TIME TO RESPOND

Colts quarterback Peyton Manning on Wednesday said his return in the regular-season opener from off-season knee surgery went about as expected. Now, he said the keys for he and the Colts are clear: score more, put the defense in fewer difficult situations and find a way to even the season record.

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Manning Says Key for Colts is How They Respond to Season-Opening Loss
INDIANAPOLIS – Looking back, Peyton Manning said his return went about as expected.

He wasn't quite 100 percent.

He didn't quite play at his top level.

And as a result, the Colts' offense wasn't quite as efficient as usual in a regular season-opening loss to the Chicago Bears this past Sunday. Now, the Colts' eight-time Pro Bowl quarterback said Wednesday, the challenges facing he and the offense Sunday are clear:

Score more. Don't put the defense in difficult situations.

And find a way to even the record.

"I didn't have much to compare Sunday's game to," Manning said Wednesday as the Colts (0-1) prepared to play the Minnesota Vikings (0-1) at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minn., Sunday at 1 p.m.

"I didn't have a choice of whether I played in the preseason or not. It wasn't one of these where I was, 'I'm going to not play because I want to rest my legs.' It was a pretty good accomplishment in itself the fact that I was able to get out there and play."

Manning, an eight-time Pro Bowl selection and two-time National Football League Most Valuable Player, underwent knee surgery to remove an infected bursa sac 10 days before the July 24 start of training camp, then did not play throughout the preseason.

Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said Manning responded well physically following the game, as did defensive end Dwight Freeney who played in his first regular-season game since a season-ending foot injury last November.

"Peyton didn't have too many problems and felt pretty good," Dungy said. "I think the fact they both got through first big test and feel pretty good, that's a plus."

Manning, who never had missed a regular-season game in his first 10 NFL seasons, not only didn't play during the preseason, he didn't practice until the week of the preseason finale. Against Chicago, he completed 30 of 49 passes for 257 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions.

"It's disrespectful to the position and to the NFL for how difficult it is to think you can not only not play but not practice in the preseason and expect to be at your top level in Week 1," Manning said. "It's too hard of a game and it's too hard of a job playing quarterback. Obviously, you don't want to tell the Bears, 'Hey, I'm probably only going to be this percent' before the game, but I knew I probably wouldn't be 100 percent for that game.

"Hopefully, I can just keep working each week and get more and more comfortable and just do my job."

Manning said he began to feel comfortable in the Bears game at the start of the third quarter, leading the Colts on a seven-play, 52-yard touchdown drive that ended with a 6-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Reggie Wayne and made it 15-13, Bears.

Colts wide receiver Marvin Harrison then fumbled on the ensuing drive. Bears linebacker Lance Briggs returned it 21 yards for a touchdown, and on the ensuing drive, running back Dominic Rhodes was stopped for a 2-yard loss on 4th-and-1 from the 50.

"It really went somewhat like I thought it would," Manning said. "I thought it would take me a quarter and a half or two quarters to kind of get hit, and get a little bit of a feel going. I felt like I did kind of after that first drive of the second half where we had a touchdown. The next thing you know, we had the fumble for a touchdown and the 4th-and-1.

"The game was somewhat out of reach at that point."

Manning, who said on Wednesday the offense hurt the defense by allowing the fumble for a touchdown, a safety and by giving the Bears good field position by missing the fourth-quarter fourth-down conversion, said while the loss gave the Colts a rare losing record, "the key is how we handle it."

"Sixteen teams are 0-1 right now," Manning said. "Hopefully, we can be one of the ones that handle it the right way and has a good week of practice. The biggest goal is everybody needs to focus on doing their job better. Collectively, that should hopefully result in better overall team play.

"That's the focus. We need to have a really good week of practice and preparation. We have a really tough challenge going on the road to Minnesota."

The Colts have not been 0-1 since September of 2004, when they lost the season opener to defending and eventual Super Bowl champion New England in Foxboro, Mass., before winning their next four games. The Colts that season won 12 of 14 games after the opener to clinch a second consecutive AFC South title.

The 2004 season also was the last time the Colts were in second place in the AFC South. They trailed the Jacksonville Jaguars in October of that season before an eight-game winning streak in November and December clinched the division.

"We need to figure out where we are and what type of team we are," Colts safety Bob Sanders said. "We know what we can do. We just have to go prove it. Sunday was a great test for us and we didn't prove what we could do.

"The good thing is, the season is long and we still have time to get back to where we need to be."

The Colts, in making the playoffs eight of the last nine seasons, have been a team known for quick starts. Seven of their eight playoff appearances since drafting Manning in 1998 have come after the team won its opener, with four of the five consecutive AFC South titles following starts of 5-0 or better – 5-0 in 2003, 13-0 in 2005, 9-0 in 2006 and 7-0 last season.

The only season in the last decade in which the Colts made the playoffs after an 0-1 start was 2004, when the team won 12 of its next 14 games en route to the AFC South title.

"I had to talk about that Monday, that one loss is tough no matter when it comes," Dungy said. "There's no good time to lose, but they're all the same. Whether you lose opening day and don't lose again or whether you lose Week 16 or any week in between they're all one loss. You can't make more of it than it is, but we don't have one win yet and that's probably the difference for a lot of these guys.

"Especially the young players, you can't say, 'The season's over,' or, 'We can't go to a bowl game now,' or, 'We can't be in the BCS championship.'"

Middle linebacker Gary Brackett, the team's defensive captain, said the focus this week isn't on change or drastic speeches.

"It's inches between wins and losses, first downs and interceptions," Brackett said. "I think it (getting back to how they want to play) is not a difficult task. Obviously, we didn't want to start the way we did, but for us to get back on the right track, it's coming in, getting your workout in, watching film grading, and being very constructive of how you played and going out this week with the mindset of wanting to get better."

Also on Wednesday, Manning said he has been in contact with New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady by text and voice mail this week. Brady sustained a season-ending knee injury this past Sunday.

"I'm sick about Tom Brady," Manning said. "I haven't really watched many of the highlight shows or whatever. The couple of times I've had the television on and they were about to show it, I don't look at it. I'm disappointed about it, because I know how hard he has worked.

"I hate for any quarterback to get hurt and to have a knee injury and miss the entire season. It's a shame."

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