Curtis Painter is all too familiar with the fleeting nature of job security in the NFL.
In the span of less than a full calendar year, Painter went from backing up Peyton Manning to replacing the Hall of Fame-bound quarterback to being unceremoniously released by the Indianapolis Colts. That's why he's not putting too much stock into the sentiment that he has outperformed Tyrod Taylor in the Ravens' first two preseason games.
"I think it's a little too soon to jump to those conclusions, but I think for me, I just want to keep getting better each time," Painter said Sunday. "There's a lot of things that, maybe to the naked eye, people might not see, but we want to correct those. There are certainly things that I want to build on from game to game. I'm just continuing to try to be successful."
Still, it's difficult to overlook how Painter has played in the preseason games. With three touchdown passes he's in a five-way tie with the Washington Redskins' Kirk Cousins, the New Orleans Saints' Chase Daniel, the Jacksonville Jaguars' Blaine Gabbert and the Seattle Seahawks' Russell Wilson for the league lead in passing touchdowns, and Painter has thrown for just five fewer yards than starter Joe Flacco.
Then again, Painter's success has occurred against backups — and backups to those backups — on the Atlanta Falcons and the Detroit Lions. But he has accounted for three of the Ravens' four aerial scores and has done enough to make an impression with coach John Harbaugh.
"He's started," Harbaugh said Monday of Painter. "When you start in this league, you're a pretty accomplished quarterback, and he's proven why. What level he can take it to in his career, that's something that he's working on and trying to do all that he can. But he's played really well, and we're happy with his play."
For all of his success in the games, Painter has run into more than his fair share of troubles against his teammates on the defensive side of the ball. During Monday's practice, he was intercepted by cornerback Danny Gorrer and rookie free safety Omar Brown, and Gorrer returned his takeaway more than 35 yards for a touchdown.
Taylor, who did not toss an interception Monday, lags behind Painter in completion percentage (41 percent to Painter's 50 percent), yards (129 to Painter's 162) and passer rating (50.1 to Painter's 80.8) in the preseason games, but he leads the team in rushing, gaining 111 yards on 12 scrambles. Taylor, who had said in the offseason that he is trying to create with his arm rather than his legs, said he's taking what the defenses are giving him.
"I don't know if they're doing that on purpose or if that's just how it's falling out," he said Sunday. "There have been a couple of situations where I had to get out of the pocket, and that's what I've done."
Despite trailing Painter statistically, Taylor has gotten the nod to be the first quarterback off the sideline to replace Flacco in the two preseason games. Taylor has absorbed more sacks (two) than Painter has (zero), but Painter has tossed the only interception among the three quarterbacks.
Taylor said he's not stressing out about his play yet.
"I think I've played well," he said. "I've showed the coaches what I can do, but there's room for improvement, and that's what I'm trying to do each and every day."
On the other hand, this whole debate could be moot. Decision-makers within the organization have privately expressed how fortunate the team has been that Flacco has not missed a start in his first four years in the league, and they are leaning towards keeping three quarterbacks on the active 53-man roster.
And as recently as earlier in the month, Harbaugh hinted that Taylor might not be limited to playing quarterback. "No matter what, we are going to try to find ways to get him on the field anyway [we] can because he is such a good athlete," he said the week leading up to the preseason opener.
With the starters expected to play the majority of Thursday night's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at M&T; Bank Stadium, the preseason finale at theSt. Louis Ramson Aug. 30 looms large as perhaps the last chance for Painter and Taylor to take the lead in the minds of the coaching staff. And neither player is backing down from the challenge.
"In the end, it's a competition, but before that, we're trying to make this team better," Painter said. "So we're trying to help this team out, and it doesn't feel like a competition. You're just trying to make everybody better to help the team."
"I'm going to work every day to prepare myself as a starter, and I'm sure he's doing the same thing," Taylor said. "We're just trying to get each other better and at the end of the day, push each other. It's the coaches' decision. We're going out there and playing hard and trying to orchestrate the team each and every day in practice."