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Reeling Colts in rare underdog role against Browns

The Indianapolis Colts knew life without Peyton Manning would be difficult. But maybe not this bad.

The long-feared and hardly prepared-for contingency for Manning's season- threatening neck injury was unveiled to the world last Sunday in the form of recently-retired quarterback Kerry Collins, and somehow the 38-year-old managed to underwhelm even the most die-hard of Indianapolis optimists.

So while the usually-resilient Colts have entered Week 2 at 0-1 as recently as last season, it's been far, far longer since the team had as much concern over when that initial victory would actually arrive than it does at the moment.

Chance No. 2 comes Sunday against the Cleveland Browns at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Collins, who'd won exactly two times in 13 NFL starts since 2008, made it 2- in-14 in an Indianapolis debut which ended in a 34-7 loss at Houston that probably wasn't even that close in reality. The well-traveled veteran completed 16-of-31 passes for 172 yards and one cosmetic score in the fourth quarter, long after the host Texans had established a 34-point advantage by halftime.

It was the Colts' first single-digit scoring performance in a meaningful game since a 20-3 playoff loss at New England in January of 2005.

Collins was also sacked twice in the first quarter and lost two fumbles inside the Indianapolis 20-yard line that led directly to Houston touchdowns.

"We'll improve, we have to improve," Collins said. "There were too many mistakes, too many turnovers. You know any kind of start would be better than what we had last week."

The quick disaster had some Colts fans pining for the import of recently- released Jacksonville quarterback David Garrard or the engineering of a deal for holdout Cincinnati signal-caller Carson Palmer.

As for Manning, Indianapolis general manager Bill Polian said this week the four-time league MVP will remain on the active roster while recovering from his recent surgery until either he returns, or management is convinced he won't play this season.

"As long as the doctors tell us there's a chance for him to come back," Polian said. "We saved the spot for [former safety] Bob Sanders last year all the way up to Week 12, maybe even beyond that. Because the prognosis, which is just that -- it's a guesstimate the doctors give you, it's not cast in concrete -- was that Bob had a chance to make it back by the end of the season.

"It bears very, very strong emphasis that [Manning] will not be allowed back on the field until the doctors are satisfied that he's 100 percent and ready to go, regardless of what occurs with the season or doesn't occur with the season. His long-term health is what's the most important thing here."

The Browns also opened with a Week 1 loss that was excruciating in its own way.

The Cleveland defense got caught napping by Cincinnati's quick-snapping Bruce Gradkowski in its season debut, giving up the decisive score in an eventual 27-17 loss to the Bengals when the quarterback fired a 41-yard touchdown pass to rookie A.J. Green with the Browns in the middle of a substitution with less than five minutes remaining.

The Browns' coaching staff initially thought the play was illegal, but conceded later they were to blame.

"There are no excuses," first-year head coach Pat Shurmur said. "If [the Bengals] no-huddle or quick-huddle, we have to get out there and cover. If that doesn't happen properly, let's call a timeout. It got snapped so quickly, we couldn't really get it, because you're initially trying to get everybody where they need to be.

"It's something we'll work on. We'll make sure it never happens again."

SERIES HISTORY

Cleveland has a 13-12 edge in its all-time regular season series with Indianapolis, but has yet to beat the Colts over the course of the Manning era. Indianapolis has gone 5-0 against the Browns since 1999 and extended that winning streak with a 10-6 decision in Cleveland during the 2008 season. The Browns last bested the Colts on Sept. 25, 1994, a 21-14 victory at the RCA Dome under then-head coach Bill Belichick, and dropped a 13-6 verdict there in 2005 in the franchise's most recent visit to Indianapolis.

In addition, these clubs have met four times previously in the postseason, with each winning two of those contests. Cleveland downed the Baltimore Colts to claim the 1964 NFL Championship, with the Colts returning the favor in the 1968 league title game, and Baltimore also posted a 20-3 road triumph over the Browns in a 1971 AFC Divisional Playoff. Cleveland took the last postseason matchup, registering a 38-21 home win in a 1987 AFC Divisional Playoff.

Both Shurmur and Indianapolis' Jim Caldwell will be opposing one another, as well as their counterpart's respective team, for the first time as head coaches.

