INDIANAPOLIS – Third-year pro Curtis Painter made his first career start for the Colts on Monday night at Tampa Bay.
Painter directed the club's offense to 318 net yards and struck twice on scoring passes, but Indianapolis fell in Raymond James Stadium to Tampa Bay, 24-17.
Painter started after 17-year veteran Kerry Collins opened the first three games of the season. Collins was not active because of an injury against Pittsburgh in week three and Painter was named the starter for the Tampa Bay game late last week.
Painter completed 13-of-30 passes for 281 yards and two touchdowns. He helped get the Colts into a 10-point first-half lead, but Tampa Bay was able to nibble into the lead by halftime, cutting the score to 10-7.
The Buccaneers were able to control the ball effectively over the last three periods. Tampa Bay had the ball for 32:31 of the final 45:00 minutes, tying the contest at 17-17 late in the third quarter before moving ahead with 3:15 left. One final Colts possession ended with 2:46 left, and Tampa Bay was able to drain the final time off the clock.
Painter started the game off in impressive fashion, hitting three-of-six passes for 36 yards. He drove the Colts to the Buccaneers 27, where kicker Adam Vinatieri hit a 45-yard field goal 4:34 into the game. It was the club's first score on an opening drive this season.
"We did some things well, obviously, made some big plays and had a good first drive," said Painter. "We went down and got some points on the board. We would have liked to make a few more plays throughout the course of the game to keep drives going. There some good things and things we need to keep working on."
Indianapolis went into the game missing right guard Ryan Diem for the second consecutive week. Starting left tackle and first-round draft pick Anthony Castonzo exited the contest early with an injury, and he did not return. Ben Ijalana, the club's second-round pick, subbed for Castonzo before being felled as well. Jeff Linkenbach moved from right tackle to left tackle to finish the contest. The club produced as well as it could with the only veteran presence on the line coming from 13-year pro Jeff Saturday at center.
"You never like to see injuries, but I think the guys came in and did a pretty good job," said Painter. "Hopefully those guys will get healed up soon and we an get back to having them in. They absolutely battled hard for us. That's the thing with this team, no matter who's in there, they're going to battle hard. Guys came in and did good jobs for us."
Painter was the 10th different player to start his first career game at quarterback during the club's Indianapolis era. The last signal-caller to make a career-opening start was Peyton Manning in September of 1998. Manning is on the active roster but is recovering from neck surgery this past May. Seventh-year pro Dan Orlovsky, signed this past week after being with the club in training camp, was Painter's back-up at Tampa Bay.
Of the 10 quarterbacks making a first career start for the club since 1984, Painter made a bid to join only Chris Chandler (1988) to make the first start a winning effort. Painter struck for two long touchdown passes to stake the club to 10-0 and 17-10 leads. From his own two-yard line with 10:14 remaining in the second quarter, Painter moved the club 11 yards in two plays, then found wide receiver Pierre Garcon down the right sideline on an 87-yard touchdown strike. The catch-and-run marked the fifth-longest touchdown pass in club history, and the longest of the team's era in Indianapolis. Only John Unitas and Bert Jones had touchdown passes longer than the Painter-to-Garcon effort.
After Tampa Bay tied the contest at 10-10 early in the third quarter, Painter teamed with Garcon again on a short screen pass. Garcon picked up blocks initially by some linemen, then maneuvered down the field with assistance of blocks by tight end Dallas Clark and wide receiver Reggie Wayne to complete a 59-yard scoring play. The quick strike put the club up by seven points again midway through the third quarter.
The play made Painter the fifth Colts quarterback to have two touchdown passes of 50 yards in the same game. In addition to Unitas and Jones, Earl Morrall and Manning were the other two players to accomplish the feat, with Manning doing so the last time in 2004.
"Just getting it those guys' hands and letting them make plays is huge," said Painter. "He (Garcon) had a couple of big plays that helped out tremendously. For the most part, we did pretty well with timing with him and everybody. Those definitely were big plays (to Garcon). We had the right play called on the first touchdown. On the second touchdown, he made a heck of a play, hats off to the offense for blocking downfield. They did a good job to make that play go."
Indianapolis mounted one more scoring threat in the fourth quarter. Painter guided the team from its 23 to the Tampa Bay 25, but Vinatieri was wide left on a 43-yard field goal.
The Colts were able to rush for 62 yards on 18 attempts, a 3.4 average. Tampa Bay had success early with blitzes and sacked Painter four times.
"I think they (Tampa Bay) mixed things pretty well and kept us on our toes," said Painter. "For the most part, guys did a good job with protections with the defenses we saw."
While Painter would have liked for the outcome to be different, he knows the nature of his teammates and the focus they will have going forward.
"We're scratching for a win here. I think everyone is playing hard," said Painter. "That's one thing about our team, I don't think we're going to quit. We're going to continue to battle. Hopefully we'll get one (a win) the next week.
"Yes, definitely (it was a building block). I will continue to get better, fix my mistakes and keep building. As far as experience goes, this was good for me. Whatever the situation is (for starting next week), it was good for me. I will prepare this week and put myself in a position to help this team, whatever that role is."