Thin them out to where they are missing 10 of their top 26 players, send them on the road against a quality team, put them on a short week with that opponent coming off a bye and even for a Peyton Manning-led team there comes a breaking point.
Sunday it arrived at Lincoln Financial Field, a 26-24 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles halting a three-game Indianapolis winning streak and leaving the Colts deadlocked with Tennessee at 5-3 atop the AFC South.
For as poorly as the Colts played, that they even had a chance to try to get Adam Vinatieri in position for a field goal to win it was kind of ridiculous.
“We had the wind with us and you’ve got to love Vinatieri in those chances, so I am disappointed we didn’t give him a shot,” Manning said. “But execution, Philly did a better job than us all night.”
The wind, some drops, steady pressure that produced three sacks and a largely punchless running game didn’t help his cause. But Manning was off too, throwing interceptions early and late to Asante Samuel and hitting on only 31 of 52 passes for 294 yards, a touchdown and a 65.7 passer rating.
“I need to play better,” he said.
Of particular concern to Indianapolis were the first four of six second-half possessions, on which the Colts earned three first downs and Manning connected on just three of 11 passes for 31 yards.
“Right there in the third quarter, we were backed up, we were kind of working against the wind,” Jim Caldwell said. “So we were punting into the wind and just could not punt ourselves out of it with a great flip of the field in terms of special teams, nor could we move ourselves out of that situation. ... That period of time where we just couldn’t get the field flipped was tough.”
The Colts pieced together a nice 16-play, 85 yard drive to get to Javarris James’ second touchdown and narrow the gap to 2-points with 1:50 left.
But extract it from the second half and they moved just 49 yards.
“The second half it sure was tough to get anything going,” Manning said. “There were a couple three-and-outs and not many first downs. We got something going late, but it just wasn’t consistent enough I didn’t think.”
Even on the touchdown drive, it was a Philadelphia penalty that extended things, converting a fourth-and-18 for the Colts. Disagree with the rule as most of the 69,144 in attendance did, but the enforcement on Trent Cole’s hand to Manning’s helmet and the unnecessary roughness attached to it was correct.
As well as the Eagles played in many areas, Andy Reid will have plenty to review with them as they dissect 14 penalties worth 125 yards and six first downs.
The Colts and Manning got their chance to set up Vinatieri with no timeouts left, 40 seconds on the clock and possession at their own 26-yard line.
Michael Vick was on the verge of a head-to-head win over Manning, but knew it was hardly a done deal at that point.
“Every time he’s out on the field, you think he’s going to score a touchdown,” Vick said. “And that’s just how precise he is, that’s how smart he is, that’s the type of player that he’s become and that’s how hard he’s worked throughout his career.
“So the only thing I could tell myself was, just try to match him, keep him off the field.”
The end result rendered another Manning milestone impossible to celebrate. It was his 200th consecutive start, which put him in the exclusive company of Brett Favre and made him the first quarterback in league history to start the first 200 games of his career.
No. 201 will hardly start a friendlier stretch of schedule, though the 2-5 Bengals at Lucas Oil Stadium rate as a bit of a reprieve before a trip to New England.
They had a bye on Oct. 24, but at the end of this one, the Colts seemed worn down. There wasn’t a healthy scratch among their eight inactive players Sunday and now Austin Collieis in question again, too. With reserves who were expected to play supplemental roles now carrying inflated workloads and coming off a bruiser of a game, the Colts have been stretched.
The league will expect them to bounce back. I will too.
But for a day, the Colts and their quarterback looked pretty human.