INDIANAPOLIS – The ability to forget the last play is a trait all NFL players must cultivate, and quickly.
It is an easy thing to say but it is difficult thing to do. The fortitude to bounce back from a mistake that potentially could cost your team a game is a sign of resiliency.
Playing in his first NFL regular season game since 2009, quarterback Curtis Painter entered Sunday night's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers with 12:10 remaining in the fourth quarter and the score knotted at 13.
Following a pair of punts by both the Steelers and the Colts, Painter and the offense took over at the Indianapolis 18-yard line with 6:03 on the clock.
On a second-and-three, Painter was sacked from his blind side by Pro Bowl linebacker James Harrison and fellow Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu picked up the forced fumble and returned it 16 yards for a touchdown to give the Steelers a 20-13 lead.
With their backup quarterback under center and having misfired on his first three attempts of the evening, any hope of a Colts comeback probably looked to be small in the minds of some observers. But that is when Painter showed the strength that is essential to succeed in the NFL.
Starting from the 20-yard line, Painter led the Colts offense down the field hitting on five-of- seven passes for 60 yards in a drive that was capped off by a six-yard Joseph Addai touchdown run with 2:09 left in the game.
Addai started the game-tying touchdown drive with a three-yard gain, and that was followed by back-to-back Painter completions to tight end Brody Eldridge and wide receiver Austin Collie.
The third-down completion to Collie gave the Colts some much needed life because the team's previous 13 points in the game were set up largely or created wholly by the defense.
On a first-and-10 from his own 30-yard line, Painter placed a perfect sideline throw into the outstretched hands of wide receiver Pierre Garcon for 27 yards.
The career-long pass of 27 yards was followed up two plays later by another connection to Garcon, this time on an out pattern for 18 yards. The play set the Colts up with a first-and-10 at the Steelers 25-yard line.
The running game, which had been beneficial all night averaging 4.6 yards a carry, once again came through as Addai ripped off a first-down run of 11 yards to move the Colts inside the red zone.
This marked the third trip in the red zone for the Colts offense against Pittsburgh. Indianapolis, however, had settled for two Adam Vinatieri field goals in the first half.
The third time proved to be the charm. Following an incompletion to Reggie Wayne, Painter found Garcon for the third time on the drive, this time for eight yards to the Pittsburgh six. On the ensuing play, Addai took the handoff and scampered six yards into the end zone tying the game at 20 with 2:09 remaining. The burst ended the clutch march directed by Painter.
"That was huge for me just to kind of get into a rhythm and big for us at the time to tie the game up," Painter said on Monday. "That was a successful drive and good for us to cap it off there at the end."
The Steelers were able to then milk all but four seconds of the clock before kicking the game-winning field goal. Painter was itching to get back on the field and orchestrate one more scoring drive.
"That was kind of the hope all along we would get one more shot at it," Painter said. "Looking back you hope you do a couple things right earlier (then) you don't have to be in that situation."
In the last two weeks the Colts have had to settle for five field goals in the red zone, but the touchdown drive is something to build on heading into a Monday Night contest against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"I think it helped all of our (the offense) confidence," guard Mike Pollak said. "Our drives kind of stopped the whole second half and we weren't really putting good third downs together. I think that drive helped not only Curtis' but all of our confidence."
Instead of struggling after the fumble on the previous drive, Painter marched the Colts 80 yards on 10 plays in 3:04 against the defending AFC Champions.
"After that (the fumble) he came back and I think did a nice job," head coach Jim Caldwell said. "He moved the ball well, made some nice throws, certainly managed the game well. He was able to take us down 80 yards and get that thing the end zone, which was a heck of a job. I think he did pretty well in particular not having very many reps in preparation for the game."