Colts' Injuries Remain Taboo While Growing Increasingly Absurd in Total
Well, this was something else.
And even in a Colts season that has been defined -- not ruined; not yet, at least -- by injuries, this news took the 10-time Pro Bowl quarterback a second to process. Late in a 30-28 victory over the Tennessee Titans Thursday night, Manning was on the sideline at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn., speaking with Pro Bowl wide receiver Reggie Wayne.
Offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen approached with the news that offensive tackle Charlie Johnson was out, as was guard Jamey Richard.
"They're going to get (rookie tight end) Brody (Eldridge) ready to play guard, possibly," Christensen said.
Christensen left. Manning turned to Wayne.
"Tell me what he just said," Manning said.
"They're going to get Brody ready to play guard," Wayne replied.
"OK," Manning said.
Manning, four times the National Football League's Most Valuable Player, added with a smile later, "That's not exactly the most comforting thing to hear, when your tight end is going to guard."
Comforting? Perhaps not.
And while the Colts beating the Titans on Thursday was important for a Colts team suddenly and surprisingly in the rare position of needing a late-season run to win a seventh AFC South title in eight seasons, the above anecdote illustrates what may be more important for Manning and the Colts.
The victory came on a Thursday, which means the Colts will get a few days to rest.
It's an understatement to say they need it.
True, no one in the NFL -- opponents, fans, media -- want to hear about how injuries hurt a team. And around the Colts, talking about injuries historically is taboo. Longtime Colts coach Tony Dungy turned the league-wide cliche "Next Man Up" into such an oft-repeated mantra around the Indianapolis locker room that in most recent seasons everyone around the team got accustomed to seeing the Colts play through injuries en route to an NFL-best eight consecutive playoff appearances.
This was a team, after all, that made the Super Bowl last season without Bob Sanders, wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez and cornerback Marlin Jackson.
In 2007, they played a game at San Diego without wide receiver Marvin Harrison, Gonzalez and tight end Dallas Clark. Manning threw a career-high six interceptions and the Colts trailed 16-0 in the first half -- and the only reason the Colts lost was kicker Adam Vinatieri missed a late-game chip-shot field goal.
Excuses aren't often heard around the Colts, and they haven't been heard much this season, either. But make no mistake:
The Colts' injuries this season? They have been real, and they have mattered.
A year removed from a second Super Bowl appearance in four seasons, the Colts this season have placed 15 players on injured reserve, most recently two-time Pro Bowl safety and 2007 Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year Bob Sanders on the season-ending list Wednesday. Earlier in the season, Clark was lost for the season, as was Gonzalez and veteran backup safety Melvin Bullitt, critical in Sanders' absence,
The injuries don't stop at the season-enders. The Colts Thursday played without running backs Joseph Addai and Mike Hart, linebacker Clint Session, cornerback Kelvin Hayden and wide receiver Austin Collie.
And this year, for a change, the injuries took a toll. The Colts, after a 5-2 start, have lost four of five games, and entering the game against Tennessee Thursday they had lost three consecutive games -- their first three-game losing streak since 2002.
That was the year the Colts' current streak of eight consecutive playoff appearances began, and it began that season when they rebounded from a 4-4 start to win six of eight regular-season games.
This season, the Colts know they will need a late-season run even more impressive, and they have known that for several weeks. Throughout November, they targeted early December as a time they might get healthy, start getting a few key players back. That hasn't happened as soon as they might have hoped, with Addai still out after a seven-game absence and with Collie having missed for the third time in four weeks.
Losing Sanders this week was a blow, too. He had sustained a biceps injury in Week 1 and the Colts kept him on the roster all season in the hopes that the dynamic player could be available for a late-season push.
That won't happen, but others might. The best thing for the Colts Thursday aside from a victory that keeps them in the AFC South race is that now they get a chance to rest -- and perhaps heal. They get a chance to perhaps get healthy -- if not truly healthy, at least their 2010 version of it, anyway.
"We are beat up and we do need to get some guys back, but we have to continue to play better," Manning said Thursday. "We have a great test next week."
That test is Jacksonville. The Jaguars currently are in first place in the AFC South, a half game ahead of the Colts, but if the Colts beat Jacksonville at home, the Raiders on the road a day after Christmas and Tennessee at home a day after New Year's, they will win the AFC South.
Unlike past seasons, it's far from a lock. The Colts are used to talking about seedings and first-round byes in December. This season, they're talking about late-season winning streaks.
They're talking about injuries more than they'd like, too, but if they can get a few players back -- and take advantage of the rest -- there's a chance they could still be talking playoffs.
And considering the season's circumstances, that would be something worth talking about.