Peyton Manning: Why Neck Injury May Cause Him to Miss Entire 2011 Season

Russell Puntenney@@RussPuntContributor IIISeptember 9, 2011

GLENDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 27:  Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Indianapolis Colts looks on from the bench in the fourth quarter against the Arizona Cardinals during the game at University of Phoenix Stadium on September 27, 2009 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The streak is over.

It was fun while it lasted, it will never be forgotten, and even if isn’t the absolute longest in NFL history, it’s still something special nevertheless.

It was all with one team.  It started on day one.  It spanned beyond a decade, and it included one of the most successful decades a quarterback has ever experienced.

It is indeed over, however, and until Manning’s entire career is too (a disturbing thought increasingly prevalent in each of our minds the longer this saga drags on), the focus now shifts from whether or not the quarterback will start, to when, if ever, he’ll return.

When that may be is still anybody’s guess, of course (he’s expected to miss up to three months currently), but even with all the uncertainty still lingering, there are plenty of reasons to already expect that it might not be this year.

Cover your ears now, Colts fans.

The Streak is Over

With the streak finally over, any extra incentive Manning may have had to tough it out and return from this injury early is now gone.

Not that he doesn’t still have plenty of reasons to try and get back out there as soon as possible, of course, but from this point forward, the decision will be based solely on what’s practical, and not in any way influenced, as we all know it in some way used to be, by something purely sentimental.

Manning won’t be taking any unnecessary risks now that his streak has ended.  He just signed a new five-year contract.  He wants to play.  The Colts want him to play.  Everybody wants him to play.

After healing for almost four months, this Sunday still seemed like an unnecessary risk.

Is there any question, then, that it will still seem that way three months from now, after the quarterback underwent yet another procedure just yesterday, one that normally takes between three and six months to come back from?

With how slowly Manning’s recovery has advanced so far, chances seem awfully likely that it will.

Something Smells Fishy

This whole neck problem has seemed very mysterious since day one, and whenever you hear anyone from the Colts discuss the situation, you can’t help but think there’s something these guys aren’t telling us.

The organization is already notoriously tight-lipped when it comes to these sorts of things—they’ve withheld injury details in the past, and if their track record of keeping star players healthy is any indication, there’s a good chance Peyton might never be back.

It’s probably a smart move on their part.  There’s no reason to show your cards earlier than you have to—after all, and as long as there is still a chance the four-time MVP could make an appearance this season, by all means they should continue to wait this thing out.

But the longer the uncertainty remains, the more severe Manning’s ailment appears, and, consequently, the more likely it seems that he won’t be back this year.

He’s Getting Old

Manning is 35 years old.  He’s been playing football since he learned to walk. He’s had four surgeries in three years now, and until this weekend, he hadn’t missed a day of work in 13 consecutive years.

An ordeal like this would take its toll on anyone, and even though Manning is often the least-sacked quarterback in the league, you don’t need a team of doctors to tell you the grind of the gridiron has finally caught up to this guy.  That does tend to happen when you play 227 football games in a row, after all.

Peyton Manning is not Superman.  He might play the part every now and then, but he’s a flesh-and-blood mortal just like everybody else, and unless he’s fully healthy again by November, he’d probably be wise just to sit this one out.

Otherwise, missing a couple of football games might be the least of his problems.

He’s Not Ready

After the first surgery, it was three months before Manning was cleared to practice again, and even then it was only on a “scripted” and extremely limited basis.

Even if his recovery from this second surgery progresses faster than anyone expects, then he’d still be tossed into the fire midway through the year with virtually no time to physically prepare and having missed all of training camp, the entire preseason and at least half of the regular season.

By that time, getting the veteran quarterback back into game shape might not even seem worthwhile.

Many Great Quarterbacks Miss a Year

There’s a reason we respect Manning’s streak so much: it’s so rare only one other quarterback who’s ever played the game has matched or surpassed it.   

Playing quarterback in the NFL is like being on America’s most-wanted list.  At some point along the way, your pursuers are going to get their man, and when they do, the consequences are often devastating.

Joe Montana missed the entire 1991 season with an elbow injury but came back and played for three more seasons.  (Doctors also told Montana his career was finished back in 1986 after undergoing emergency back surgery, but he overcame that injury too and went on to win two more Super Bowls).

Dan Marino played only five games of the 1993 season due to a torn Achilles tendon, then came back and had one of the finest years of his career in 1994 and played five more seasons after that.

Warren Moon missed half the 1996 season with a broken collarbone, but didn’t retire until 2001 at the age of 44.  Ken Stabler battled through injuries the last few years of his career but survived until age 39, and, most recently, a 32-year-old Tom Brady came back after missing all but a quarter of the 2008 season and has been on an absolute tear ever since.

If there’s any silver lining to the dismal situation facing Peyton and the Colts, then it’s that pretty much every quarterback in NFL history has had to deal with some sort of potentially serious infliction like this at some point, and that almost every great quarterback has been able to overcome it.

Taking a year off wouldn’t necessarily be so bad, nor would it be that unusual.

The only reason it seems that way is because Peyton has been so consistent for so long.