INDIANAPOLIS – Curtis Painter is like any quarterback who is starting at the toughest position in sports for the first extended period of time.
There will be high moments and ones that will be improved upon with diligent work.
On Sunday against Atlanta, Painter was 13-of-27 passing for 98 yards with an interception. He directed the team into the fourth quarter of a 31-7 defeat before a wave of players being substituted into the lineup by Head Coach Jim Caldwell resulted in him being a spectator for the last three offensive possessions.
The move was in no way a permanent one, it came at the end of a day that was difficult for the entire team. Indianapolis was out-gained by Atlanta, 432-186. The Falcons had 37:46 time of possession and controlled the game after getting 21 early points following a Colts fumble and two long scoring passes.
The tilted nature of the scoreboard made it a tough, uphill fight for the Colts over the game's final 40 minutes. Painter forged on, however, and he will keep doing so as the club tries to make a more positive impact over the season's final seven games.
"The last few games, we're doing things well," said Painter. "At times, there are just a few things that are setting us back. It's a lot of things necessarily people don't see. On one particular play, we might have everybody doing the right thing and it might be a five- or six-yard run. We're still doing things positive. We're getting a good completion on third down or something, but every now and then we have things that kind of set us back in a drive. Those are obviously the things that everybody sees. In here, we're still seeing both sides of it, trying to build on the good and correct the other."
One theme for the team this season has been encountering large deficits early in games. The Atlanta game was the third consecutive outing Indianapolis fell behind by at least 20 points in the opening half. The Colts fell behind at Tennessee a week ago in the first half, 20-0. The prior week the team fell behind at New Orleans, 31-0, in the game's first 25 minutes. In the opener at Houston, Indianapolis surrendered 34 first-half points in falling. The team's offense in those situations could not match the opposing point totals.
Painter is resolute in maintaining an even-keeled approach. Though some could misinterpret the style, he maintains it unwaveringly and looks to correct areas that need fixing.
"I don't think it concerns me much," said Painter on the large deficits encountered lately. "We still look at the games and think we're doing some things positive, we're just kind of missing in a few areas. It's still things we can control and we can correct, so that's positive. If it were something we had no control over, that would be more upsetting. We really feel we have control over it, and we'll just have to get back to work and get those (problems) fixed. We definitely recognize those things (areas of strengths and problems), and we're trying to build on them each week and trying to get better. That's really at this point all we can do, go back to work and keep fighting as hard as we can to get better."
In competition if a player plays long enough, there could come a time when a won-loss record falls short of the aspirations headed into a certain season. That is the case for Painter and others in the locker room now, and he knows how to act on it.
"You look for the guys around you, the teammates around you. We have a really good locker room here," said Painter. "I've said it before, we have incredible veteran support and leadership. Obviously, it's disappointing, but every loss is. Whether we're 12-1 or where we are now, you need to have somewhat of a short memory and kind of bounce back and focus on the week ahead. There's something to learn from the previous week, but try to move forward and stay as positive as you can."
When asked if he looked at this week's game with Jacksonville as a 'winnable' game based on the Jaguars' 2-6 mark, Painter stated the team looks at every game with the same mindset.
"I think we've looked at a lot of games (that way)," said Painter. We go into every game thinking we have an opportunity. Certainly this one is important for us, a division game. We need to get one here soon, and that's what we're leaning on."
Painter never has engaged in a contest with Jacksonville, but he has seen first-hand the competitive nature of the series that typically has games being decided by a small margin and in the waning seconds. He anticipates nothing but the usual for this Sunday against a talented division foe.
"It has (been very competitive)," said Painter. "The few years I've been here I've witnessed a lot of close games with them. They're always a team that always plays hard, and it's always a close game. It will be fun to be involved in it."
The 0-9 record has made the season a tough time, but Painter sees nothing but unity and purpose in his teammates.
"We've got a lot of great guys around here," said Painter. "Guys who understand, the veterans are doing a good job. It's a great thing that everyone is sticking together. We're not in the habit of pointing fingers or doing anything like that. We're a team and we're in this together."
One player who can identify with Painter is seventh-year veteran Dan Orlovsky. Orlovsky has appeared in relief of Painter twice in the last three weeks in the fourth quarter. He was a young quarterback with Detroit earlier in his career, and he played on a couple of teams that had difficult records. Orlovsky started seven of 10 games in 2008 with the Lions, and he knows the rigors of the game for a young quarterback. He believes Painter is holding up well.
"It's hard to play quarterback in this league. That's why there's only 32 of them," said Orlovsky. "It's a unique thing to be good at. For the most part, even the guys who end up being really, really good players in this league struggle at some point. I know what he's (Painter) going through. When I had my opportunity to play I had some ups and some downs. It's a big part of the process. You have to learn from your mistakes. You have to correct them in your own game. You have to stay positive. Guys on the team need to see you as their leader."
During the Atlanta game, tight ends Dallas Clark (lower leg) and Brody Eldridge (hand) suffered injuries. The injuries for both Clark and Eldridge need further evaluation, and Caldwell indicated their participation for this Sunday is not likely.
"They are still being evaluated (with) some MRI's and things of that nature," said Caldwell. "In both cases, I think both guys have sustained some pretty significant injuries. We'll have a report on that when we get the final findings. What I mean by that is (each could be out) more than a week or so. We'll see what happens here in the next few days."