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Colts' Manning mum on thumb

INDIANAPOLIS -- Peyton Manning thumbed his way through questions about his injured throwing hand yesterday.

"I attended the Bill Belichick school of discussing injuries, so there's my answer," Manning said, drawing laughter.

Belichick, New England's coach, is known for keeping the status of injured players secret, and Manning took advantage of a rare opportunity to do his own impersonation of the three-time Super Bowl winner by giving no update on his right thumb.

Manning, a two-time MVP, kept both hands in his pockets as he walked into a news conference three days after hurting it the AFC Championship game, and when he gestured at the lectern, Manning carefully used his left hand.

The injury is a rare nick for the league's best-known ironman outside of Green Bay.

In nine pro seasons, Manning has started all 156 games, including playoffs, a streak that ranks second among NFL quarterbacks behind only Brett Favre of the Packers.

But with two weeks between his most recent victory and a Super Bowl date against the Chicago Bears, Manning's right thumb has suddenly become big news. He was injured against the Patriots when he hit his hand on the helmet of Pro Bowl left tackle Tarik Glenn.

Monday, coach Tony Dungy said the thumb was discolored and sore, and that Manning needed X-rays. Team owner Jim Irsay said Monday night that the X-rays were negative and Manning was expected to start against Chicago in the Feb. 4 Super Bowl.

That's still the plan.

Manning hasn't deviated from his normal routine of studying the opposing defense or breaking down films this week, and Dungy expected Manning to practice yesterday. During stretching, the only portion of practice reporters were permitted to view, Manning's thumb did not appear discolored or swollen and he did not wear a wrap.

"He's fine," Dungy said. "I didn't even know about it until the next day. He threw on the sideline and he was OK. He looked OK in the game."

In fact, Manning showed no apparent signs of injury in the game's final minutes.

He engineered his first postseason fourth-quarter comeback in 12 games by leading the Colts on an 80-yard drive for the winning score in a 38-34 victory over the Patriots, then taking a knee on the game's final play to run out the clock.

Manning led the Colts back from an 18-point first-half deficit to produce the greatest comeback in conference championship game history.

The only serious medical concern for the Colts, Dungy said, was cornerback Nick Harper's sprained left ankle. Dungy plans to hold Harper out of practice this week and then evaluate the injury. If Harper can't start, Marlin Jackson, who intercepted Tom Brady's final pass Sunday, would likely replace him.

Through the years, Manning has been criticized for not taking the Colts to a Super Bowl. Now that he has finally arrived, he doesn't intend to let an injury keep him out of the biggest game of his career.

The Colts' only Super Bowl victory came 36 years ago, when the then-Baltimore franchise beat Dallas, 16-13, in Miami.

Yesterday, Manning sent a clear message to teammates about preparations.

"The Monday after the game, you start preparing for them, and it's good that we have two weeks to get ready for the Bears," he said. "Having that extra week is nice, but we've got to get better."

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