Lined up in shotgun formation just a few yards away from the end zone, Carson Wentz took the snap and scanned his options. The solid protection in front of the Indianapolis Colts' quarterback eventually allowed Michael Pittman Jr. to break free running to his right across the back of the end zone. Wentz's pass was on the money, connecting with the second-year wide receiver for a touchdown.
That result played out not once, but twice in Sunday's Week 8 matchup against the Tennessee Titans. And those two Wentz-to-Pittman Jr. connections, sandwiched by an interception from cornerback Kenny Moore II, occurred just 56 seconds apart in the first quarter, giving the Colts an early 14-0 lead.
By game's end, Pittman Jr. had logged single-game career-bests in receptions with 10, while his two receiving touchdowns were also a single-game career-high. The 10 receptions were the most by a Colts' receiver since T.Y. Hilton in Week 5 of the 2016 season, while Pittman Jr. became the first Indy receiver to log two first-quarter touchdown receptions since Brandon Stokley on Thanksgiving in 2004 at Detroit.
Perhaps most importantly, for a second straight game, Pittman Jr's presence was felt in more ways than one, as the USC product continues to evolve right in front of Colts fan's eyes.
After a solid rookie season with plenty of learning opportunities (and a little bit of bad luck injury-wise) — one that included 40 receptions for 503 yards and one touchdown in 13 games — Pittman Jr. eclipsed that first-year production with his performance on Sunday. Approaching the midway point of his second year, he now sits at 45 receptions for 594 yards and four touchdowns.
That's a pace of about 96 receptions for 1,262 yards and nine touchdowns in the new 17-game regular season format.
Pittman Jr. told reporters after the Colts' overtime loss to the Titans on Sunday that he doesn't necessarily feel some sort of light has turned on in Year 2, but that he's simply benefitting from more time on task within the offense.
"I think it's just familiarity with the offense. But I don't think that I am a different player from last year," Pittman Jr. said. "I think that there is more opportunity, but I mean, there's not a big difference. I didn't all of a sudden take a magic pill."
While Pittman Jr.'s touchdown receptions will make those who utilize him in their fantasy football lineups happy, it's his all-around growth as a receiver that has really accelerated his ascent.
Always a solid blocker in the run game, Pittman Jr. is mastering the ability to use his 6-foot-4, 223-pound frame to make things happen down the field, coupled with a quarterback in Wentz who isn't shy about taking chances — especially when the ball is going to No. 11.
In last week's primetime win over the San Francisco 49ers, Pittman Jr. had four receptions for 105 yards and a cherry-on-top touchdown catch to seal the game, but perhaps just as impactful were the two defensive pass interference penalties he was able to draw down the field, accumulating for 57 "hidden" yards of offense.
That theme continued Sunday against the Titans. In desperate need of a spark after a pick-six gave the Titans a 31-24 lead with 1:26 left in the fourth quarter, Wentz, on 3rd and 16 from the Indy 19-yard line, found Pittman Jr. deep down the middle for a 38-yard reception. Three plays later, after a huge defensive pass interference call on the Titans in the end zone set the Colts up with 1st and Goal from the Tennessee 1-yard line, running back Jonathan Taylor ran it in for the touchdown, and the ensuing extra point from Michael Badgley sent the game to overtime.
"Carson just puts it up there and he just always puts it in a great spot," Pittman Jr. said. "I can just kind of body guys up and run through arms. So, credit to him."
In five October games this season, Pittman Jr. combined to haul in 28 receptions for 374 yards and four touchdowns. Only Hall of Famers Marvin Harrison (37 receptions, 603 yards, five touchdowns in 2000) and Raymond Berry (32 receptions, 665 yards, five touchdowns in 1960) have had better October receiving performances in Colts franchise history.
Pittman Jr. and the Colts hope that theme can continue in November, while also getting back on track in the win column — starting with Thursday night's game at home against the New York Jets.
"We lost a big game, but I still have belief in Carson, (Frank) Reich, Darius (Leonard) — everyone," Pittman Jr. said. "We're just going to keep on building."