- Associated Press - Monday, September 12, 2011

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Peyton Manning has always been there to bail out the Indianapolis Colts.

Not this time.

Indy’s franchise quarterback is shut down for at least two months and possibly the entire season after another neck surgery, and that means his teammates will have to find a way to rebound from the embarrassing 34-7 loss to Houston that opened the season on Sunday.

“It’s too early to say, `Let’s pack up and go home,’” middle linebacker Gary Brackett said. “This team has a lot of fight in it, and I think we still fought even though the score was lopsided. Guys didn’t necessarily give up yesterday, so I think that’s what you’ve got to do. Despite the circumstances, we’ve still got to fight through it.”

Many wonder if this is what Colts football will look like in 2011 without the four-time league MVP who started 227 consecutive games before Sunday.

Without Manning, Indianapolis looked lost.

Kerry Collins, Manning’s replacement, gave away two fumbles deep inside Indy territory in the first quarter. Houston converted both miscues into quick touchdowns in taking a 17-0 lead.

Indy spent much of the game calling plays in the huddle, something they rarely did with Manning in charge. And the offensive line, revamped in the offseason, allowed two sacks of Collins in 11 minutes after allowing 16 or fewer sacks in each of the three previous seasons.

The prevailing opinion in the Colts locker room was that it wasn’t Collins‘ fault. The veteran quarterback has had about three weeks to learn the Colts‘ offense, after all.

“None of us played well. It had nothing to do with Kerry,” Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday said. “As an offense we just didn’t play well, and we didn’t execute when we needed to. We had fumbles, sacks, penalties, any way you could shoot yourself in the foot, we did it.”

When Manning had his third neck surgery in 19 months last Thursday, odds makers immediately made Houston a favorite to win, and others predicted Indy’s long hold on the AFC South title was already over.

Players and coaches bristled at such suggestions, but until Indy (0-1) proves it can win without Manning, the quarterback debate will rage on.

Since late last week, fans have filled local sports radio talk shows with questions about signing former Jaguars starter David Garrard or trading for the retired Carson Palmer, who still remains a Cincinnati Bengal.

It doesn’t even look like the Colts are contemplating a change.

Coach Jim Caldwell said Monday he never considered using third-stringer Curtis Painter on Sunday. Receiver Austin Collie also threw his support behind Collins despite acknowledging the Colts, and likely Collins, were nervous early.

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