INDIANAPOLIS – Statistically, Monday night was the best game of Carson Wentz’s six-year NFL career.
The Indianapolis Colts quarterback set career highs with 402 passing yards, 11.5 yards per attempt and a 128.5 quarterback rating. And head coach Frank Reich said the performance looked even better on tape than it did watching live from the sideline.
“Really did a lot of good things,” Reich said. “The play to (wide receiver Michael) Pittman Jr. was a big, big-time league throw. Guy in his face, they’re in Cover-0, they’re pressuring him and he makes a big-time throw. Pittman obviously makes an amazing play. (Wentz) was good with the ball. Besides the sack-fumble, he really played near flawless in many respects. The key is consistency. What we’ll talk about is anyone can come in and play one great game, but now we have to back it up.
“This week is a completely different opponent. They have a different style than the Ravens. They’re built differently than the Ravens. Now we’ve got to be able to transition to keep the same efficiency, the same aggressive mentality, but just be the leader of the offense and continue to make good decisions.”
It’s hard to find positives during a 1-4 start, particularly coming off the kind of loss the Colts suffered in Baltimore.
Leading 22-3 with 3:06 remaining in the third quarter, Indianapolis suffered a near total system meltdown. The offense stopped finishing drives. Kicker Rodrigo Blankenship had one field goal attempt blocked and missed another that would have won the game at the end of regulation. And the defense gave up four consecutive touchdown drives – including two that ended with 2-point conversions – to fall 31-25 in overtime.
That’s a lot to digest on a short week before Sunday’s home game against the rival Houston Texans. So Indianapolis won’t try to.
Knowing all margin for error has been erased, the Colts are hoping to accentuate the positives. That starts with an offense that put up 513 total yards against a solid Ravens defense, the most for Indianapolis since 2014.
Wentz led the way, completing 25 of 35 passes and mixing in aggressive down-field throws more often than at any other point in his five-game tenure with the Colts. Part of that can be chalked up to better health. His injured ankles have vastly improved, and the essential mobility has returned to his game.
The other part had to do with the play of his teammates. Pittman outleaped a defender on his 42-yard touchdown, catching a 50-50 ball over the cornerback’s back and dragging the defense into the end zone behind him. And, on Indianapolis’ first possession, running back Jonathan Taylor took a screen pass 76 yards for a touchdown on third-and-long.
“I thought Coach (Reich) called an incredible game and made my job easier,” Wentz said. “I mean a 75-yard screen pass to JT, I didn’t have to work real hard for that. The touchdown to Pittman Jr., I just had to give him a chance, and he went up and made a heck of a play. The guys around me, stepping up making big plays. That makes my life easier as a quarterback. I just think it was a really well-executed game plan for three quarters.
“Obviously, we didn’t finish the way we wanted, but there’s a lot of good. I think what we look at a lot of is the explosive plays and how we can keep creating more of those. I thought we did a great job in the game of creating those, whether it was an underneath throw or a screen or taking a shot down the field. Guys kept making plays, and I think we’re starting to gel a little bit together offensively, and hopefully we can keep building off of that.”
The 28-year-old quarterback deserves more credit for the success of the offense than he lets on.
He’s come back from a pair of significant injuries – and one surgery – and helped bring together an offense with an ever-changing rotation of parts. The offensive line again is likely to be without right tackle Braden Smith on Sunday, and left guard Quenton Nelson will miss at least one more week on injured reserve.
Veteran wide receiver T.Y. Hilton has been designated to return from injured reserve and will begin practicing this week. There’s a chance he could make his season debut against the Texans (1-4).
But the key to the offense remains the increasingly confident man under center.
“The biggest thing that I love about him is he’s just very competitive,” offensive coordinator Marcus Brady said. “No matter what the situation is he’s freaking playing balls out, and he’s just improving. It’s good to see. He’s doing what we’re asking of him and he’s just getting better all around.”