INDIANAPOLIS – The Colts start their version of the Final Four this Sunday when they meet Baltimore in M&T Bank Stadium.
The 'four' represents the number of games remaining for Indianapolis in 2011. The number equals one-quarter of the season and for quarterback Dan Orlovsky, and others, it represents a significant amount of time to grow with the club.
The first hurdle to the final quarter – Baltimore – is one that has Orlovsky's attention.
"A lot teams in this league and head coaches break the season down in quarters," said Orlovsky. "We have a quarter left. We have a chance to go 1-0 in this quarter. That'll be a big focus of ours this week, trying to go to a place that's tough to play and play a team that's really good and probably going to be in it for a long haul in January and February. It will be another good challenge for us."
Orlovsky made his first start with Indianapolis last Sunday at New England. He completed 30-of-37 passes for 353 yards with two touchdowns and one interception, earning a 113.2 rating. Indianapolis fell, however, 31-24. It was the eighth start of a pro career that includes previous tenures with Detroit (2005-09) and Houston (2010).
Orlovsky saw fourth-quarter duty in relief of starting quarterback Curtis Painter against New Orleans, Atlanta and Jacksonville earlier this season, so last Sunday was his first real chance for extended play with front-liners since 2008.
Orlovsky and the offense could not overcome a penalty on its first snap, and the team punted three plays later. Taking possession a second time brought different results. Orlovsky and the Colts kept the ball for 10:19, moving from their 20 to the New England one-yard line before settling for a field goal to end a 19-play possession. It was the club's longest drive of the season clock-wise, and it was the longest in the number of overall plays in a drive since the 2000 season.
Indianapolis hit a lull in the second quarter and turned the ball over on its opening possession in the third period, then finished with three touchdowns on its last four drives. The touchdown drives covered 86, 93 and 90 yards as Indianapolis put on its best display of 2011 offensive prowess. The Colts had season-highs in first downs (26), passing first downs (21), third-down conversions (10-of-15), time of possession (35:39) and net yards (437). Orlovsky hit eight different receivers, including wide receivers 21 times for 275 yards and tight end Jacob Tamme five times for 49 yards.
Like any competitor playing a sport at its highest level, Orlovsky is driven to win. Reviewing Sunday's performance brought Orlovsky back only to the outcome rather than any numbers associated with the performance.
"That team (New England) is probably going to be playing at home with a chance to go to the Super Bowl, most likely," said Orlovsky. "To go in there and to play well I guess is encouraging. It's not like we say, 'Let's be in a ballgame.' That's not good enough for us. We want to win. I don't want to undermine the things that we did do positive. There were some positive things, but those positive things, at the end of the day, really don't matter. If we had stunk it up and won, that would be better. I think the goal is, no matter what, to win. Can we take those positives, build on them and use them to hopefully win? Yes.
"I just want to win. … I certainly want to go win. I don't work as hard as I do and none of us do to go out and lose. I think every Sunday our goal is to go out and try to win. Trying and doing are two different things. You don't get points in this league or pats on the back for trying. The obvious thing is to get a win. … Once you get on the bus, you starting thinking about the plays you missed, 'What could have happened if this was the case?' You can't go back and change it. It's (losing) difficult to swallow. It's never fun. I think the biggest thing is to try to consciously try and learn from it and work at it, prepare yourself for it in the future."
Indianapolis went into the New England game with an offensive approach that did not change for the second half. There were no dramatic adjustments made for the final 30 minutes that helped lead to the points.
"We really didn't change much," said Orlovsky. "We thought we did a decent job in the first half. We went on a long drive (early). We ate up a lot of clock, so we probably took a possession away from ourselves. We were just trying to finish that drive and probably would have liked to have done something with the ball before halftime, instead of giving it back to them on a three-and-out. We didn't change much because we didn't think we needed to. It really was just stay into our game plan. When we had the opportunity to do something with the ball I think we were able to do so in the second half. We didn't (change) much."
Head Coach Jim Caldwell has seen his third season at the helm include challenges across the roster with injuries. The quarterback position was hit first with the off-season neck surgery to Peyton Manning that has kept the four-time MVP sidelined to this point. Veteran Kerry Collins started three games before suffering a season-ending concussion. Third-year pro Curtis Painter started eight consecutive games after only seeing relief action in two season-ending games in 2009. Now, Orlovsky has been Caldwell's third starter in 2011.
Caldwell did assess Orlovsky's performance well at New England.
"Dan did a nice job. He did spread the ball around," said Caldwell. "He threw the ball accurately. It's just like anything else, I think oftentimes when you look at a situation after going back through the film, you forget how many really fine catches were made as well. Dan did a nice job of picking out the right guy to go to. Reggie (Wayne) came back and made a couple of real tough catches for him. (Austin) Collie with the one-hand catch (was key). It always goes both ways.
"I think he did a good job of spreading it around. I think those guys did a good job of catching the ball as well. To spread it around to as many receivers as he spread it around to shows that he's got a pretty good feel for the overall concept of the offense. He was going from one to two or three (receivers) just in terms of progressions. He did a nice job."