WHEN THE BROWNS HAVE THE BALL

Quarterback Colt McCoy (213 passing yards, 2 TD, 1 INT last week) tied a career-high with two touchdown passes against the Bengals and has a 92.7 passer rating in four career starts on the road. Since 2010, running back Peyton Hillis is tied for second among players at his position with 67 receptions, trailing only LeSean McCoy (80) and Ray Rice (67), and had six catches in last week's loss. Tight end Benjamin Watson (3 receptions, 1 TD) needs 90 receiving yards to reach 3,000 for his career, while counterpart Evan Moore (3 receptions, 1 TD) recorded his second career touchdown reception last week. For his career, wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi averages 16.2 yards per catch (73 receptions, 1,184 yards) and had a 56-yard reception last week, his second- longest as a pro. Return specialist Joshua Cribbs enters the contest needing just six kick-return yards to surpass Desmond Howard (7,959) for seventh-most in league history.

Indianapolis linebacker Gary Brackett posted his seventh career interception last week, but has been ruled out for Sunday's contest with a shoulder injury. Fellow linebacker Pat Angerer led the team with 13 tackles against Texans, while defensive end Dwight Freeney has six sacks in four career games against the Browns. Freeney's pass-rushing partner, Robert Mathis, has three sacks in his past two outings against Cleveland and posted his 75th career sack last week. Safety Melvin Bullitt also came up with an interception in the season- opening loss.

The Browns are 22nd in points scored and 26th in offensive yardage (285) after one week of play, while the Colts are 27th in scoring defense and 20th in yards allowed (384).

WHEN THE COLTS HAVE THE BALL

In spite of the offense's struggles, Collins (197 passing yards, 1 TD) surpassed Hall of Famer Joe Montana for 10th on the all-time passing yardage list last week and now has totaled 40,638 yards over his long career. He is 2-1 as a starter against the Browns and has six touchdown passes against three interceptions and an 84.6 passer rating in those games. Collins finished with an 82.3 passer rating against Houston. The Colts are 8-2 when running back Joseph Addai has 90-plus rushing yards, but he was limited to just 39 on eight carries by the Texans. Wide receiver Reggie Wayne (7 receptions, 106 yards, 1 TD) posted his 36th career game with 100-plus receiving yards last week, and the Colts are 26-10 all-time during that span. Wayne needs six receptions to reach 800 for his career and had six grabs for 97 yards in Indianapolis' last home meeting with the Browns, which occurred in 2005. Tight end Dallas Clark (4 receptions) is also close to a milestone, needing just three more receptions to reach 400.

Cleveland linebacker D'Qwell Jackson set a career high with a pair of sacks against the Bengals, while cornerback Joe Haden had a personal-best five passes defended in the loss. Rookies Phil Taylor (first round, No. 21 overall) and Jabaal Sheard (second round, No. 37 overall) both started on the defensive line in their NFL debuts last week, and the two will be asked to apply pressure to Collins on Sunday.

The initially-inept Colts are 30th in scoring and 28th in total yards (236) through a week, while Cleveland is 19th in points allowed and ninth in total defense (294 yards) at the moment.

KEYS TO THE GAME

Collins has been to the Pro Bowl and played in a Super Bowl during his career, so he's being counted on to show at least some measure of improvement in his second start with the Colts. The veteran got a late start in training camp, but should become more familiar and comfortable with the offense in time.

The Browns' defense was actually pretty sturdy in terms of yards allowed against the Bengals, and might have helped Shurmur to his first victory had it not been for the late-stage inattention. That can't happen again if Cleveland is to return to the win column.

In Collins' defense, veterans like Addai and Clark didn't distinguish themselves last week, and they'll need to be more of a contributor in this game to get the Colts back on track.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

It can't be that bad again, can it? If Collins had been the starting quarterback for the entire training camp, the Colts would probably be favored in this game based on better talent in surrounding spots. Still, Indianapolis is at home and will have another week to adjust to a newcomer under center, putting the team in position to make a Week 2 "last stand" that'll help stave off the recent talk of acquisitions or having a chance to land Andrew Luck in next year's draft.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Colts 24, Browns 20