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Ben Smith

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Manning’s neck injury has Colts fans scared

So now you’re thinking the unthinkable. Come on, admit it.

You’re thinking two neck surgeries in 15 months equals Peyton Manning sporting more question marks than the Riddler, which equals Curtis Painter under center. Or Dan Orlovsky.

You’re thinking Jim Irsay might have been funnin’ like Mark Twain with his “Tales From (Cough, Cough) Hattiesburg,” but even a crippled-up nag like Brett Favre looks like Secretariat right now.

You’re thinking the problem with Manning’s neck might not be as vulnerable to his steely gaze or iron will as his various other nicks over the years, which means it will heal on its own timetable, not his. And hard telling when that will be.

Maybe the rehab works and Manning walks out there against Houston in Week 1, and it’ll be like old times. Or maybe the timing will be off and he’ll miss throws he wouldn’t normally miss in a coma, and the Seven Blocks of Duct Tape currently starring as the Colts’ offensive front won’t be able to keep the Texans off him.

I vote for Door No. 2, personally. And if that’s the case, the smart play here is not to play at all in Week 1.

Manning, of course, will be loathe to sit, first of all because he’s Manning, and second because the consecutive start streak means something to him. But if he’s not measurably further along with the neck, why risk it? Worst-case scenario, Painter goes 12 of 33 for a touchdown and two picks, the Texans win 28-13, and the Colts are no worse off than when they lost at Houston to open last season. And Manning has one more week to get the neck right.

This presumes the neck is going to get right, or at least something approximating right. That’s the X factor here, of course. It’s the doomsday scenario (“What if Peyton’s never, you know, PEYTON again?”) that was behind Irsay’s ill-conceived joke about Brett Favre, and that has all of Indy jumpier than a roomful of cats on Red Bull.

They close their eyes at night there these days, and they see this:

Week 2: With Manning still reportedly “a week or so away,” the Colts start Orlovsky at home against the Browns. He and Painter combine to throw for 182 yards and three interceptions, Colt McCoy throws for 352 yards and two touchdowns for Cleveland, and the Browns win 28-20.

In a related note, Jim Irsay tweets the following from Jim Sorgi’s backyard: “I know u r in there. I cn see u thru the kitchen window.”

Week 3: Although cleared to play, the Colts opt not to start Manning against the Steelers. Painter starts, completes just three of his first 12 passes, and leaves the field limping after Troy Polumalu nails him on a blitz. Orlovsky finishes up in a 31-10 loss.

Irsay promptly tweets this: “Jeff George. What is he now, 40? 42? Hmm.”

Week 4: Manning finally plays at Tampa Bay. His first pass is a 12-yard shot to Dallas Clark. His second is an overthrow down the middle to Austin Collie. He finishes with one touchdown and 116 yards in a little less then three quarters before the neck stiffens up, and the Colts lose again.

Irsay tweets that he’s back in Hattiesburg.

“Yo, 4. Call me. It’s u or Babe Laufenberg.”

And that’s when an entire city wakes up.

Screaming.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648 or at the “Ben Smith” topic of “The Board” at www.journalgazette.net.

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