Panthers-Colts Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated November 23, 2011
Despite getting pulled in the fourth quarter of the team's last two games, Curtis Painter will make his eighth consecutive start for the Indianapolis Colts. However, the team's best long-term solution to replace injured quarterback Peyton Manning may be the top pick in next year's draft. The Carolina Panthers were just in that position, but the addition of rookie quarterback Cam Newton hasn't solved all their problems. Coming off their bye, the Colts will try to avoid their first 0-11 start in 25 years Sunday when they face a Panthers team looking to end a franchise-record 12-game road losing streak. Painter, who served as Manning's back-up in each of the last two seasons, has been the Colts' starter since former Panther Kerry Collins suffered a season-ending concussion against Pittsburgh on Sept. 25. Painter has been far from impressive in the starting role, completing just 55.2 percent of his passes with five TDs - none in the last four games - and seven INTs. The Colts have 398 total yards, 10 points and run only one play inside the red zone in the last two contests. "I think everybody's a little disappointed with the season," Painter said following a 17-3 home loss to Jacksonville on Nov. 13. "I think, looking at myself, I'm just disappointed in the last couple of games and kind of how I've performed. I know that I need to continue to improve and get better. I think we're all a little disappointed, but we'll keep fighting for sure.'' While coach Jim Caldwell announced Wednesday that Painter will start instead of Dan Orlovsky as the team tries to avoid its worst start since opening 0-13 in 1986, the Colts already have an eye on the April draft. Indianapolis has a two-game "lead" for the league's worst record and the No. 1 pick, which likely will be Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. In his radio show last week, Colts vice chairman Bill Polian said he's spoken with Manning - sidelined all season following his third next surgery in 19 months on Sept. 8 - about using a high pick on a quarterback and that the four-time MVP understood. "The bottom line is that if the right person is there, and it has to be the right person, then now is the time to make that choice,'' Polian said on his show. The Panthers couldn't have been more pleased to choose Newton No. 1 overall in 2011 after ranking last in offense last season with 258.4 yards per game. However, simply putting last season's Heisman Trophy winner under center has not been enough for the team to make major strides. In fact, Carolina is just one game ahead of last season's pace when it finished 2-14. The team could be in danger of equaling that mark if its defense doesn't improve. The Panthers have yielded 79 points over the last two weeks after getting outscored 35-8 in the second half of Sunday's 49-35 loss at Detroit. "You play the second half the way we did, you're going to get beat," coach Ron Rivera said after the Panthers set franchise records by allowing 29 first downs and 495 yards. Indianapolis' inexperienced offensive line has already allowed 21 sacks - five more than in 2010 - but Carolina's ability to pressure Painter could be severely impacted if Charles Johnson (shoulder) can't go. The defensive end has seven of the team's 19 sacks. The Colts, meanwhile, are tied with Tampa Bay for the second-fewest sacks in the league with 15. Getting pressure on Newton could help limit the effectiveness of wide receiver Steve Smith, who is 124 yards shy of 10,000, but the Panthers quarterback has proven effective when he gets out of the pocket. Newton ran for two scores Sunday and has a rookie-record nine rushing TDs. The league mark of 12 was set by New England's Steve Grogan in 1976. The Colts are 0-2 at home in this matchup and have as many losses at Lucas Oil Stadium this season (5) as the last three combined, yet the Panthers are winless outside Charlotte since beating the New York Giants on Dec. 27, 2009. Indianapolis improved to 1-3 in this series with a 31-7 victory on Oct. 28, 2007.
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