Unnerved by slow recovery, Manning needs time

It's been awhile since Peyton Manning wasn't the starter for the Colts in a regular-season game (1997, when Jim Harbaugh was under center for Indy). But his streak of durability could be coming to an end this week, writes Len Pasquarelli.

As of Monday morning, it had been 5,006 days since the Indianapolis Colts last played a regular-season football game with someone other than Peyton Manning as their starting quarterback.

Only six more days to go, it appears, before that unlikely streak of durability ends.

For the record, Indianapolis' last No. 1 quarterback not named Manning was Jim Harbaugh, at present a rookie head coach in San Francisco, who was the starter in a 39-28 loss at Minnesota on Dec. 21, 1997, the season finale of that season. The leading rusher was Marshall Faulk, inducted into the Hall of Fame last month. Lindy Infante, working his last game as a coach in any capacity, was the Colts' head coach.

Bill Clinton was the president and gasoline cost $1.20 a gallon.

If it seems like a long, long time ago ... well, it was.

Ironically, although Manning might still finish as the NFL career leader in most of the primary passing categories, the thing he wanted more than anything other than additional Super Bowl titles was the consecutive starts longevity record. It might not have been his Holy Grail -- as noted, championships will always be the standard by which Manning measures himself, no doubt -- but it was a dogged pursuit.

Manning has overcome a lot of things -- the lack of a running game, injuries to his wide receivers, a defense that has been less than dominating in his tenure -- but the one element he could not best was Mother Nature. No film review in the world, no borderline-obsessive study of an opposing defense's tendencies, not even a quick release, can best the healing process required for the neck surgery that Manning underwent in May and that was supposed to take two months of rehabilitation.

The Colts' quarterback could deal with being nervy. What will keep him from playing in next Sunday's opener at Houston, though, are nerves. Or, more accurately, the failure of some nerves in his surgically repaired neck to regenerate.

No matter the rigorous pace Manning doubtless set in rehab, regardless of the numerous consultations with specialists, the only thing that can heal a nerve and allow the synapses to fire again the way they did before being cut into is patience. And that is probably the most difficult thing for Manning, never the most patient of players, to comprehend.

It's easy to cite the lockout, and the inability of Manning to assiduously work with the Colts' medical and training staff, for the quarterback's failure to heal up in time for the start of the season. But as this columnist learned from first-hand experience, and as articulated in a Tip Sheet column two weeks ago, neurological progress is a slow and often frustrating process. Nerves regenerate at a painstakingly slow rate, sometimes only a quarter-inch per week, and the process can't be hastened.

All the hard work in the world, hours with trainers or in the weight room and days of sweat and exertion, might not make much difference.

Some things are beyond the realm of diligence -- or, in the case of Manning, frustration -- and nerves are one of them.

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