The Indianapolis Colts didn't necessarily go into Sunday's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars thinking they were going to pound the opposing defense into the ground with a heavy barrage of crossing routes.
But as the game progressed, and as the Jaguars continued to seem intent on utilizing a heavy box up front, leaving the middle part of the field open, Colts quarterback Matt Ryan was happy to pepper that part of the field over and over again.
And time after time, No. 11 for the Indianapolis offense was on the receiving end of those throws, including during a critical stretch on the Colts' final drive, as he kept moving the chains to eventually set up a game-winning touchdown reception from rookie Alec Pierce, helping the Colts earn a critical 34-27 victory at Lucas Oil Stadium.
When all was said and done, Michael Pittman Jr. on Sunday had logged career-highs in receptions (13) and receiving yards (134), tallying the most receptions by a Colts player in a single game since his now-wide receivers coach, Reggie Wayne, caught 13 passes in Week 5 of the 2012 season in an emotional victory over the Green Bay Packers.
"We didn't really scheme it to run it that many times, but we just went to where it was hot," Pittman Jr. said after the game of the crossing routes. "So it was hot and it stayed hot, so we kept on doing it."
Pittman Jr.'s performance was much-needed for a Colts offense that had struggled to find any sort of consistency throughout the early portion of the season. On a day in which the veteran Ryan attempted 58 passes — completing a career-best 42 of them — he was often looking his No. 1 receiver's way, targeting Pittman Jr. 16 times in all.
Pittman Jr.'s signature toughness was on display throughout the contest. He converted first downs on eight of his 13 receptions, two of which were huge components of the Colts' game-winning drive, moving the chains on 3rd and 4 from the Indianapolis 40-yard line, and then again on 3rd and 10 from the Jacksonville 44, getting 15 yards to the 29-yard line and helping set up Pierce's game-winning 32-yard grab three plays later.
Pittman Jr. also took the attention off the Colts' other targets, allowing running back Deon Jackson (10 receptions, 79 yards), Pierce (three receptions, 49 yards) and receiver Parris Campbell (seven receptions, 57 yards, touchdown) to also earn key performances on Sunday.
"I think Pitt has done a great job as a leader kind of setting the tone for what those guys are expected to do," Ryan told reporters after Sunday's game.
Pittman Jr.'s fifth-career 100-yard receiving performance — the second most by a Colts player in his first 35 games, trailing only T.Y. Hilton's 11 — continues a solid season for the third-year USC product, who leads the team with 38 receptions for 417 yards.
In all, Pittman Jr. has 26 first downs on receptions and is yet to drop a pass, according to Pro Football Focus.
While the gameplan won't always call for almost 60 passing attempts — a good chunk of which are on crossers to the Colts' No. 1 target — Pittman Jr. said he's always satisfied to see a well-balanced Colts offensive attack that can go with the pass or the run whenever is needed.
"I feel like we've been more balanced this year. Sometimes we're going to go in and win it by running it, and sometimes we're going to go in and win it by passing it, and today we just passed it," Pittman Jr. said. "I mean, I'm always happy when we pass the ball, obviously — the ball's coming to me and I'm flying around, which is awesome.
"I think we're definitely headed in the right direction," Pittman Jr. continued. "Like, I would like to be able to win a game and not have to go down in two-minute (offense) … but, I mean, that's just NFL football, you know? That's how it shakes out in most games, and I feel like we keep showing that we can win those critical situations, because we pretty much do it every win we've had, we've run down there and scored a last-minute touchdown. So it just shows we can battle it out."
The Colts take on the Jacksonville Jaguars in an AFC South matchup at Lucas Oil Stadium.