Manning helps Colts survive rash of injuries

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Peyton Manning is capable of doing almost anything on the football field.

Improbable comebacks? Yes. Incredible playoff runs? Yes. Producing MVP seasons each year? Yes.

Now Manning may be in the midst of his greatest season yet. With the Colts ravaged by injuries, Manning has somehow managed to keep this offense firing and kept the Colts atop the AFC South without changing a thing.

“It’s the same offense and he’s the same quarterback and he does a great job in leading it,” third-year tight end Jacob Tamme said Wednesday. “And there is no question he makes everyone around him better.”

Clearly, Manning has been his usual self. He’s completing 65 percent of his passes with 16 touchdowns, four interceptions and making 300-yard games part of the regular routine.

What is remarkable is the way he’s done it.

Season-ending injuries to All-Pro tight end Dallas Clark (wrist) and 2007 first-round pick Anthony Gonzalez (knee) have robbed Manning of two key receivers. Indy (5-3) already has used three different starters at running back _ Joseph Addai, Donald Brown and Mike Hart _ and last week, an undrafted rookie who didn’t even make the opening-day practice squad, Javarris James, scored two touchdowns.

The receiving corps that was supposed to be the best of Manning’s 13-year career, has been decimated.

Gonzalez sprained his right ankle in the season-opener and missed the next five games. Pierre Garcon missed two games during the same stretch with an injured hamstring. Austin Collie had surgery on his left thumb during the bye week, missed one game and then got knocked out of the Philadelphia in a scary collision. Collie already has been ruled out for this week’s game with a concussion and the Colts haven’t said when he might return.

Players and longtime NFL veterans have never seen anything quite like it.

“You wonder about who the next man is,” team president Bill Polian said on his weekly radio show Monday night. “We’re down to as thin a situation as I’ve ever experienced in my years in football, but you just have to keep on keeping on.”

Fortunately, Manning and The Replacements are strumming along.

In a win over Houston, Hart ran for a career-high 84 yards. In a loss to the Eagles, Tamme caught a career-high 11 passes and has 17 receptions over the last two weeks after having only six in his first 34 NFL games. In a win over Denver, undrafted rookie Blair White caught his first career TD pass, and the list could go on and one.

But how much longer can the Colts rely on Manning’s arm? Well, as long as he keeps starting games.

Peyton does help us out a lot,” Garcon said. “But there’s only so much he can do. We’ve got to do some things to help him out, too.”

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