INDIANAPOLIS – Heading into back-to-back road games against two of the AFC's premier teams, the Colts offense hopes to build off its last four drives from Sunday against Carolina.
After struggling to find its rhythm in the first half, the Colts' passing attack hit its stride late in the game with quarterback Curtis Painter hitting 13-of-23 passes for 207 yards after intermission.
On the Colts' final drive of the third quarter, the offense covered 48 yards in six plays, ending with kicker Adam Vinatieri connecting on a 31-yard field goal.
The drive began with wide receiver Pierre Garcon taking a reverse for eight yards, setting up the Colts with a second-and-two-2 from their own 47-yard line. Painter then found wide receiver Reggie Wayne for one of his five catches on the day, this one a 40-yard gain down the left sideline.
The Panthers would respond with a touchdown to push the lead to 24-13, but the Colts would have an answer.
The Painter-to-Wayne connection struck again, this time on a third-and-nine from the Colts' 44-yard line. Painter found Wayne over the middle for the first down before the Pro Bowler did the rest. Wayne gathered in the pass, quickly eluded two defenders and raced the final 45 yards to complete the 56-yard touchdown catch.
The drive covered 80 yards in six plays and Painter gave the credit to his receiver for the touchdown.
"That play was a 10- or 12-yard route and he went the rest of the way," Painter said. "So hats-off to him and some of the guys downfield getting some blocks for him. He definitely made that happen."
Carolina managed to bump the score to 27-19 with a field goal with 5:53 remaining. Indianapolis would have two final possessions, and the offensive momentum continued.
While the drives ultimately did not lead to points, both pushed deep into Panthers territory before end-zone interceptions derailed the comeback bids. The first turnover came with 4:21 remaining after the Colts moved from their 20 to the Carolina 33-yard line. With one final possession from its 28 with 3:09 to go, Indianapolis drove to the Carolina three-yard line on nine plays. An incompletion in the direction of tight end Jacob Tamme came on first down, then Carolina was able to intercept a tipped ball with 35 seconds remaining to close the game.
The final four drives covered 239 of the Colts' 323 yards on the afternoon. Nine of the club's 19 points came off the possessions.
"We were just able to get some completions and move the ball," Painter said of the drives. "The guys did a good job of catching (the ball) and then getting some extra yards, getting up field and (we) picked up a big fourth down to Austin (Collie). So the guys did a good job of getting some extra yards and making plays."
Much of the talk heading into and coming out of the bye was surrounding the play of Painter. After the game, Head Coach Jim Caldwell complimented his quarterback's play in the latter stages of the action.
"Curtis got off to a slow start, but then there was a period of time there where he moved the ball pretty well," Caldwell said. "He did some nice things, and I thought he came back (and performed well). The one pick (at the beginning of the fourth quarter) was a little tough but other than that, I thought he did some good things out there. We'll evaluate him, but I thought he improved."
Now the focus shifts to the final five games of the season. Three of the final five games come on the road, starting with back-to-back contests at New England and Baltimore. The end result last Sunday was not what they wanted, but the Colts will continue to build on the task at hand.
"One of the things you'd like to be able to do is always give yourself a chance to win so that you're there at the end and it's just a matter of a play made here or there, and I think we did that," Caldwell said. "But obviously, our goal is to win. I do think there was some improvement, and I do think some guys like Donald Brown had a real good day. I thought he performed well.
Obviously, Reggie (Wayne) had his first 100-yard game in a while. He had some nice catches. We did some things, I thought, pretty well. Defensively, we had three sacks on a guy that is tough to get down. We had some big stops on the way. But (there were) a couple of letdowns, letdown in terms of the kickoff return (in the fourth quarter following the Indianapolis score to cut the margin to 24-19) there that gave them three points. The defense did do a good job of stopping them there and forced them to three (points), and still gave us a chance. There were a lot of good things, but not quite enough."
For the day, Wayne ended with 122 reception yards, giving him his second 100 receiving day of the season and the first since the opener at Houston. He also moved past Keenan McCardell (11,373) and Rod Smith (11,389) for 22nd-place on the NFL's all-time receiving yards list.
Brown rushed for 80 yards on 14 attempts, for a 5.7 average. He had a 17-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter to open the scoring for Indianapolis.