over as he consistently won his one-on-one battles and rarely dropped a pass while starring at USC.

“Pitt has a mentality that he wants to be a bully, and that’s what you need in a receiver,” linebacker Darius Leonard said. “... He has that mentality that no guy can stop him, and if you want to get in front of him, he’s going to put you on your butt.”

Reich added, “Pitt is so stinking competitive, he's got such a beast mentality, that he can dominate versus anybody.”

Pittman’s first highlight play this season came on national television against the Baltimore Ravens on Oct. 11. It started with him going over top of a Ravens defensive back for the reception and ended with him dragging another Ravens defensive back before shaking him off and going into the end zone for the touchdown.

Pittman did it again -- on national television, again -- against the 49ers to seal the game for the Colts.

The Colts, clinging to a 23-18 lead, had the ball on third-and-10 at San Francisco’s 28-yard line. They could have played it safe by running the ball and settling for a field goal.

Nope.

Reich, having a flashback to the Ravens loss two weeks ago, called a double-move play that the defense didn’t bite on because it was in zone. That didn’t stop Wentz from throwing the ball up to Pittman.

“All you can do is yell and scream with him,” running back Jonathan Taylor said. “When you’re watching the film, he just does everything perfect. Times the jump perfect. He has the perfect hands, strong hands, all through the catch. When he makes a play, he just does everything perfectly. I saw him [Sunday], the play he scored on. He’s different, he’s special.”

The playcall Sunday came after the Colts were too conservative with back-to-back run calls late in their overtime loss to the Ravens. The Colts were unsuccessful on the field goal attempt, which kept Baltimore in the game. Reich even cracked a joke on himself after the game Sunday and said he knew he wasn’t going to make the same mistake again by going against his aggressive mindset.

“I love that Frank was aggressive and trusted us with that,” Wentz said. “That's the first thing I went and told him. I said, ‘I appreciate you trusting us,’ and me appreciating just trusting Pitt and his ability to go up and get that. I thought that was cool to see coach trust us with that play and for Pitt to go up and make that play and really seal the deal. That was huge for us.”

Plays like that get Pittman’s teammates hyped on the sideline.

“It’s a beautiful sight to see,” Leonard said. “Every time the offense is out there, I’m always watching because I know we’re one play away from a big play, and having Pitt out there, and going over top of guys and ‘Mossing’ guys. He does it in practice. That’s one thing, that, we see it and know he has the ability to do it, and now he’s doing it on game day. Hopefully he gets some kind of respect in this league, and hopefully he can continue to make plays.”

The relationship and comfort level between Pittman and Wentz didn’t come naturally.

But it was built over time. The countless hours of throwing sessions during the offseason when Pittman traveled to wherever Wentz was working out so that the two could work on their timing.

Throw after throw. Break after break. High ball after high ball.

Over and over again.

The fruits of that labor are paying off.

“I saw it even this spring and summer when I first got to work out with him, but obviously there is no defense, no nothing, but I got to see his ability and his ball skills, and then training camp came, and he did it again,” Wentz said. “Every week I think he gets more confident in my ability to get it to him and vice versa. When he keeps stepping up and making plays like that, especially in these conditions, I'm saying, ‘Hey, I trust my guy to go up and make a play in these conditions more than their guy.’"