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Well, so much for that “biggest paycheck of the season” situation.

Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning, the NFL’s only four-time most valuable player, underwent another neck surgery Thursday and could sit out the entire season and possibly more.

It was the third neck procedure in 19 months for Manning, 35, who has missed only one play because of injury in 14 seasons. The development is probably crippling to the Colts, who scrambled to sign veteran Kerry Collins two weeks ago and will start him Sunday at Houston.

In a team statement, the Colts called the procedure — anterior cervical fusion surgery — “uneventful” but said rehabilitation from it is “typically an involved process” and did not give a timetable for his return. The Colts plan to keep him on the active roster “until we have a clear picture of his recovery process.”

Before the team announced the surgery had taken place, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league had been monitoring the situation.

“Peyton isn’t just a great football player, he’s a great man,” Goodell said. “He’s done all the right things on and off the field.

“I’ve been in touch with [the Colts]. I can’t do anything but hope that he gets better quick and gets to a full recovery.”

The procedure was to treat nerve problems that lingered after Manning’s surgery May 23, and the quarterback reportedly had hit a plateau in regaining strength in his triceps. Anterior fusion surgery involves making an incision in the front of the neck, removing the disk tissue between the vertebrae and replacing it with a plastic-like spacer that causes the neighboring vertebrae to fuse together.

Recovery time for such an operation can take at least eight to 10 weeks, and sometimes requires a year or more.

“With professional football players, the neck has to be fully back to strength and healed,” said Dr. Rick Delamarter, medical director of the spine program at Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles. “Even three months could be rushing it.”

Delamarter, who has not treated Manning but has performed neck operations on many NFL players and other professional athletes, said there’s a possibility the Colts could have their star quarterback back by late December or January, but added: “I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they decide to keep him out for the year.”

It’s not all bad news though: experts don’t see any reason why this condition and surgery should end Peyton’s career.



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