INDIANAPOLIS – Making the first home start of his NFL career Sunday against Kansas City, any nerves quarterback Curtis Painter might have felt were not evident from the results of his opening drive.
Starting from the Indianapolis 20-yard line, Painter was a perfect five-for-five passing for 66 yards on the march.
Before exiting the Chiefs game with a hamstring injury, running back Joseph Addai sparked the beginning of the drive.
Addai touched the ball on the first four plays from scrimmage, including catching Painter's first pass of the game for six yards.
After a tripping penalty pushed the Colts back to their own 25-yard line and set up a second-and-17, Painter went to work through the air. He connected with wide receiver Pierre Garcon for a nine-yard gain on the first of what would be five catches on the day for the fourth-year pro.
Garcon's catch set up a third-and-eight which Painter converted, finding wide receiver Reggie Wayne for 19 yards. The completion moved the Colts into Kansas City territory at the 47-yard line.
Two plays later it was Painter to Wayne again, this time for 26 yards and it was even more impressive considering Wayne was interfered with on the play by Chiefs cornerback Brandon Carr.
Rookie running back Delone Carter had back-to-back runs for eight yards, and it set up another third down for the Colts.
Subbing back in for Carter, Addai ran behind right guard Mike Pollak for four yards. It was first-and-goal for Indianapolis from the eight-yard line.
Following a two-yard run from Addai, Garcon took a screen pass from Painter and went six yards for a touchdown to cap off the opening drive.
The drive took 12 plays with the Colts eating up nearly half of the first quarter clock (7:24). It was the longest Indianapolis drive of 2011 in terms of possession time, and it tied for second-longest for the number of scrimmage snaps. Last week against Tampa Bay, Painter and the Colts embarked on an 11-play drive that ended with an Adam Vinatieri field goal to open up the game.
"Any time you can do that you get in a little bit of a rhythm," Painter said. "We've been fortunate the last couple of weeks to have those drives. They've kind of been several plays and we've done a lot of things well to move the ball. Those have been huge and definitely get the offense into a rhythm."
One advantage Painter has had the past two weeks is taking a majority of the reps during weekly practice and not having to come off the bench to relieve a quarterback. That was the case in Painter's first 2011 appearance three weeks ago against Pittsburgh. Veteran starter Kerry Collins suffered a second half hit that necessitated that Painter finish the game. Painter led five game-ending drives in the club's 23-20 loss. The final possession was a one-snap chance after a late Pittsburgh field goal. Prior to that, however, he marched the club 80 yards on 10 plays for a game-tying touchdown. That was the first action for Painter since to relief appearances at the end of the 2009 season when the club was preparing for the playoffs.
"Well, obviously he's done a good job and he's not turning (the ball) over," Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said. "I think he's doing a great job in terms of getting the 'checks' started at the line of scrimmage. Obviously he threw the ball well (Sunday). Whatever the numbers say, he probably did a little better, because he had a few drops (from receivers) out there. This is one of the first times he's ever had just a complete week to prepare without sharing snaps with anyone. I think you can see the difference, and he just keeps getting a little better. Curtis is on a roll."
The past two weeks Garcon has been the big-play threat for Painter and the offense. He had two touchdowns on Sunday and was a part of four scoring drives the Colts had to open up the game.
"Starting off the game scoring the first drives gives the whole team confidence and opens up the playbook for us," Garcon said.
Center Jeff Saturday is the most experienced player on the Colts offense and he knows the importance of being in the middle of the action come Sundays. Saturday is pleased Painter is seeing more field action during the week and during games.
"Curtis is a good football player, a smart football player and he just needs reps like everybody," Saturday said. "If you look at football, the best players when they get on the field they get game action, live action and see the speed of the game. Those things make a big difference. I think Curtis has met the challenge, and I think he's played well enough to get us over the hump."