So now youre thinking the unthinkable. Come on, admit it.
Youre 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.
Youre 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.
Youre thinking the problem with Mannings 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 itll be like old times. Or maybe the timing will be off and hell miss throws he wouldnt normally miss in a coma, and the Seven Blocks of Duct Tape currently starring as the Colts offensive front wont be able to keep the Texans off him.
I vote for Door No. 2, personally. And if thats 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 hes Manning, and second because the consecutive start streak means something to him. But if hes 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. Thats the X factor here, of course. Its the doomsday scenario (What if Peytons never, you know, PEYTON again?) that was behind Irsays 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 Sorgis 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 hes back in Hattiesburg.
Yo, 4. Call me. Its u or Babe Laufenberg.
And thats when an entire city wakes up.