The unthinkable suddenly seems possible in Indianapolis – opening the season without Peyton Manning.
The four-time league-MVP who has never missed a start in his NFL career is doubtful for Sunday’s game at Houston because of lingering soreness in his back following offseason neck surgery. If Manning sits, it would be the first time the NFL’s active iron man missed a meaningful game after 227 consecutive starts including the playoffs.
“I hate it for Peyton,” said Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday, one of Manning’s closest friends. “You want him to be healthy, you want him to be back, but you want him to take care of it, too. It’s sad when players face tough times, but I know he’s strong enough to get through it.”
The question is whether the Colts can survive without their franchise quarterback, whose streak stands second in NFL history to Brett Favre’s among all QBs.
Team officials have not said how much longer it could take Manning to recover, leaving that decision to Manning and his doctors.
Over the years, life without Manning has been pretty dismal.
The only time he missed a regular-season snap because of injury, against Miami in 2001, backup Mark Rypien fumbled. The Dolphins recovered, then drove 59 yards for the winning score. Manning returned on the next series with a bloody mouth. He was later diagnosed with a hairline fracture in his jaw.
On the rare occasions when Manning has played sparingly, in the preseason and meaningless late-season games, the Colts have not fared much better.
The goal now is to change that trend.
“If anything, we want to go out there and step it up,” Pro Bowl safety Antoine Bethea said. “Of course it will be different (without Manning), but it’s one of those things that if it happens, everybody else has to step up. It’s next man up.”
SAINTS: New Orleans gave coach Sean Payton a contract extension through 2015.
The team says Monday that Payton has agreed to the deal.
Payton took over as coach in 2006 and led the Saints to the NFC South title. Three years later, he guided them to their first conference championship, and they beat Indianapolis in the Super Bowl. Payton has a 53-33 record, including postseason, with New Orleans.
REDSKINS: Rex Grossman will be the starting quarterback for the season opener against the New York Giants.
Coach Mike Shanahan said Monday that Grossman has won the job over John Beck. The two competed throughout training camp and through four preseason games for the No. 1 job.
Grossman will be an opening day quarterback for the first time since 2007, the season after he took the Chicago Bears to the Super Bowl.
Grossman completed 64 percent of his passes during preseason with two touchdowns, one interception and a 92.3 rating.
SEAHAWKS: Offensive lineman Robert Gallery has a sprained knee and his availability for the opener Sunday in San Francisco is in question.
He’s not the only newcomer with injury concerns, according to Seahawks coach Pete Carroll.
Seattle wide receiver Sidney Rice is still being bothered by a sore shoulder. While starting running back Marshawn Lynch (ankle) and starting middle linebacker David Hawthorne (knee) are expected to return to practice Wednesday, Carroll was unsure if Rice would be able to return to practice.
With questions about Gallery’s health, the Seahawks are shuffling around some of their offensive line, including having first-round pick James Carpenter, a former Hephzibah High School star, take some snaps at left guard
CARDINALS: Arizona bolstered its depleted running back corps by signing veteran Chester Taylor.
The Cardinals were waiting for other teams to make roster cuts to find a backup to starter Beanie Wells after promising rookie Ryan Williams went down with a season-ending knee injury. Taylor, a 10-year NFL veteran, was released by the Chicago Bears on Saturday.
GIANTS: Two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Osi Umenyiora probably will miss the season opener against the Washington Redskins.
Umenyiora had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee Aug. 19, and coach Tom Coughlin said Monday the 29-year-old who is entering his ninth season with the Giants hasn’t progressed enough to play.