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Manning helps Colts survive rash of injuries
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.
So far, it’s worked.
Four-time Pro Bowler Reggie Wayne leads the team with 60 catches and 724 yards, not surprising given that he’s the only starter to play in all eight games.
Otherwise, it’s been a mishmash.
Manning survived Houston’s pass rush despite sub-par games from left tackle Charlie Johnson and Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday, who were recovering from preseason injuries.
Collie, Garcon and Gonzalez have taken turns moving in and out of the lineup, yet giving Manning at least one solid second option each week. Tamme and veteran Gijon Robinson now have bigger roles with Clark out and blocking tight end Brody Eldridge trying to come back from an elbow injury.
The defense has been hit even harder. On Wednesday, middle linebacker Gary Brackett wore a walking boot over his injured left foot and outside linebacker Clint Session had a brace on a dislocated right elbow that couldn’t keep him out of the Houston game.
“It was an excruciating pain with this type of injury,” Session said. “But it’s football and things happen. You have a little injury there and you keep going, you keep playing. It didn’t stop me too much and sometimes that adrenaline generally gets you in trouble. But we needed to win that game, and I wanted to make sure I contributed in that game.”
None of those injured players practiced Wednesday, and Tamme also was out with a back injury.
But Polian insists things will get better soon.
Oft-injured safety is rehabbing in California and could return for the Dallas game Dec. 4. By then, most of Indy’s other guys could be back, too.
So if Manning can hold things together for another three to four weeks, the Colts won’t have to change a thing.
“We still want to run the Colts offense, and that’s why you have to do whatever you can to get guys up to speed at practice,” Manning said. “I do think you need to get game reps to get better. You look at Tamme or Blair White or whomever, and I think the game reps do make us better. That’s the goal, to get better each week.”
And, of course, to keep winning when everyone else counts the defending AFC champs out.
By Tom Fitton
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