Peyton Manning knows that for the Colts to get back to being themselves, he needs to play.
After missing the entire season because of neck surgery, the Colts’ franchise quarterback acknowledged Sunday he has one goal.
“I’ve got to get healthy for me, for the team. I’m under contract with the Colts. That’s my job is to get healthy for them,” he told reporters after Sunday’s season-ending 19-13 loss at Jacksonville.
“It’s been hard not being able to help on the field this year.”
Manning had neck surgery Sept. 8, the third and most invasive procedure he’d had in 19 months. Doctors fused two of Manning’s vertebrae together, hoping that would fix a damaged nerve that caused weakness in Manning’s throwing arm.
With Manning, many expected the Colts to be a Super Bowl contender again.
Without him, Indianapolis went through three different quarterbacks, lost its first 13 games and wound up with the No. 1 overall pick in April’s draft — the first time they’ve had that selection since 1998 when they chose Manning over Ryan Leaf.
Now they head into an off-season unlike any other in the Manning era.
The Colts (2-14) finished with fewer than three wins for only the second time since moving to Indianapolis in 1984, and fans have been calling for the ouster of team vice chairman Bill Polian, general manager Chris Polian and coach Jim Caldwell.
Manning is content to let team owner Jim Irsay make those decisions so he can continue working out, and Irsay wasn’t dropping hints about his plans Sunday.
“We wanted to win the game but we didn’t,” Irsay said.
“It’s Sunday afternoon at 4:15. That’s where we stand and obviously we wanted to come in and get a win. (Maurice) Jones-Drew is a great player and you’ve got to give him credit, but we wanted to finish with three (wins) in a row.
“Beyond that I don’t have anything else to say right now on anything.”
The bigger questions involve Manning.
Indy’s franchise quarterback didn’t begin throwing to teammates until mid-December. Bill Polian, who watched the throwing session, and running back Joseph Addai, who caught some of the passes, both gave Manning good reviews.
Two doctors who have performed fusions on athletes but did not treat Manning recently told The Associated Press that if the fusion was firmly healed, Manning should return to his usually high level of play next season. Dr. Robert Watkins, Manning’s surgeon, issued a statement Dec. 1 saying the fusion had achieved “firm fixation.”
Irsay also must pay a US$28 million bonus to Manning in early March, risk losing him as a free agent or rework the $90-million, five-year deal the two sides signed in July.
If Manning is healthy, Irsay has said Manning will remain a Colt — regardless of the cost.
Where is Manning in the rehab process?
Bill Polian has said Manning will fail today’s exit physical, a move that would actually help the Colts because Manning could continue working out at the team facility.
Manning cautioned that nobody should read too much into the physical.
“I could pass it,” Manning said.
“I’m not sure how all that works. I think part of it is just paperwork. That’s all new to me. There’s a lot of things I’ve learned this year.
“All that’s been kind of new to me. Not rehabbing at the facility this off-season was certainly tough. You go to a place rehabbing and the lady next to you is getting her bunions worked on, asking if she should draft (Dallas) Clark on her fantasy team. Hard to rehab and deal with that.”
But all of those questions will go away if Manning can just get back to playing football.
“I’ve tried to be here. I’ve encouraged guys. I try to give an idea here and there, but the best way for me to help over the years is by playing,” Manning said.
“That’s what I want, to get back, to be able to play on the field.
“That’s where my priority is.”