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Colts left holding their breath

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Predictions about Peyton Manning's 2011 future -- and his entire football future, quite frankly -- were difficult to obtain with any reliability late Thursday, with Manning still groggy in a hospital recovery room. But the Colts didn't put Manning on injured reserve, and won't until at least a month from now, after seeing how the early stages of his rehab from the cervical fusion surgery go. As president Bill Polian told SI.com Thursday afternoon, the doctors who consulted with the team and Manning on his surgery said they believe there's a chance he could play football again this year.

"It's a chance,'' Polian said, "not a guarantee.''

A long shot, probably. Dr. Neel Anand, director of orthopedic spine surgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, said Thursday that normal recovery time from a cervical fusion surgery is three to six months. But he said he wouldn't rule out Manning playing late this season because of his desire and history of playing every game since the Colts drafted him with the first overall pick in 1998.

"Maybe this season, but certainly next season,'' Anand said. "I do not view this as a career-threatening surgery.''

Nor did the Colts think Manning's career was in danger.

"I have not heard that from anyone who has consulted on this case,'' Polian said.

But Manning is 35. He's had three neck surgeries in 19 months. For anyone to think it's a lock he'll continue his career, and continue it at the record-setting level of his first 13 NFL seasons, is taking a huge leap of faith.

Polian made it clear for now that the Colts were going to continue business as usual in preparing for the season, which begins Sunday at Houston. Indianapolis lured 38-year-old Kerry Collins out of retirement 15 days ago as Manning insurance, and the Colts have the disappointing Curtis Painter, a free-agent from Purdue, to back him up. Collins barely knows the offense, but the Colts seem ready to ride him as far as he'll take them.

Asked if the Colts would try to sign former Jacksonville starter David Garrard, cut by the Jags in a stunning development Tuesday night, Polian said: "No. Not at the moment.''

So the Colts play one of their most important division games of the year with a quarterback who's had only a handful of practices in a complicated offense. It's been a long time since the Colts will be a decided underdog in a division game -- has it ever happened with Manning at quarterback in the last decade? -- but that could be the case more than once this year.

"Our players will react well,'' Polian said. "Inside the building, they've known for a long time that Peyton might be out for a while. You heard [cornerback] Jerraud Powers and [defensive end] Dwight Freeney say that in TV interviews this week. So they'll be prepared to play.''

Being prepared to play and playing well without Manning -- those are two different things.

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