The Colts had placed their franchise tag on star quarterback Peyton Manning before the season started but he sat out the entire season due to neck surgery. The Colts turned to retired quarterback Kerry Collins and then to Curtis Painter, neither of whom could fill Manning’s void. The team finished the season with a 2-14 record, the worst regular season record by a Colts team since 1991, and failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 2001.
The Colts were the first team in NFL history to come off nine straight playoff appearances, and then start the following season 0-13. The Colts were the first team to start 0-13 since the 2008 Detroit Lions; it equalled the worst start in franchise history set in 1986. Their 2-14 record meant that, since the NFL moved to a sixteen game season in 1978, the Colts had suffered the most seasons with three or fewer wins (six in 1981, 1986, 1991, 1997, 1998 and 2011, plus a winless strike-shortened season in 1982) of any NFL franchise.
With their week seventeen loss at the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Colts ended their 2011 season tied with the St. Louis Rams for the worst record in the NFL, thereby earning the right to the first overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft due to a tiebreaker. This pick is the highest draft pick the Colts had had since 1998, when they selected Peyton Manning with the first overall pick. This is also the fourth time the Indianapolis era Colts have had the first overall pick. Along with the week seventeen loss, the Jaguars are the first division rival to sweep the Colts since the Tennessee Titans did so in 2002. This was the first season ever when the Jaguars swept the Colts as division rivals, and became the only team to do so this season after the Colts won their only two games at home against the Texans (0-10 in Indy) and Titans.
In week seven, the New Orleans Saints walloped the Colts 62-7, the most lopsided game of the 2011 NFL season and the first time a team had allowed 60 or more points since January 2000.
The Colts offense had weakened rapidly in 2011. They were 30th in the league in yards gained (compared to 4th in 2010), 27th in passing yards (compared to 1st in 2010), 29th in receiving yards (compared to 2nd in 2010), 28th in scoring (compared to 4th in 2010), and 28th in total touchdowns (compared to 2nd in 2010).
The Colts set a dubious NFL record on pass defense, by allowing 71.2% completed passes by opposing passers.
On January 2, 2012, one day after the final game of the season, Colts owner Jim Irsay fired team Vice Chairman Bill Polian and his son, team Vice President and general manager Chris Polian. Irsay stated that the fate of head coach Jim Caldwell was still under review. On January 17, 2012, Irsay announced the firing of Caldwell as the head coach of the Colts. On March 7, 2012, Manning was released by the Colts. These moves marked the first major rebuilding of the team since the Polians had joined the team.
The Indianapolis Colts began their 2011 season at Reliant Stadium against the Houston Texans. For the first time since the 1998 season, Peyton Manning was not under the helm at quarterback and it was recently acquired Kerry Collins that would take his position. The game started very well for the Colts, opening up with an interception by Melvin Bullitt that allowed the Colts to take control. However, a three and out from the offense quickly gave the Texans the ball to drive down and score a field goal and take a 3–0 lead. Collins and the Colts offense was out of sync for much of the first quarter, fumbling two snaps and giving Houston the great field position inside of the Indianapolis 40-yard line. After the first quarter, the Texans held a commanding 17–0 lead and were firing on all cylinders. The second quarter continued Houston’s dominance, with all three teams of the Colts failing to stop or to execute against the Texans. At halftime, the Colts trailed Houston 34–0, the largest deficit in the entire 58-year history of the franchise. The second half saw little action with both teams taking shorter drives and in some senses, running down the clock. The Colts scored their first and the only points scored in the second half with a Reggie Wayne touchdown from Collins in the fourth quarter. The Colts went onto lose to the Texans 34–7, their second straight season starting 0–1.
The Indianapolis Colts home opener had their 2011 home opener against the 0–1 Cleveland Browns. The first quarter saw both teams getting into offensive and defensive rhythms and ended with the Colts holding only a 3–0 lead on an Adam Vinatieri field goal. Heading to the second quarter, the Colts offense began to pick up behind Kerry Collins, rookie Delone Carter, and Joseph Addai. However much of the success faded once Indianapolis reached the red zone, and were only able to come away with two field goals during the quarter. Cleveland, however, was able to capitalize on the Colts defense, and saw a touchdown pass from Colt McCoy and a touchdown run from Peyton Hillis. Cleveland went into halftime with a 14–9 lead. The Indianapolis defense was able to stop Cleveland for most of the third quarter, and allowed the struggling offensive to close the gap with a fourth Vinatieri field goal, with Cleveland still holding a 14–12 lead into the fourth quarter. Cleveland quickly drove down the field and started the quarter with a Phil Dawson field goal, allowing the Colts to remain in contention for the victory. However, after turnovers and an inability to produce on offense, Cleveland broke the game open with a Hillis touchdown run, along with another Dawson field goal with 2:59 remaining in the game. With Cleveland holding a 27–12 lead, Indianapolis was able to score their first touchdown of the game, allowing them to try an onside kick to preserve any chance of a comeback, which they were not able to convert. Cleveland finished the game and the Colts by winning 27–19, their first victory over the Colts since 1994, and the Colts first 0–2 start since the 1998 season.
