Peyton Manning hasn't missed a start in his entire 13-year NFL career, but that will change Sunday when the Ironman Colts QB won't lead his team under center due to lingering issues with his neck.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The numbers tell it all.
Exactly 227 consecutive starts.
Eleven playoff appearances.
Eleven double-digit winning seasons.
Eight division crowns.
Two AFC titles.
One Super Bowl championship.
Peyton Manning has quarterbacked the Indianapolis Colts every Sunday since Sept. 6, 1998.
He won't this weekend.
Manning will be in street clothes when the team opens the season at Houston, still recovering from neck surgery while Kerry Collins starts in his place.
"It's going to be a little different without Peyton," coach Jim Caldwell said. "He's one of a kind. When you look across our league, most teams have had quarterbacks that have missed time. Ours has just been highly unusual."
The streak is the second longest in history among NFL quarterbacks behind only Brett Favre, whose 297-game run -- 321 including the postseason -- ended last season just before he called it a career.
Colts left tackle Anthony Castonzo was 10 years old when Manning's streak began. Veteran center Jeff Saturday has never snapped the ball to another quarterback to start a game during his pro career. In fact, no player on Indy's roster has participated in a regular-season or playoff game for the Colts without No. 18 at the controls.
Giants quarterback Eli Manning, Peyton's younger brother, now holds the longest active streak for a quarterback with 110 starts, including postseason play. He said he had not talked to his brother for a few weeks.
"I know he was dealing with a lot," the younger Manning said. "I don't know how he is feeling and what's going on. I know he wants to be out there. He gave his all and he will give his all to be back out there."
The Colts had hoped the 35-year-old Manning would recover while developing a backup plan. Collins, who was brought out of retirement just two weeks ago to run the Colts' pass-heavy offense, has been preparing as though he would start.
"I expect to run the offense, bottom line," he said. "Make plays when they're there, be smart with the ball, make good reads, good decisions, get us into the right plays when the situation calls for it. I'm going into this week thinking I'm going to run the offense as best I can."
Defensive end Dwight Freeney said the Colts still expect to play at a championship level.
"Obviously, we're not used to not having him (Manning) out there," Freeney said. "He's a great player. There are 52 other guys on the team, and one guy does not win the game."
The Texans don't expect an easy game because Manning won't play. They are familiar with Collins, who played for AFC South rival Tennessee last year.
"I think he's a hell of a player," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said of Collins. "He's been successful against us. My focus right now is on our team. We've got to get ourselves ready to play. It doesn't matter who you play, or whatever, it matters how you play in this business. We've got to prepare to get ready to win a game."
Manning had been listed as doubtful for the game, but losing him for any time is a shock to Indy fans, not to mention his teammates. Not only has the four-time NFL MVP never missed a start, he's rarely missed practice.
Manning sat out one week of training camp in 1998 before signing his rookie contract. A decade later, he missed all of training camp in 2008 because he underwent surgery twice to remove an infected bursa sac from his left knee.
The only other time his playing status was in doubt was 2001 after he was injured at Minnesota in a preseason game.
"To say I am disappointed in not being able to play is an understatement," Manning said in a release from the team. "The best part about football is being out there on the field playing with my teammates. It will be tough not to be out there playing for the organization and our fans. I simply am not healthy enough to play, and I am doing everything I can to get my health back. The team will do fine without me, and I know for sure that I will miss them much more than they miss me."
Manning had neck surgery to repair a nerve May 23, but the recovery has taken much longer than the expected 6-8 weeks that would have put him back on the field for the start of training camp. Instead, he started camp on the physically unable to perform list and wasn't activated until last Monday.
He did limited work at practice last week, which led to complaints about back pain. The team issued a statement saying that team doctors had re-evaluated Manning and instructed him to stop practicing while he undergoes more tests. No additional surgery has been scheduled.
Caldwell said the bad news only became clear Wednesday.
"We always knew it was a chance," he said. "That's what doubtful means. You always have to prepare for the worst and hope for the best."
Caldwell said he had confidence in Collins, who was lured out of retirement by the Colts as Manning's recovery dragged on.
"The guy's thrown for 40,000 yards. He can throw the ball," Caldwell said.
Collins has made 177 career starts and been to two Pro Bowls. He took the Carolina Panthers to the 1996 NFC Championship game and the New York Giants to the Super Bowl after the 2000 season. He helped Tennessee post the AFC's best record (13-3) in 2008.
Still, he has had less than two weeks to learn Indy's offense, which has traditionally called plays at the line of scrimmage. He didn't even play with Pro Bowlers Reggie Wayne or Dallas Clark in a preseason game, and the Colts will open the season with three new starters on the offensive line and a fourth, former right tackle Ryan Diem, moving inside to guard.
He also now carries the expectations of fans hoping Indy can become the first host team to play in the Super Bowl in February.
Collins says he's ready to step in.
"I really do feel like I've come a long way in a short period of time," he said. "Now that we're into game planning, things are a little more focused and a little more centralized on what we're trying to accomplish. My comfort level is still pretty high."