INDIANAPOLIS – The first half of the 2011 season concluded for Indianapolis on Sunday afternoon in Tennessee as the Colts fell to the Titans, 27-10.
A difficult first half of the season is consigned to history, and Indianapolis hopes to craft a different script over the season's final eight games.
A bright spot for the first half of the season has been the Indianapolis running game. With starter Joseph Addai being limited because of a hamstring injury, rookie Delone Carter has seen an extensive amount of action.
Carter has had double-digit rushing attempts in five of eight games while sharing playing time with Addai and Donald Brown. On Sunday at Tennessee, Carter had nine carries for 46 yards (5.1 average), and he has had a rushing average of at least 3.5 yards in four outings this season.
The fourth-round draft pick from Syracuse leads the club with 305 yards on 74 attempts, and he has two rushing scores. The team is averaging 4.5 yards per attempt in 2011, a healthy boost from previous seasons.
For Carter, he has covered ground literally as a rusher in his first eight outings, and he has done the same in picking up the intricacies of the game, too. He feels he has learned a great deal in his first eight outings.
"I have taken in a lot over the first part of the season, and I am looking forward to the games ahead," said Carter. "I feel those will be opportunities to learn. I feel very comfortable out there, and I am ready to go out there and continue."
On draft day, the notion by some observers was that Carter would supply punch to the club's short-yardage rushing game. While he has done that, Carter has supplied greater punch than that. He had 42- and 23-yard rushes at New Orleans two weeks ago, and those bursts account for the longest and fourth-longest rushes for the club this season.
Not one to rest, Carter knows he has much more to learn, and it will continue this week. He feels he is growing week-by-week.
"Yes, I do, and that's how it should be," said Carter after Sunday's game. "I still need to work on every part of my game. I don't think you ever stop working, and I do mean every aspect of the game."
Indianapolis entered the game at Tennessee having scored touchdowns on five consecutive red zone trips. The rate did not keep up against the Titans, though. Indianapolis scored on two of four trips inside the Tennessee 20-yard line. The two possessions that did not net points were influenced by the scoreboard. Tennessee was ahead in the fourth quarter, 27-10, in ending those Indianapolis drives. Both times in the final five minutes, quarterback Curtis Painter threw incomplete passes inside the Tennessee five-yard line as Indianapolis tried to rally from behind.
Carter and Brown (10 rushes, 33 yards, one touchdown) shared the backfield at Tennessee, while Addai was active but did not play. Carter and Brown were playing behind an offensive line that featured first-ever career starts for Seth Olsen at left guard and Mike Tepper at right guard. The Colts have been decimated along the offensive line this season, and Sunday marked the fifth different opening combination for the Indianapolis. Carter thought the team meshed to a pretty good extent.
"We did well. We moved the ball running throughout most of the game," said Carter. "I thought Donald (Brown) did well. I thought he and I were coordinated with the line, and we were able to do some things. They (the line) did their job. They stepped in and did their job. They helped out a lot."
Painter was starting his fifth consecutive game, and he completed 26-of-49 passes for 250 yards, while rushing for 79 yards on seven carries. The yardage was the most for a Colts quarterback since Bert Jones had 92 yards against the New York Jets on October 20, 1974, and it ranked in the top five single-game rushing totals in franchise history, unofficially the fourth-most.
Carter likes how Painter is maturing, and he believes the team is responding to Painter's leadership.
"The more he gets in there, the more comfortable he gets and the better he does," said Carter. "You see that week-to-week with him, and he's really working. Everybody respects him as a leader. He's going out there and leading well. Guys are responding to him well. He definitely gets us rallied up."
Prior to the Tennessee game, Head Coach Jim Caldwell spoke of Carter's on-field maturation.
"He is, I think, making pretty good progress, and steady strides," said Caldwell. "He's certainly getting a lot more familiar with playing in this league, and what it takes. He's been able to put some pretty good runs together. Just in terms of his pass protection and those kinds of things, he's been getting better each week."
Carter came in for praise from Caldwell for his mental growth, too.
"I think he's done well," said Caldwell. "It's not easy to play in this league, and certainly, the speed in which the game occurs, for a young guy sometimes it's very difficult to catch on and be able to do it consistently well. He's been able to function, and I think you'll just see that as time goes on he'll get a lot better, even with the limited amount of time that he's been with us."
Indianapolis hosts Atlanta next Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium. The club resumes divisional play on November 13 against Jacksonville. After an open date, Indianapolis hosts Carolina on November 27.