I saw Curtis Painter(notes) in Lucas Oil Stadium before most people did. Every year at the scouting combine, a group of reporters are allowed to go into the building during quarterback and receiver drills, and watch the prospective draftees go through their prescribed motions. The tradeoff is that you are assigned one quarterback and one receiver and you must write a pool report about each player. I drew Purdue's Painter and Oregon receiver Jaison Williams. Williams did nothing for me (or anyone else), but I liked a few things about Painter:
What really impressed me was his ability to gear his throws up or down based on the speed of the receiver he was throwing to. When you're throwing your two 12-yard comebacks or 30-yard go routes, each pass is to a different receiver, and the chances that you've ever thrown to him before are very slim. I liked Painter's ability to seemingly get a sense of a receiver's break off the line and adjust his throws accordingly. Of all the quarterbacks in the drills I saw, he has the fewest instances in which his receiver had to slow down or speed up to get the ball. I was less concerned about incompletions, because these aren't game conditions and those missed connections tend to be about 50/50 when it comes to who's at fault. Painter looked particularly good on the 30-yard post corner, which is known as the toughest route to throw for most guys.
Painter impressed the Colts enough for them to take him in the sixth round. What I never expected was to see Painter on the field against the New York Jets, without all the weapons Peyton Manning(notes) has available to him, when head coach Jim Caldwell decided to pull Manning in the third quarter. Painter had Indy's starting offensive line, but Reggie Wayne(notes) and Dallas Clark(notes) were quickly out of the picture, and Painter was left to try and decipher Rex Ryan's defense with half a gun in his holster.
Painter fumbled almost immediately, threw a pick that Lito Sheppard(notes) would have intercepted if Dwight Lowery(notes) didn't, and generally looked very much like the rookie he is. The Colts were up, 15-10, when Manning was pulled, and they never scored another point as the Jets went on to a 29-15 victory.
Manning became the fourth quarterback in NFL history to pass the 50,000-yard mark (I'm assuming that's the only reason he was in the game at all), but I have to wonder how this will affect the team's momentum going forward.
Chris Chase will be along soon with the full-game analysis, but in the larger sense, I'm a firm believer in the notion that there are no meaningless games. "Uncle Mo" can mean a lot. The Colts may have outsmarted themselves here.