Clutching a five-point lead with a shade over three minutes left, the Colts faced a third and 10 on Sunday night against the San Francisco 49ers. A conservative play call — a run, a high-percentage pass — would've likely set up a 40-ish yard field goal, which would've put the Colts up by eight.
Two weeks ago, the Colts faced a similar situation in front of a national audience against the Baltimore Ravens: Third and eight, with an eight-point lead deep inside Ravens territory. Frank Reich called for a run, which lost four yards; Rodrigo Blankenship's ensuing field goal was blocked, the Ravens drove to tie the game and a gutting loss followed in overtime.
So, bomb cyclone be damned, Reich wasn't about to conservatively diffuse a possession this time.
"I told the guys," Reich said, "I'm not doing that again. I'm calling a pass."
Reich dialed up a shot play from the 49ers' 28-yard line. Carson Wentz faked a wide receiver screen to Ashton Dulin while Michael Pittman Jr. sold an upfield block on cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. Pittman then turned on the jets toward the end zone — only Kirkpatrick actually played it pretty well, staying on his assignment despite the well-sold fake.
"They didn't really jump on it like we thought," Reich said.
It didn't matter.
Pittman bullied Kirkpatrick, using his size to snatch Wentz's pass out of the air and strength through the catch to stay balanced enough to plunge into the end zone. The 28-yard touchdown sent the Colts back to Indianapolis with a 30-18 win accomplished by staying aggressive and disciplined amid some truly miserable conditions at Levi's Stadium.
Pittman said he didn't feel like the footing was all that bad, although he certainly did not appear limited by the soggy conditions (four catches, 105 yards, 1 TD). Plenty of other players, though, lost their footing — or, worse, the ball — while playing in an unrelenting rainstorm.
"It was wet — very wet," Wentz said. "It was obviously a challenge. Something we talked about all week. Ball security was at a premium."
The Colts and 49ers combined for seven fumbles, with each team losing two. Linebacker Darius Leonard joked after the game that he was "heartbroken" to have just one forced fumble — the 12th of his 49-game career — during a night where having four points of pressure on the ball wasn't a guarantee you'd hang on to it.
There were a glut of penalties — six on the Colts for 45 yards and seven on the 49ers for 122 yards — and one bizarre (but correct) ruling by officials when San Francisco's Brandon Aiyuk accidentally kicked a Rigoberto Sanchez punt that led to a touchback (and the longest punt in Colts history at 79 yards). Xavier Rhodes and Khari Willis intercepted Jimmy Garoppolo in the fourth quarter and Wentz was nearly picked off a handful of times in the second quarter (his goal-to-go turnover was initially ruled an interception but was changed to a fumble later in the evening).
But some of that sloppiness — the slipping and sliding, the rain-soaked jerseys, the difficult-to-grip football — made for a bit of nostalgic fun for the Colts, too.
"Nobody said it was easy but you love these kind of games," running back Jonathan Taylor said. "Carson was just talking about it, actually, before the game, it kind of reminds you of back in the day when you're young and out playing football with your friends on the local field. It just brings you back to your childhood days."
More than anything, though, the Colts were determined to not let the bomb cyclone sitting over the Pacific Ocean explode their gameplan or the atmospheric river stationed above California wash away their identity.
"We said hey, let's still be aggressive and not let the weather completely change who we are," Wentz said. "Be smart, pick and choose our opportunities, but I really appreciate coach still trusting us to call those plays and create some big plays."
None of those plays were bigger than Wentz letting Pittman go up and get it late in the fourth quarter. That's the kind of offense the Colts want to be, especially late in games. And no matter the conditions, the Colts proved they can be explosive at any moment — no matter if "bomb" is part of the weather forecast when they're playing.
"I love that Frank was aggressive and trusted us with that," Wentz said. "That was the first thing I went and told him is hey, I appreciate you trusting us and me appreciating just trusting Pitt and his ability to go up and get that."