Early in the first quarter of Sunday night's game, Peyton Manning stood on the sidelines.
Just after a scoring drive to Anthony Gonzalez, Manning had worked the benches, joked with linemen, and then found his place among his receivers to focus. But, as the Patriots kicked off after notching a field goal, he stood alone, helmet on and ready to go.
Looking down at his feet, he twitched his toes off the turf before reaching down to rub his knee when no one was looking. After pausing with his hand there for just a few seconds, he came up and shuffled his feet again.
He was done with his knee, and as he fastened his chin strap, his eyes lit up with the intensity we are used to seeing in Manning.
The knee is not 100 percent, hasn't been 100 percent, and probably won't be until after this season. But Manning has fought through it to get the Colts to a shaky 4-4 start—overcoming his own limitations, a banged up and out-of-sync offensive line, and an injury to Joseph Addai.
Still, 4-4 is far from the typical Colts' start of 7-0, and for a team that hasn't missed the playoffs since 2001, the lack of a win cushion might keep them from playing in January. With a loss to the Titans, the Colts are four games back in the division and putting all their hopes in landing a wild card spot.
Can the "laser, rocket arm" the Colts know and trust get them there?
As a confident fantasy football owner of Peyton Manning, I say it can. Despite the struggles they faced in the early part of the season and the flashes of imperfection we've seen from the never-miss Manning, they'll get it together in the second half to finish strong for a wild card spot.
With the win tonight against the Patriots, Manning and the Colts are starting to put themselves back together again just before what might be their toughest game of the second half, a grinder against the Steelers in Pittsburgh.
Even if the Colts drop one against the stingy Steeler pass defense, they can still get 10 wins this season. Here's how the rest of their season measures up for Manning:
Week 10 - @Steelers (Pass Defense Rank: 1)
Week 11 - Texans (14)
Week 12 - @Chargers (32)
Week 13 - @Browns (13)
Week 14 - Bengals (8)
Week 15 - Lions (29)
Week 16 - @Jaguars (21)
Week 17 - Titans (12)
Manning should be back to his old ways after Pittsburgh, and even with their high ranking against the pass, I expect him to put up good numbers against the Browns and the Bengals.
Every challenging pass defense the Colts face outside of their trip to Pittsburgh and rematch with the Titans is complimented by a rushing defense ranked in the bottom half of the league. Even if Manning has a slow day against these teams, it's hard to see the Colts dropping one with their tandem of Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes.
For fantasy owners, Peyton has to be a strong start in every game except his matchups against the Steelers and Titans, and there aren't many quarterbacks with a better schedule than Manning's when it comes to weeks 14-16, which count for fantasy playoffs.
For the Colts, the second half of the season will be one of the toughest tests they have faced as a team, a team for which "testing" is usually reserved for the playoffs, but the door is open for them to go 10-6 and slip into the playoffs once again as a wild card.
So fasten those chinstraps and stop entertaining the fantasy trade offers, people. It's going to be an intense second half, and I think Colts fans and fantasy owners will be happy with what they see from Peyton Manning.