INDIANAPOLIS – During the past 13 seasons, Indianapolis Colts fans have witnessed two of the greatest quarterback-receiver tandems in NFL history.
Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison played pitch and catch from 1998 to 2008 and amassed voluminous numbers. Manning and Harrison teamed on 953 completions for 12,766 yards and 112 touchdowns in 158 games together. It represents the most completions, yards and touchdowns ever achieved by an NFL tandem.
Manning and Reggie Wayne from 2001 to the present have connected on 779 passes for 10,602 yards and 67 touchdowns in 157 games together. The completions and yards for any duo rank behind Manning's totals with Harrison for the most in history, while 67 scoring connections are the fourth-best NFL total.
In the last two weeks, Indianapolis fans have seen Curtis Painter start the first games of his career. Painter has done a solid job in those starts by completing 28-of-57 passes for 558 yards with four touchdowns and a passer rating of 107.2.
The third-year signal-caller's first two starts were only the fifth and sixth appearances of his career and while Colts fans were enthralled by Manning for years, they have seen Painter play admirably.
A large part of the success Painter has enjoyed is wide receiver Pierre Garcon. In his fourth season, Garcon has made numerous big plays previously in his career, and he has had two of his bigger games in Painter's starts.
In the second quarter against Tampa Bay two games ago, Indianapolis was faced with a second-and-three at its 13-yard line. Painter found Garcon on the sideline, and the fleet receiver was able to elude defenders to complete an 87-yard scoring play to put the club up, 10-0. After the Buccaneers tied the contest, Painter nudged the Colts ahead again midway through the third period when he hit Garcon on a short toss and the Mount Union product picked up blockers to complete a 59-yard scoring play.
The plays made Painter the fifth Colts quarterback to have two touchdown passes of 50 yards in the same game. He joined John Unitas, Bert Jones, Earl Morrall and Manning to accomplish the feat, with Manning doing so the last time in 2004. Garcon became the sixth Colts player with two 50 -yard touchdowns in the same game, joining Lenny Moore, Raymond Berry, Roger Carr, Harrison and Dominic Rhodes, with Harrison, Carr and Berry being the only ones to do it in the same contest via scoring receptions. Garcon's 146 reception yards at Tampa Bay also set a career single-game best.
The pair did not wait long to mesh last Sunday against Kansas City. The club moved goalward on an 80-yard march to open the game. After finding Garcon for nine yards early in the drive, Painter teamed with him on a six-yard toss to finish the march. The longest of the five completions on the game for the tandem came in the second quarter when they hooked up on a 67-yard scoring play to give Indianapolis a 17-0 lead.
Garcon had 125 reception yards against the Chiefs, and he was one of the reasons Painter has passed for 281 and 277 yards in his first two starts. It marks the only time in the club's Indianapolis era a quarterback has topped 250 passing yards in each of his first two career starts.
Muhammed Ali once said fights are won or lost far away from witnesses, in the gym, out on the road and long before he danced under lights. Manning and Harrison developed a part of their extreme chemistry in the 1999 off-season on the facility's practice fields – far away from the cheering. Painter and Garcon started grinding along in earnest during this year's lockout, and they did it under the cover of secrecy of workout sites all over town.
"We (he and Painter) worked out a lot. I guess it's paying off right now," said Garcon. "We did do a lot during our offseason. This was a big time for all of us. With the lockout, we just had more time to take advantage of us being together and throwing with each other. It's working out good for us I guess."
The pair were diligent workers during the spring and summer, and they joined teammates in keeping favorite spots under wraps.
"Sometimes, it would be three times a week, other times it was just once," said Painter. "It was kind of hit-or-miss. It kind of depended on our schedule at that point. It was just around (town), wherever we were doing things, just different fields. We did quite a bit. It made it easy when we both were in town. It was easy to get a hold of each other and throw a little bit. We had a lot of guys around doing things this summer."
Painter rarely got practice work previously during his career because Manning took most of the repetitions with the team. Painter appeared in the final two games of the 2009 season when the club was preparing for the playoffs, but he did not get game action in 2010. This off-season when Manning had a physical setback, Painter took more work than was planned, and it gave him more time with Garcon.
"Yeah, probably later on (in the lockout he got more work) just from the fact that it was just me and Peyton around here at that time," said Painter. "The guys needed somebody to throw to them. I guess that (his injury) did help probably getting a few more reps than I would have gotten."
Painter has benefited from the increased repetitions in practice after replacing an injured Kerry Collins in the third game against Pittsburgh. The last two weeks have aided his cause tremendously. Garcon likes Painter's throwing, even if he cannot account for the huge reception average.
"Curtis throws a good ball," said Garcon. "He throws it hard. It gets there. It's on a rope. It's coming hard every time. It's a perfect spiral. He's throwing it real good right now.
"I don't know (why the average is what it is), it's just coming together. Curtis is putting it there. The coaches are calling the right plays. Things are just clicking. I don't know what it is, it's just good luck."