Altered practice routine caused slow start for Manning, Colts

INDIANAPOLIS -- Peyton Manning thrives on repetition.

He'd take every snap in every game -- even every practice -- just to stay sharp.

The Indianapolis Colts now understand the consequences when Manning's routine is altered.

The two-time league MVP acknowledged Tuesday he changed his practice regimen early this season after having surgery on his left knee, and it wasn't until late October that things started returning to normal.

Not surprisingly, that was almost exactly when the Colts started a nine-game winning streak that sent them back to the playoffs.

"I thought as a team, we started doing the things that we used to do. We got back to just basic fundamental football, the things coach has always been preaching to us," Manning said. "But I will say at around that time, I started getting back to a normal practice routine, as far as what I'm used to doing over the past 11 years, so I started feeling more comfortable playing as well."

Manning spent most of the season deflecting questions about the infected bursa sac that required two surgeries and forced him to miss all of training camp. He repeatedly told reporters during the late summer he wouldn't discuss the injury and called the questions irrelevant after returning to the field.

But Manning has dropped hints about how much the injury hurt his early-season progression.

In late October, he confirmed a previously undisclosed second surgery. A couple of weeks ago, he said he had lost about 10 pounds while sitting out and on Monday, Sports Illustrated reported on its Web site new details about Manning's grueling recuperation.

Manning told the magazine the knee looked like a brain after it was unwrapped and said he struggled with balance and stepping into throws early in the season, things that could clearly be seen on game tapes. The Colts also tried to protect Manning's knee by running more pitch plays rather than the Colts' patented stretch play.

Yet it still took Manning nearly two months to get back to normal, and his first serious injury as a pro changed his perspective on injuries.

"It's not something I want to go through again," Manning said. "I have a whole new respect level for guys like Carson Palmer that have recovered from ACL injuries and what Tom [Brady] is going through. Let me make it clear, mine in no way compares to ACL surgery, but just the time with the trainers and rehab, it gives you a new respect for guys that have been able to come back from injuries."

Since November, things have changed dramatically for Manning and the Colts.

Instead of spending extra hours in the training room, Manning used that precious time to study films and make throws, and Indy's fortunes immediately turned around.

Manning has thrown 17 touchdowns and three interceptions and been sacked just five times during the Colts' longest season-ending winning streak since 1975. He is 90-of-110 over the last four games and has a completion percentage topping 70 in six straight games.

The result: Indy finished its sixth straight season with at least 12 wins, an NFL record, and clinched its seventh straight playoff appearance. Manning and the Colts now head to San Diego on Saturday.

But of all the memorable moments Manning has provided in the past 11 years -- a Super Bowl title in 2006, a 13-0 start in 2005, 49 touchdowns passes in 2004, MVP awards in 2003 and 2004 -- teammates and coaches think this may be Manning's top achievement.

"For winning under pressure and doing it consistently when we needed it, this has been a great stretch," coach Tony Dungy said. "I'd be very surprised if he doesn't win [the MVP award] based on how we've played, what we had to do to get back in it and the performance he's had the last nine weeks of the year."

Manning refuses to take all the credit.

He calls the turning point Dungy's typically low-key call to the players to focus on doing their own jobs better.

But in Manning's case, that meant getting healthy first. Once he did, his practice routine returned to normal and, not surprisingly, so did the Colts.

"It was just different," Manning said. "Anytime something is different, there are always some unknowns. You just don't know, and you're not as comfortable. I'm glad it's over with."