- Associated Press - Thursday, October 6, 2011

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Peyton Manning is getting closer to being his old self.

He’s cracking jokes, having fun at the expense of reporters and he even got the OK from his doctors to be on the sideline Sunday to watch the Colts host the Chiefs. He shrugged off talk about a losing season or whether Indianapolis will be in the running to draft Andrew Luck.

Too early for that, he says.

And too early to know whether he has any shot at playing for Indy again this season.

Still, Manning was full of smiles Thursday as he said his recovery from his latest neck surgery is going well. He is clearly eager to be back down among his teammates on game day instead of up in the press box.

“I had two hot dogs up there in Tampa and Indianapolis,” Manning cracked, referring to the past two weeks. “But the press box gave me a bad vibe.”

Perhaps that’s because Manning had grown weary of the Colts’ four-game losing streak to open the season and the second-guessing that has come with it. Many have wondered how healthy Manning will be when he returns or whether he’ll ever resemble the four-time league MVP again.

There are indications he just might.

Manning has taken on a larger role with his team since the surgery Sept. 8, the third time in 19 months he went under the knife for a neck injury. He has been involved in team meetings, strolling briskly around the practice fields and even advising coaches and players, including the two guys trying to replace him as best they can.

Until this week, doctors had barred him from going anywhere near the sideline during games.

Manning said the decision to ease that restriction demonstrates the recovery is going well, well enough to keep him optimistic that he could even make it back, at least to practice, later this season.

“I think you have to have hope until the doctors rule you out,” he said. “We’re having a lot of injuries so if they (the Colts) come to me and say they have to make a move, I won’t fight them on that.

“The good Lord is calling my plays and I’m not allowed to audible at this point, so I have to listen to the doctors,” he added.

Bill Polian, the vice chairman, and Chris Polian, the general manager, want to keep Manning on the active roster as long as possible so he can at least return to practice this season. Team owner Jim Irsay believes Manning could be back to practice in December.

The Colts have desperately missed their leader. The offense has struggled to score touchdowns or dictate the tempo, and it’s left the Colts in an 0-4 hole for the first time since 1998. They need a win Sunday against Kansas City (1-3) to avoid their first 0-5 start since 1997.

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