Hoping to rebound from their loss to the Cleveland Browns, the Indianapolis Colts remained at home for a week three intra-conference matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night. Indianapolis trailed early in the first quarter as Steelers kicker Shaun Suisham got a 48-yard field goal, followed by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger completing an 81-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Mike Wallace. The Colts would answer in the second quarter with a 21-yard field goal from kicker Adam Vinatieri, followed by defensive end Jamaal Anderson returning a fumble, forced by Dwight Freeney, 47 yards for a touchdown. Another defensive turnover allowed the Colts and Vinatieri to score a 25-yard field goal, giving them a 13–10 lead at halftime. After a scoreless third quarter, Pittsburgh took the lead in the fourth quarter with a Suisham 44-yard field goal, followed by safety Troy Polamalu returning a fumble 16 yards for a touchdown. Indianapolis would tie the game again on running back Joseph Addai’s 6-yard touchdown run with 2:15 remaining in the game. However, the Steelers were able to capture the win with a final 38-yard field goal from Suisham, dropping the Colts to 0–3.
Hoping to rebound from their home loss to the Steelers, the Colts flew to Raymond James Stadium for a Week 4 Monday night duel with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. With quarterback Kerry Collins recovering from concussion, quarterback Curtis Painter would make his first career start. Indianapolis delivered the game’s opening punch in the first quarter with a 45-yard field goal from kicker Adam Vinatieri. The Colts would add onto their lead in the second quarter with Painter finding wide receiver Pierre Garçon on an 87-yard touchdown pass, yet the Buccaneers answered with quarterback Josh Freeman getting a 1-yard touchdown run. Tampa Bay would tie the game in the third quarter with kicker Connor Barth getting a 46-yard field goal, yet Indianapolis came right back with Painter hooking up Garçon again on a 59-yard touchdown pass. Afterwards, the Buccaneers tied the game with Freeman completing a 13-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Preston Parker. Tampa Bay would take the lead in the fourth quarter with running back LeGarrette Blount getting a 35-yard touchdown run. From there, the defense prevented any comeback from the Colts’ offense. With the loss, the Colts dropped to 0–4.
After dropping their first four games of the season, the Indianapolis Colts came back to Lucas Oil Stadium to take on the Kansas City Chiefs. They game opened well for the Colts, who scored on their opening drive with another Curtis Painter to Pierre Garçon touchdown reception. In the second quarter, the Colts were able to rack up the score with an Adam Vinatieri field goal, and another Painter to Garçon touchdown, giving Indianapolis a 17–0 lead midway through the second quarter. A Kansas City touchdown pass from Matt Cassel ended the shutout but Indianapolis was able to score another touchdown later. A late Kansas City touchdown allowed the Colts to go into halftime with a 24–14 lead. Two touchdown passes from Cassel to Dwayne Bowe and Steve Breaston respectively allowed the Chiefs to score 21 unanswered points, and complete the comeback, winning the game 28–24, dropping the Colts to 0–5 on the season.
With the Colts losing five consecutive games starting the 2011 season, Indianapolis looked to win their first game of the season against the Cincinnati Bengals. Cincinnati opened up the game well, with a 1-yard touchdown run from Cedric Benson. With both defenses performing well throughout the remainder of the first half with the only other scores coming on a Donald Brown touchdown run for the Colts, and a Mike Nugent field goal. Going into halftime, the Bengals led the Colts 10–7. Cincinnati dominated the third quarter on both fronts, with another Benson touchdown run and Nugent field goal, quickly running the lead up to 20–7 heading into the fourth quarter. There Colts were able to strike on an Adam Vinatieri 46-yard field goal narrowing the score to 20–10. A Dallas Clark touchdown reception from Curtis Painter allowed the Colts to cut the game to a 20–17 affair with 9:33 remaining in the fourth quarter. After a missed Nugent field goal, with the Colts driving, Pierre Garçon fumbled the football, giving it to Carlos Dunlap who would take the ball in for a touchdown, and ended the score, with the Bengals winning the game 27–17, giving the Colts an 0–6 record on the season.
In the loss to the Falcons, the Colts continue their winless season at 0-9, ensuring of their first losing season since 2001. With the Dolphins' win that same week, the Colts are now the NFL's only winless team.
For the first time in the 2011 season, the Colts won a game. Having a career day, Donald Brown and a strong defense would deny Tennessee any hope of a win as the team improved to 1-13 avoided being the third team after the 2008 Detroit Lions and the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.