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Manning will stand on Colts' sideline Sunday, still eyes return

Peyton Manning will return to the Indianapolis Colts' sideline Sunday. But he can't save their sinking season yet.

The four-time NFL MVP told reporters Thursday that he's progressing well from his latest neck surgery. Doctors have even given Manning the OK to stand with his teammates this weekend when they host the Kansas City Chiefs.

"I've got breaking news: I'm coming down to the sideline," Manning blurted out with a smile as he walked to his locker Thursday. "I've been cleared to come down there."

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Manning said the current plan is to take X-rays every four weeks so doctors can monitor how the fusion in his neck is healing. The first look brought the most promising news yet. Sunday will mark the first time he has been on the Colts' sideline since the preseason.

While it's the next step in Manning's progression, it's certainly not the only indication that he's getting better. His rehab regimen is ramping up, and Manning believes it's still possible he could return to the practice field later this year. At least, that's his hope.

"I think you have to have hope until the doctors rule you out," said Manning, who also attended practice Thursday, dressed in team shorts and a Colts baseball hat.. "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."

The anterior fusion procedure typically requires making an incision in the front of the neck, removing soft disk tissue between the vertebrae and fusing the bones together with a graft. The usual recovery time, according to doctors not handling Manning's case, is two to three months.

But Bill Polian, the Colts' vice chairman, and Chris Polian, their 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.

Bill Polian said earlier this week that Manning's activities recently had increased. Manning confirmed that he was doing more this week, though he declined to get into specifics.

"He's getting better," Colts coach Jim Caldwell said. "He's working hard on his rehab and is doing everything the doctors are asking him to do."

Indianapolis' franchise quarterback has missed all four games since the Sept. 8 procedure, his third neck surgery in 19 months.

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

Manning's impromptu appearance marked his first in the Colts' locker room since the latest surgery. He was bubbly and upbeat, joking about eating hot dogs in the press box the last two weeks and drawing laughs when he called it a "bad vibe" to hear reporters second-guessing play-calls.

But Manning turned serious when asked about the neck injury and a possible timetable for his return.

"I feel good, but that's a tough question to answer because if you're feeling good today, that means you should be feeling great in two weeks, right?" he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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