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Irsay: Manning's condition improving, might play this season

by | CBSSports.com Senior NFL Columnist

HOUSTON -- Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay said Monday that he won't rule out a return this season by injured quarterback Peyton Manning, calibrating the odds at "slightly less than 50 percent."

While that's higher -- in fact, much higher -- than I expected, it still begs the question: Why would Peyton Manning return at all?

Colts owner Jim Irsay says the chances of Peyton Manning playing in 2011 is 'slightly less than 50 percent.' (AP)  
Colts owner Jim Irsay says the chances of Peyton Manning playing in 2011 is 'slightly less than 50 percent.' (AP)  
I mean, if it's December, and the Colts are buried in the AFC South why would Manning or the Colts risk further injury by having him play out the string to a lost season?

"Each season connects to the next season," said Irsay, here for the NFL fall meetings, "just like when we were 3-13 in 1998 (Manning's rookie year) and were 13-3 in 1999. Each year connects, and there's a thread that runs through your team. You want to get better, and if you're getting better in December that can carry through to next year. "

It has for the Detroit Lions, who won their last four in 2010 and used it as a springboard to this season. But this isn't a team getting better; this is about healing an All-Pro quarterback. The Lions had something to prove down the stretch last season; Peyton Manning has nothing to prove to the Colts or the NFL. He is one of the game's best quarterbacks, and returning to play what could be meaningless games makes no sense to me.

But it does to Irsay, Manning and the Colts, who don't see the rest of the season as meaningless -- regardless of the team's record. That's why Irsay would not rule out the return of his quarterback.

"I think people get confused," he said. "If he came back, it wouldn't be because we rushed him back; it would be because he's 100 percent healthy; that he's as healthy now as he'll ever be, with no additional risk to injury. "Look, we want to win football games. We look at this as something where we want to win as many as we can. We don't see it as risking him to injury. He would be 100 percent, and I feel ... and Peyton feels ... and the whole organization feels ... that we're going to try to go and win every game as much as we can. But it wouldn't be a situation where he would be 90 percent, and we would be risking his health.

"The bone has to completely heal -- fuse, to speak -- and then the process of more intense rehab has to happen. Then, you have to make sure the nerve is firing, and he says it's feeling better. Then it has to be where he's making all the throws, where he's on the field, where he's going through intense practices and where he's 100 percent. We're not going to put him on the field unless he's completely healed."

Manning has been sidelined since undergoing two neck surgeries and treatment in Europe, missing all of training camp and all of this season. There is no timetable for his return, with Irsay saying that "doctors always say two-to-six months," but the general feeling has been that he would not play again until 2012 -- especially with the Colts losing their first five starts.

Not necessarily so. I wouldn't play him, but Irsay said he would -- only, of course, if Manning is cleared, everything checks out and he wants to get back on the field. Irsay also said he doesn't believe Manning's injury is career-threatening, though some physicians have indicated it could be.

"He's 35, and he's had this surgery, so it's concerning," Irsay said. "But I don't feel ... and all the doctors I talked to don't feel ... like it's something that would end his career. Anything can happen in terms of having another setback. But, at this point, the way he's trending is up, we look for him to be back, have three or four years and have the Peyton Manning era continue in Indianapolis."


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