Murmurs that the condition of Peyton Manning’s neck could cause him to miss an extended period of time have turned to shrieking screams, at least in Marion County and surrounding Indiana townships. The Colts have confirmed that No. 18 isn’t recuperating properly from surgery to repair a bulging disc.

From the team:

During the last week, the rate of improvement in Peyton’s rehabilitation process slowed. Over the weekend Peyton experienced soreness in his back. It was originally thought to be a normal reaction to his rehabilitation regimen. When the soreness persisted, the Colts medical team decided to initiate diagnostic tests and to consult with a number of specialists around the country who have been involved in Peyton’s case from the outset. That process continues. As a result of the most recent development the doctors have decided that Peyton will not practice. His participation therefore, in Sunday’s game versus Houston will likely be doubtful. We will update his playing status as required by NFL policy as the week goes on.

At the conclusion of the diagnostic process, if there are any new developments in the prognosis which we outlined for Peyton at the start of training camp we will report them. As of now Peyton continues to deal with a complicated neurological recovery, the end date of which is unpredictable.

As was stated at the outset, it serves no useful purpose to speculate about hypothetical outcomes. When and if there are concrete medical facts to report we will do so.

We appreciate your consideration in this matter.

While the content of that press release is startling, you can’t help but wonder if there’s even more concern than the team is letting on. Outspoken owner Jim Irsay’s recent tweets would seem to indicate that there is a legitimate chance Manning will miss an extended period of time.

A sampling of Irsay on Twitter this weekend from 18 To88:

And while I’m trying to avoid hyperbole, this might be the point at which we begin to wonder if Manning’s career could be derailed by this injury.

But the focus right now is on the immediate future. Without Manning, the Colts would likely be underdogs in Houston in Week 1. They have Pittsburgh, Tampa and Kansas City in Weeks 3, 4 and 5 and don’t have their bye until mid-November. If Manning’s already being labelled as doubtful now and doesn’t appear to be close to practicing, it’s hard to imagine him being ready to go at any point in September. (Football Outsiders points out that doubtful quarterbacks virtually never start.)

The fact that the super-secretive Colts felt the need to make this information public also indicates that this is a dangerous situation.

It’s particularly dangerous because the entire Colts’ offense is reliant on Manning. In fact, no offense is more reliant on any player than the Colts are on him. Without him, the entire team is different. Kerry Collins had less than three weeks to get acclimated to a nuanced system and Curtis Painter has proven to be a disastrous option.

But that doesn’t mean the season is lost in Indianapolis. We saw what Matt Cassel did in Tom Brady’s stead with the Patriots in 2008 and Irsay seemed excited to point out that the 1999 Rams and the 2001 Pats won Super Bowls after losing their starting quarterbacks at the beginning of the year.

And Manning’s ability to serve the team on the sideline shouldn’t be overlooked. The Colts may have to fend for themselves without No. 18′s arm, but they’ll still have his mind at their disposal.