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Irsay: Colts must be prepared to start season without Manning

INDIANAPOLIS -- Peyton Manning still thinks he can be ready for the Indianapolis Colts' regular-season opener.

The rest of the preseason appears to be out.

Manning said Saturday he will use the next two weeks to get healthy from offseason neck surgery, a timeline that could put his streak of 227 consecutive starts in jeopardy.

Countdown to kickoff: 19

Nineteen also represents the number of playoff games started by both Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. That's easily tied for tops among active quarterbacks.

"I certainly want to be out there, and it's hard to keep track of the hours I've spent in rehab," he said. "I was short-changed a little bit by the lockout and I'm going to need every bit of the next two weeks, and then I can give you more of an update with where I am."

The only four-time MVP in NFL history spoke at halftime of Saturday's second high school football game at Lucas Oil Stadium. The annual triple-header is hosted by the PeyBack Foundation, Manning's charity.

He underwent neck surgery in May to repair a nerve and has been on the Colts' physically unable to perform list since the start of training camp.

While Colts coach Jim Caldwell hasn't said when Manning might return to the practice field, it's clear there are concerns within the organization.

About 6 hours before Manning spoke, team owner Jim Irsay used his Twitter account to acknowledge there is a possibility the Colts will start the season without their No. 1 quarterback.

"We r evaluating the QB sitch,#18 healing but we must 2 b prepared 4 early season possibility without him,defense has 2 pick it up,big time!," Irsay wrote.

Manning said he was unaware of Irsay's comments because he had been busy rehabbing. He signed a five-year, $90 million contract in July after the 4½-month lockout ended.

The notion of not having Manning line up behind center will undoubtedly make Colts fans cringe and, until now, seemed inconceivable.

Since being the No. 1 overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft, Manning has started all 208 regular-season games and 19 more in the playoffs, the second-longest streak for a quarterback in league history behind only Brett Favre, and the longest among active players.

Manning attributed part of the problem with not being able to work out with team officials during the lockout.

"I have made progress, but I still have some work to do," he said. "When I'm healthy enough, I'll be able to play."

The only other time one of his starts appeared to be in jeopardy was in 2008 when Manning needed two operations to remove an infected bursa sac from his left knee. He missed all of training camp and the entire preseason, then struggled early in the regular season before winning his third MVP Award.

With Manning, the Colts have been a perennial Super Bowl contender. Without him, well, the Colts' hopes of becoming the first team to play the Super Bowl in their home stadium would certainly take a hit.

Backup Curtis Painter has started both preseason games and has completed 8 of 16 passes for 95 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. In Friday night's 16-3 loss to the Washington Redskins, Painter managed only one first down and couldn't get the offense past its 29-yard line despite playing the entire first half.

Painter hasn't played in a regular-season game since relieving Manning in the final two games of the 2009 season -- after the Colts had already locked up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. His career numbers are 8 of 28 for 83 yards with no touchdowns, two interceptions and a quarterback rating of 9.8.

The only other quarterbacks on the roster are Dan Orlovsky, who has played in 13 games in six NFL seasons -- though none with the Colts -- and undrafted rookie Mike Hartline.

Irsay quickly dispelled one possible move -- taking former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor in Monday's supplemental draft.

"Not taking Pryor...what VET QB would u vote 4 to sign that's out there? If sum1 has 2 hold the fort early season,who u going with?" Irsay wrote.

But with only three weeks left until the Sept. 11 season opener against the Houston Texans, anybody the Colts bring in will have to learn on the fly. The Colts rely on lots of audibles when Manning is behind the center, and they don't want to change the whole offense. That's why they have traditionally relied on their own experienced quarterbacks, such as Painter and former Colts player Jim Sorgi, to fill in when Manning is not on the field.

When could Manning return?

The Colts aren't saying.

During a conference call with reporters Saturday, coach Jim Caldwell reiterated the same point he's made since the Colts held their first training camp practice Aug. 1 -- it's up to the doctors.

"He's still caught in the same rehab mode, working extremely hard, as hard as he possibly can," Caldwell said. "The doctors, as of today, have not released anything."

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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