INDIANAPOLIS -- Peyton Manning is back. Whether or not he's ready to play is an open question.
The Indianapolis Colts activated Manning from the physically unable to perform list Monday. A few hours later, the four-time NFL MVP pulled on his white No. 18 jersey and a helmet, and jogged onto the practice field, renewing hopes that he actually might play in the Sept. 11 season opener at Houston, four months after having neck surgery.
"That's kind of been my goal all along, trying to get better, and I know everybody's into predictions and everybody wants to have the breaking news," an upbeat Manning said. "But I just can't give you any more than what I'm giving you."
What everyone wants to know, of course, is if Manning will be ready. Nobody, including Manning, will say that yet, and he said again that he won't play in Thursday night's preseason finale at Cincinnati.
Clearly, though, Manning is getting closer. He acknowledged he's healthy enough right now to take a snap or play a series to keep his consecutive-games streak intact, but he insists he won't.
"Like I said the other night, I have to be able to competitively play," he said. "I have too much respect for football. I've got to be able to compete and to help my team win, and that's what's fair to the team, fair to myself."
Manning has started 227 consecutive games, including the playoffs, the second-longest streak in NFL history for quarterbacks behind Brett Favre. Of all the numbers Manning has put up over the years, the streak is the one he usually has said means the most.
Manning had been on the PUP list since the Colts' first training-camp practice Aug. 1 following the May procedure to repair a nerve in his neck. The Colts were facing a Saturday deadline to make the move or Manning would have missed the first six games.
"Obviously, he's been throwing, but nevertheless it's just going to be in a limited amount," Caldwell said. "I don't think it needs a whole lot of explanation, I don't believe. Scripted means that we kind of know exactly what he's going to do, prescribed by his rehab specialist and our medical team."
Manning hadn't been seen much at team headquarters, perhaps working out in private. He was at his playful best Monday, teasing reporters about their memories, poking fun at the circus-like environment surrounding his neck injury and suggesting that his close friend and center, Jeff Saturday, was tired of answering questions about him.
Team officials have said all along that Manning would practice only when doctors cleared him and when the quarterback felt comfortable, and he again declined to say specifically what was holding him back.
"I don't know what HIPAA stands for, but I believe in it and I practice it," Manning joked, referring to the federal law protecting medical privacy. "So, uh, I'll leave it at that."
The fact Manning has been activated isn't only good news for Manning, his teammates and Colts' fans, but it also eased some concerns expressed by Jim Irsay. The team owner recently wrote on Twitter that the Colts should be prepared to start the season without Manning and later posted comments that prompted speculation he was trying to convince Favre to come out of retirement.
Instead, the Colts signed another retired quarterback in 17-year veteran Kerry Collins, who stood alongside Manning in a nationally televised loss to the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers last week.
"(hash)18 to the practice field! Soon the leaves will fall/I looked at sideline sat.night n saw $30,000,000.00 standing there,my checkbook hurts!," Irsay wrote Monday. Manning signed a five-year, $90 million contract deal in the offseason to stay in Indianapolis.
The next big question is how the Colts will divvy up the snaps.
Manning insists he'll spend the next two weeks continuing the rehab and trying to get in sync with his teammates. But the Colts need Collins to work with the starters and still want Curtis Painter, who remains No. 2 on the depth chart, to play, too, in case Manning misses the Houston game.
"Starting today, I guess I'd be getting quite a few reps," Collins said. "What the breakdown will be, I don't know, because I'm sure they're going to try and get Peyton back into the swing of things."
The surgery was expected to keep Manning off the field for six to eight weeks. Instead, the recovery has gone slower than expected, something Manning has blamed, in part, on the 4 ½-month lockout that kept him away from team trainers.
With Manning ailing, the Colts have been refining backup plans. Two days after signing Collins, Painter delivered his best preseason performance by going 11-of-21 passing for 171 yards with two TDs and nearly led the Colts to their first preseason win in more than two years.
But Manning has been the backbone of this team since he was taken No. 1 overall in 1998.
Manning has thrown for 54,828 yards, third all-time behind Favre and Dan Marino, and needs one more TD pass to join Favre (508) and Marino (420) as the only members of the NFL's 400-club. He has led the Colts to a record-tying nine consecutive playoff appearances, including last season when most of his top weapons went down with injuries.
"This was one of my goals all along, to get back during the week of this last preseason game," Manning said. "This would give you two weeks of on-the-field work, and it can give you a pretty good answer to some questions that Coach Caldwell has and that I have."
Manning has been through all of this before.
In 2008, he missed the entire training camp after having two surgeries to remove an infected bursa sac in his left knee and didn't return to practice until the final preseason game. He wound up winning his third league MVP award.
This time, Manning has been seen running and throwing passes, and teammates have expressed confidence he will start in Week 1.
"I think he's right on schedule," said Saturday, one of Manning's closest friends. "I think it's whatever the trainers and the rehab say. That's where he is."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press