Colts looking to rebound after blowout in Houston

Peyton Manning has always been there to bail out the
Indianapolis Colts.

Not this time.

Indy’s franchise quarterback is shut down for at least two
months and possibly the entire season after another neck surgery,
and that means his teammates will have to find a way to rebound
from the embarrassing 34-7 loss to Houston that opened the season
on Sunday.

”It’s too early to say, `Let’s pack up and go home,”’ middle
linebacker Gary Brackett said. ”This team has a lot of fight in
it, and I think we still fought even though the score was lopsided.
Guys didn’t necessarily give up yesterday, so I think that’s what
you’ve got to do. Despite the circumstances, we’ve still got to
fight through it.”

Many wonder if this is what Colts football will look like in
2011 without the four-time league MVP who started 227 consecutive
games before Sunday.

Without Manning, Indianapolis looked lost.

Kerry Collins, Manning’s replacement, gave away two fumbles deep
inside Indy territory in the first quarter. Houston converted both
miscues into quick touchdowns in taking a 17-0 lead.

Indy spent much of the game calling plays in the huddle,
something they rarely did with Manning in charge. And the offensive
line, revamped in the offseason, allowed two sacks of Collins in 11
minutes after allowing 16 or fewer sacks in each of the three
previous seasons.

The prevailing opinion in the Colts locker room was that it
wasn’t Collins’ fault. The veteran quarterback has had about three
weeks to learn the Colts’ offense, after all.

”None of us played well. It had nothing to do with Kerry,” Pro
Bowl center Jeff Saturday said. ”As an offense we just didn’t play
well, and we didn’t execute when we needed to. We had fumbles,
sacks, penalties, any way you could shoot yourself in the foot, we
did it.”

When Manning had his third neck surgery in 19 months last
Thursday, odds makers immediately made Houston a favorite to win,
and others predicted Indy’s long hold on the AFC South title was
already over.

Players and coaches bristled at such suggestions, but until Indy
(0-1) proves it can win without Manning, the quarterback debate
will rage on.

Since late last week, fans have filled local sports radio talk
shows with questions about signing former Jaguars starter David
Garrard or trading for the retired Carson Palmer, who still remains
a Cincinnati Bengal.

It doesn’t even look like the Colts are contemplating a
change.

Coach Jim Caldwell said Monday he never considered using
third-stringer Curtis Painter on Sunday. Receiver Austin Collie
also threw his support behind Collins despite acknowledging the
Colts, and likely Collins, were nervous early.

Could the Colts be taking a longer-term view?

Perhaps. Team vice chairman Bill Polian spent Saturday watching
the Stanford-Duke game, where he got a chance to scout quarterback
Andrew Luck and mingle with his son, Brian, a Stanford assistant,
near the family’s North Carolina home.

Team owner Jim Irsay also used Twitter to deliver a cryptic
message Monday.

”There will b some shocking,dramatic,inspiring,unimaginable
things happening n Coltsland the next 18 months…buckle up,stay
faithful,BELIEVE,” he wrote, without elaborating on the
comment.

Of course, the Colts have other issues, too.

One year after Houston’s Arian Foster burned the Colts for 231
yards in a season-opening 34-24 victory that wasn’t even that
close, the Texans ran for 167 yards and held the ball for nearly 37
minutes on Sunday — without Foster. Houston’s Danieal Manning
returned the opening kickoff 46 yards, and Jacoby Jones took a punt
back 79 yards for TD in the final minute of the first half.

The dismal performance prompted questions about how motivated
the Colts actually were, something Caldwell dismissed.

”We’ve never had an effort (issue). Never around here, and we
never will,” he said.

The bad news doesn’t end with the loss.

Brackett, the defensive captain, could join Manning, the
offensive captain, on the sideline this week. Brackett injured his
left shoulder on an interception return late in the fourth quarter
and did not return. Free-agent acquisition Ernie Sims, a backup at
outside linebacker, sprained his left knee and did not return.

Caldwell did not provide updates on either of the injuries
Monday, with Cleveland coming to town on Sunday.

During last year’s opening loss to Houston, Manning called his
teammates into a fourth-quarter huddle on the sideline. The Colts
responded by winning their seventh AFC South title in eight
years.

On Sunday, five-time Pro Bowl receiver Reggie Wayne called his
teammates into another sideline huddle late in the game.

Only this time, they’ll have to rebound without the Manning
magic.

”Obviously, he’s not here. But to be truthful, I don’t think if
Peyton was back there it would have been much better yesterday,”
Saturday said. ”We didn’t play well and we weren’t efficient in
our offense. We just didn’t produce the way we need to, and we
didn’t get it done.”