Will Peyton Manning Be Forced To Retire?

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After three neck surgeries in 19 months, is Peyton Manning's Hall of Fame career over?

<p> After three neck surgeries in 19 months, is Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning's Hall of Fame career over?</p>

Like it or not, Peyton Manning and the high-octane Indy 500 offense has been replaced by Kerry Collins and the horseshoes.

The question now becomes: When will Manning return to the Colts? Late in the 2011 season? Week 1 of 2012? Or, God forbid, never again?

Will Peyton Manning’s nagging neck injury end a career that was largely taken for granted due to its metronome consistency of video game statistics and playoff berths?

The Colts suffered a humiliating 34–7 defeat on the road against the Texans days after Manning underwent his third neck operation in 19 months. The single level anterior fusion surgery is “performed regularly throughout the country on persons from all walks of life” but “there will be no estimation of a return date at this time,” according to the team’s official press release.

As a result of Sept. 8 surgery, the 35-year-old four-time league MVP and Super Bowl XLI MVP missed the first start of his 13-year career — snapping a streak of 227 straight starts (208 regular season, 19 postseason) dating back to Sept. 6, 1998, Manning’s rookie debut after being the No. 1 overall pick out of Tennessee.

When it became clear that rumors of No. 18’s demise were anything but exaggerated, Indianapolis signed the 38-year-old Collins — effectively replacing the NFL’s third all-time leading passer (54,828 yards) with the 11th-ranked yardage man (40,441).

Since Collins had recent success against the Texans — going 3–2, with the losses coming by a combined four points, as the off-and-on starter of the Titans since 2006 — many felt he was a capable stop-gap solution for a crucial Week 1 AFC South showdown.

But after watching Collins struggle — completing 16-of-31 passes for 197 yards, one TD and zero INTs, along with two lost fumbles on botched center exchanges — in the 27-point season-opening loss in Houston, most fans and pundits have written off this year’s Colts, whose run of nine consecutive playoff appearances is in serious jeopardy.

Still, the stoic Collins doesn’t seem fazed by one loss to a familiar division foe.

“You’ve got to be undaunted by anything that happened in the game and that’s win or lose, good game or bad game,” said Collins, a 17-year veteran with two trips to the NFC title game and a Super Bowl XXXV loss to the Ravens on his resume.

“You’ve got to be able to compartmentalize it, learn from it, deal with it and move on.”

This is Collins’ third week in town, after all. There should be some learning curve expected. Even Tom Brady would have trouble replacing Manning, who (as the running joke goes) will earn his fifth MVP award this season by proving just how valuable he is, and has been, to the Colts.

With a game under Collins’ belt and the Browns coming to Lucas Oil Stadium for the Colts’ home opener, things should get a little easier for the new-look offense. After an 0–1 start, Indy has to make sure there is no Houston hangover.

“This is the first ball game,” said Colts coach Jim Caldwell. “We’ve got 15 more to go.”

Caldwell is right; the Texans loss was the first ball game without Manning under center. But are there only 15 more to go? Or is this the beginning of a new era altogether in Indy?

Those people who just shrug and say, “Of course Peyton will play again,” are the same people who said, “Of course Peyton will start Week 1.”

In the NFL, there is no sure thing — not even Peyton Manning.

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