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Indianapolis Colts fans must ask themselves today whether they see the glass as 15/16ths empty or 1/16th full.
The season is lost. You don't start 0-4, as the Colts stand now after their 24-17 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday night in Tampa, and end up in the playoffs. You especially don't do it with Peyton Manning in the coaches' box and offensive and defensive linemen taking three seasons' worth of hits in one month. Right now, I'm a 15/16ths empty kind of guy.
Watching the Colts from here on out will be much like watching defensive tackle Eric Foster's ankle injury. You'll look. You'll wince. You'll make this visceral sound of empathy over the pain. Then you'll look away in search of more pleasant images.
Here's what I saw Monday night from my home a good thousand miles north of Tampa, after learning that Hank Williams Jr. had committed theme-song suicide:
I saw Colts whipping boy Curtis Painter play more than halfway respectable at quarterback. He moved the offense with a lot more vigor, urgency and control than Kerry Collins. He looked like he knew what he was doing, even if his fleeting accuracy didn't always let him finish.
Painter threw two big touchdown passes to Pierre Garcon and some well-placed passes to Reggie Wayne (one phenomenal catch illustrating the art of concentration) and Austin Collie (one great diving catch illustrating a great diving catch).
Painter is no Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay's 6-foot-6 mega-quarterback who can pass or run and never lose his cool while appearing to be the prototype for future NFL quarterbacks. He's big, strong and fearless under pressure. He threw for 287 yards and a score, and ran for a score.
But Painter played well enough. He fumbled again when hit unexpectedly (unsolicited tip to Painter: start expecting it) but later held onto the ball when Tampa Bay starting bringing what seemed like a dozen defenders through the Colts leaky offensive line.
“I like what Painter's done,” ESPN analyst Jon Gruden said from the broadcast booth. “He's reading the defense, he's changing protection, he's changing patterns.”
By all means, keep Painter in there. His first touchdown pass to Garcon was 87 yards, longer by a yard than Manning's career longest. Painter deserves a shot at home against the Kansas City Chiefs this week, too, even if Collins returns to the active roster.
Painter's numbers (13-of-30 passing for 281 yards, a pair of scores and a 99.4 passer rating) won't make him an adopted Manning, but it's a good start.
I saw the Colts offensive line take a major blow when left tackle Anthony Castonzo went out with an ankle injury and his replacement Ben Ijalana also got banged up. Ryan Diem was already out and Jeff Saturday was left wondering why he spent the summer saving football if this is the luck it brought him.
Colts offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen, presumably with coach Jim Caldwell's blessing, called one particularly baffling play. Faced with a third-and-one near midfield, the Colts went with a play fake and an attempted pass. That's the time you exert your testosterone and power for the first down. Tampa had no trouble with that approach.
I saw the Colts' defense, other than ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis and middle maniac linebacker Pat Angerer, play way too soft in way too many situations. I'm far from an expert at dissecting defenses, but Gruden is and it seemed as if he could not understand Colts defensive coordinator Larry Coyer's plan on embracing what looked like a game-long prevent defense.
I saw a pickup truck driving through the Colts defense. It said “Blount” on the back.
I saw Freeman engineer the game-winning drive, sacrificing his body before ultimately sending LeGarrette Blount into the heart of the Colts defense for a powerful score.
I saw the Colts secondary, and most of those times they were coming up short with their touch tackles. David Caldwell will not want to watch his almost-interception in the end zone very often. I know I don't.
Finally, I saw Foster get trapped awkwardly under another Colts player and watched as his foot appeared to be spun around backward. The official diagnosis was “dislocated ankle.” The unofficial diagnosis, for those of us old enough to remember, was “Joe Theismann flashback.” Foster grimaced but still showed enthusiasm in exhorting his teammates as he was carted off the field. This is a team with good chemistry, if a poor record.
Watching the Foster injury – which ESPN refrained from repeatedly showing -- made me wince, groan and look away. I'm fairly certain that sequence will be repeated on a broader scale for approximately 12 more weeks of Colts games.
This is going to be a season of baby steps for the Colts. By late this coming Sunday afternoon, if they perform well against the Chiefs, I just might see the glass as 1/8th full.