INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Carson Wentz needed a fresh start. The Indianapolis Colts gave him a chance.
Now, as the midway point of the season nears, Wentz is rounding into form, winning games and starting to play with the efficiency and effectiveness scouts always envisioned.
“I think we ran the ball fairly well, and then Carson made some plays down the field," coach Frank Reich said after Sunday's rain-drenched 30-18 victory in San Francisco. “Obviously, we had the big one to (Michael) Pittman, and then I think we had three pass interference (calls) on deep balls. That’s the advantage, when you get with a quarterback who trusts his receivers."
Clearly, Wentz has found a comfort zone after missing most of training camp because of left foot surgery, missing several more days of practice after going on the reserve/COVID-19 list before the opener, and then spraining both ankles in a Week 2 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
He played the following week at Tennessee but struggled to move around in the loss and wound up protecting himself with multiple throwaways.
Since then, though, Wentz's health and performances have improved dramatically. He's thrown for two touchdowns and no interceptions each of the past four weeks, tying Peyton Manning's franchise record for most consecutive games with multiple TD passes without an interception. And Wentz nearly matched the franchise record with a fourth straight single-game passer rating of 115.0 or higher — something only Manning, the late John Unitas and Andrew Luck previously did.
Wentz was 17 of 26 with 150 yards, a rating of 106.2 and one TD run in the rain.
But Wentz doesn't care about stats or critiques because he's too focused proving he's back to being a confident, complete player.
“We came out and told coach, ‘Hey, shots are there, we’re going to throw it,'" Wentz said. “We've got the guys, we've got the playmakers, specifically Pittman. We said ‘Let’s still be aggressive and not let the weather completely change who we are.' Be smart. Pick and choose our opportunities, but I really appreciate coach trusting us to call those plays."
Pittman. The second-year receiver has 32 receptions for 479 yards with two TDs and two 100-yard games over the past six weeks. He's already surpassed last year's single-season totals for yards and scoring catches with 11 games left. And when he's not making catches, he's drawing penalties.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Offensive line. 2020 All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson drew two penalties after returning from a sprained ankle, Wentz fumbled a snap, and two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Eric Fisher still isn't in form after returning from a torn Achilles tendon. When this unit really starts clicking, Indy's offense should take off.
Jonathan Taylor. He's rushed for more than 100 yards three times, posted a 100-yard receiving game and scored six TDs in the last four games. Yes, he lost a fumble Sunday, but he's become one of Indy's most consistent — and electric — players.
Receivers other than Pittman. With T.Y. Hilton and Parris Campbell both injured again, Indy's other receivers have struggled to produce consistently. Indy needs a stronger supporting cast to keep the momentum going.
While Nelson returned after missing three games with a sprained ankle, Hilton (quad), right tackle Braden Smith (foot/thumb), defensive end Kemoko Turay (groin) and cornerback Rock Ya-Sin (ankle) missed the game. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes had an interception after appearing to hurt his left calf during pregame warmups, and was a major asset after starting safety Julian Blackmon suffered a season-ending torn Achilles tendon in practice last week. The only new name on the injury list was backup cornerback BoPete Keyes (hamstring).
10 — The Colts forced four more turnovers Sunday, giving them 10 in the past four weeks. They're tied with Buffalo for the league lead in takeaways (16) and are second in turnover differential at plus-9.
Indy has won three of four and needs to protect its home field this weekend against Tennessee to get back into AFC South contention. Getting Hilton back would help, and if the defense can hold Derrick Henry in check, the Colts might hit .500 for the first time this season.
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Michael Marot, The Associated Press