By MICHAEL MAROT
AP Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Peyton Manning would like to play this season if he can.
He's just not sure when, or if, it will happen.
On Thursday, the four-time league MVP made his second impromptu locker-room appearance of the season, telling reporters that he is healing. Just not very fast.
"We're still waiting for the fusion to take place, it's still going slow and we still have some issues with the regeneration of the nerve," he said. "I still have some restrictions."
Manning had a spinal fusion procedure Sept. 8 to repair a damaged nerve that was causing weakness in his throwing arm. It was his third neck surgery in 19 months.
Doctors who were not involved with Manning's surgery said it was likely to take two or three months before Indy's franchise quarterback could make it back onto the practice field, a timeline that is consistent with what Manning said Thursday.
The surgery ended Manning's streak of 208 consecutive regular-season starts and his team has struggled all season. QB Kerry Collins wasn't the answer, then was lost to an injury of his own, and backup Curtis Painter has been solid but unable to lead the Colts to a win heading into Sunday's game against Atlanta.
Last month, a jovial Manning showed up unexpectedly in the locker room and told reporters he had been cleared to stand on the sideline with his teammates and that he would be getting X-rays every four weeks.
He was more serious Thursday, especially as the line of questioning turned to things like the possibility of Indianapolis (0-8) drafting Andrew Luck or another heir apparent, his contract and even the future of coach Jim Caldwell. Manning did his best to disengage from the debate.
"Those are all fair questions, but that's not what I'm going to talk about right now," Manning said. "I'm thinking about how can I get a little better? (The contract) is really a one-year deal with a four-year extension and that was my recommendation because I wasn't healthy when I signed the contract."
Bill Polian, the Colts vice chairman, told radio listeners Monday night that Indy wanted to keep Manning on the active roster so he could practice during the final month of the season, though it was unlikely Manning would take a game-day snap.
Manning acknowledged Thursday that he would like to practice — and he would like to play, too.
"I like to play, I miss being out there in the huddle," he said. "So if I have a chance to be back out there, I'd love to do it."
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