INDIANAPOLIS — Peyton Manning makes milestones seem routine.
Winning three MVPs and in position for a record fourth?
Just another typical Manning season.
Breaking John Unitas’ franchise record for wins, passing Fran Tarkenton for third on the career TD list, moving past Warren Moon and John Elway for third on the career completions chart? All part of the job.
Now Manning can become the fourth member of the NFL’s 50,000-yard club — if he plays long enough to throw for 159 yards Sunday against the New York Jets.
Not that Manning is thinking about it.
“We’re right in the middle of the season, and there’s so much going on, so much at stake,” he said Wednesday.
“Coach (Jim) Caldwell’s instructions were the same as they have been each week: ‘Here’s what we’ve got to do to win the ballgame, now please go out and do it.”’
Neither Manning nor Caldwell have said how long the quarterback will play.
On any other week, even against the league’s No. 1 pass defence, 159 yards would seem like a sure thing.
But with the Colts wrapping up the AFC’s top seed two weeks ago, Indy’s biggest concern is keeping its starters healthy for the playoffs, and nobody will say if the starters will be pulled early.
Clearly, there are still some significant things at stake Sunday.
A win would make Indy the second team in league history to go 15-0 in the regular season and would wrap up a perfect home season for only the second time since the franchise moved from Baltimore.
The other time was 2006, when the Colts won the Super Bowl.
Players are also chasing individual goals, incentive bonuses and perhaps some post-season awards.
Three-time Pro Bowl receiver Reggie Wayne needs eight receptions for his second 100-catch season.
Tight end Dallas Clark needs three yards for his first 1,000-yard season, and 11 catches to reach 100.
With three more catches, Pierre Garcon would become the fifth Colts receiver with 50 catches this season, a first in franchise history.
And then there’s Manning, who needs one more 300-yard game to tie the single season record (10), set by Rich Gannon in 2002 and matched last year by Drew Brees. Manning also had a 299-yard game against Baltimore last month.
The more likely scenario, however, is Manning joining Brett Favre, Dan Marino and Elway in the exclusive 50,000 club — a number that boggles the mind of those who know Manning best.
“Wow! That’s impressive,” Clark said.
“But with him, you really don’t get shocked too much.”
That’s because of Manning’s work ethic.
When the Colts took him with the top overall pick in the 1998 draft, the Louisiana native already had a strong pedigree and the resume of a winner.
But instead of relying on his surname, past successes or the prestige of being a No. 1 pick, Manning became the consummate student. He spent countless hours working on timing with former teammates like Marvin Harrison and Ken Dilger, and was a workaholic in the film room, too.
Over the past 12 seasons, Manning hasn’t changed — or forgotten — much. He refers to opposing players by name rather than numbers, can cite background information about them, and remembers virtually everything he’s ever done on the field — good and bad.
On Wednesday, Manning was asked if he could understand the struggles Jets rookie Mark Sanchez has endured in a 7-7 season.
“No, I won three games as a rookie, I set the (interceptions) record (by a rookie) and I’ve been waiting 12 years for someone to break it,” Manning said. “So, no, I can’t relate to him.”
Instead, Manning just keeps challenging other marks.
He has never missed a start, and in this decade, Manning has led the Colts to a record seven straight 12-win seasons, the most wins by any team in any decade (115) and most consecutive regular-season wins (23). His three MVP awards are tied with Favre for the most ever, and even if Manning sits out most of the next two games, it may not be enough to prevent him from becoming the first two-time back-to-back winner.
“He’s still the same guy that destroys everybody. He’s phenomenal,” Jets coach Rex Ryan said. “I don’t like playing him when we play him, but I respect him more than any player in the NFL. He’s the best, he may go down as the best quarterback of all-time. … Shoot, if they want to get rid of him, we’ll go ahead and take him.”
For now, the Colts are content to let him keep achieving new milestones.
“I guess it never gets old,” middle linebacker Gary Brackett said of Manning’s next looming achievement. “Every week, it seems like he breaks a new record. He’s just done a tremendous job.”