INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — All Kerry Collins really wants is a chance to make things right.
He's been studying the playbook, refining the timing with receivers, getting acclimated to shotgun formations and Indianapolis' no-huddle offense. By Sunday, the Colts quarterback hopes all of his overtime will help him make a better impression in his home debut with the Colts.
"I feel more and more comfortable every day running the offense, making decisions," Collins said Wednesday. "It (more practice) is really going to help me, no question. We just have to keep grinding away and get better than we were last week."
Hey, it couldn't get much worse.
The Colts were manhandled by AFC South rival Houston in their opener last Sunday, losing 34-7 in a flat, mistake-filled outing that has fans wondering if Indy will win at all without Peyton Manning. The Colts went scoreless in the first half for the first time since September 2008, the last time Manning was recovering from an injury. And though Collins wound up with decent passing numbers at Houston -- 16 of 31, 197 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions and a higher quarterback rating than Houston's Matt Schaub -- they paled in comparison to the glaring miscues.
Behind a revamped offensive line, Collins was sacked twice in the first quarter. He lost two fumbles in less than 15 minutes, both inside the Colts' 20 and both of which led to Houston touchdowns. The Colts recovered Collins' third fumble, in the second half, and the Colts were left with their first single-digit point total in a meaningful game since a 20-3 playoff loss at New England in January 2005.
Nobody expected Collins to be Manning, but few expected this kind of start, either.
It's led to a hot debate about whether Collins -- or anyone other than Indy's four-time MVP -- should be replaced as soon as possible. Maybe with former Jacksonville quarterback David Garrard or retired Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer. Others simply hope Manning will return from his latest neck surgery by mid-November, the short end of the projected recovery. Colts vice chairman Bill Polian said during his weekly radio show that the Colts would keep Manning on the active roster unless doctors rule him out for the season.
A few fans have even suggested the Colts tank the season so they can draft Manning's eventual heir in April. They're hoping to get Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.
Collins and teammates have ignored the comments, focusing instead on trying to get things right against Cleveland on Sunday.
"We played about as bad as we could play offensively," Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday said. "We really didn't give ourselves a chance to get drives going, and when we did get drives going, we got penalties. I know what we did. I watched the film. I know what we can do, and I know we need to get better."
Collins, a two-time Pro Bowler and former Super Bowl starter, is trying to get up to speed quickly.
Coach Jim Caldwell said the 38-year-old quarterback, now in his 17th NFL season, has been cramming relentlessly since the Colts brought him out of retirement Aug. 24. He arrives early in the morning, works all day and stays late at night.
Before Sunday's opener, however, Collins had less than a dozen practices with his new teammates, which forced the Colts to adjust. Instead of running the usual no-huddle offense, one of Manning's trademarks, the Colts slowed things down.
Collins did look better as the game wore on, and with six more workouts this week, perhaps the offense will start to look more normal by Sunday. At least that's the hope in Indy.
"I think it's huge. The more confidence he gets, the better we get as an offense," tight end Dallas Clark said. "Everyone needs to focus individually on their effort and if everyone improves collectively, then we'll improve as an offense."
It starts with Collins, who blamed himself for not taking care of the ball at Houston.
Collins lost the first fumble when Houston's Antonio Smith blind-sided him. On the Colts' next offensive play, Collins dropped the snap and Houston recovered again. The Texans quickly converted both turnovers into touchdowns, putting Indy in a quick 17-0 hole. Indy never recovered.
"I know he'll be more comfortable and have a little better grasp of things," Caldwell said. "There were some things he did well, but I think it's not just him. It's a number of guys who will show the kind of improvement we need."
Whether it was the blocking scheme, the new offensive line, a philosophical change or not enough time to get Collins acclimated, Colts fans expect to see a better performance this week.
And Collins intends to meet those expectations in his first home game as Manning's replacement.
"We'll improve, we have to improve," Collins said. "There were too many mistakes, too many turnovers. You know any kind of start would be better than what we had last week."
Note: The Colts signed linebacker Nate Triplett to the active roster and added linebacker Caleb Campbell to the practice squad Wednesday. Indy was looking for reinforcements after defensive captain Gary Brackett (shoulder) and backup linebacker Ernie Sims (sprained knee) were ruled out of Sunday's game by Caldwell. Triplett was a fifth-round draft pick of the Vikings in 2010. Campbell was a seventh-round pick of the Detroit Lions in 2008 and played in three games with the Lions last season.