The Colts are finding it every bit as difficult to win without Peyton Manning as they suspected it might be.
Still, star defensive Dwight Freeney says that doesn’t mean the team doesn’t expect to successful.
“No team that’s 0-3 is in a great mood. But it’s not as bad as people may think it is, based on the fact that we have confidence in what we do,” Freeney said. “We have confidence that we can get some things done and still win these games. All it takes is a few plays here and there, and all of a sudden the tide has changed.”
With Manning still recovering from offseason neck surgery, the Colts are off to their worst start since 1998. They face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-1) on Monday night.
Third-year quarterback Curtis Painter will make his first NFL start for Indianapolis, replacing the injured Kerry Collins, who is recovering from concussion-like symptoms.
The Colts have not ruled out the possibility of Manning returning late this season. In the meantime, they’re determined to rally around the other quarterbacks on the roster.
“We have confidence in the guys we have and that we’ll come up with some type of solution to start doing things somewhat of how we did before. We believe in the system and how we do things. Unfortunately (Manning) is not here, but that’s football. Those things happen,” Freeney said.
“I have confidence in any guy we have back there. People have a misconception of quarterbacks. … Their success is based on more positions doing what they need to do correctly. The offensive line has to block for them. The receivers have to run good routes. … So many things are important. It’s not all their fault when things don’t work, and it’s not all them when it does work. It’s a collective thing, a team thing.”
Painter came off the bench to complete 5 of 11 passes for 60 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions in a 23-20 loss to Pittsburgh. Freeney led a strong defensive effort, sacking Ben Roethlisberger twice and forcing a fumble that Jamaal Anderson returned for a touchdown against the Steelers.
Collins did not practice this week and is listed as questionable. Painter is excited about the challenge of facing a Bucs defense coming off its best performance of the season in a 16-13 win over Atlanta.
“Obviously he played a little bit last week, and I think he’s the kind of guy who will respond very well. Curtis is a tough-minded guy who has ability,” Indianapolis coach Jim Caldwell said. “The best remedy for any situation that’s a little bit out of the ordinary, and where you’re facing some adversity, is to be truthful and to just kind of lay it out on the table. We just told our team, Peyton’s not here and whomever we have at quarterback is not going to be able to do the same things he’s able to do.”
“When you think about it, it’s a guy who’s been in this system his entire career, knows it like the back of his hand. Then when you couple it with the fact that he’s literally brilliant, there’s not going to be too many people who can do exactly what he does within this system. It’s grown and developed around him, so we’ve had to take a little different path.”
The Bucs have won two straight following a season-opening loss to Detroit. Although they’re catching the Colts without Manning, they insist they won’t take anything for granted.
“They’re not that dominant team right now, but you don’t want them to get right against us,” Tampa Bay cornerback Ronde Barber said. “We’re trying to make this about us. This has got to a launching platform for us. … They’re definitely a different team without Peyton, but we’re still going to prepare for them like they’re the team that’s dominated the NFL for years.”
Bucs coach Raheem Morris agreed.
“I don’t think we’ve had any walkover-type victories. That’s not our mentality. We go into games and we treat everybody the same. We got to get ready for the Colts system that has won over 10 games for the last decade or so,” Morris said.
“You’re talking about a system of coaches who have been together. You’re talking about two defensive ends who can absolutely ruin a game. … There’s nothing to say that the Colts can not win a football game, or win multiple football games, the rest of the season.”