Peyton Manning cleared to resume his career

543216.jpg

Peyton Manning cleared to resume his career

From Comcast SportsNetINDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Peyton Manning is cleared to play football. Still not so clear is whether it will be with the Indianapolis Colts. He got the good news Thursday while little brother Eli was making final preparations to lead the New York Giants against the New England Patriots in Sunday's Super Bowl -- something big brother always aims for. Maybe there's even a Manning vs. Manning Super Bowl in the offing. What remains unsettled, though, is Peyton's status with the Colts and whether he and team owner Jim Irsay can patch up their very public spat. At least it's a possibility now that Manning's surgeon has given the star quarterback clearance to start taking hits again. "Peyton Manning underwent a thorough medical re-evaluation as part of a postoperative visit with his surgeon," Dr. Robert Watkins said in a statement. "As a result of this examination, Manning is medically cleared to play professional football." Colts owner Jim Irsay responded to Watkins' statement by writing on Twitter that Manning has not been cleared to play by the team because he has not passed its physical. He said the club would issue a statement later Friday. That's just another piece of this muddled mess. The Colts owe Manning a 28 million roster bonus by March 8, they want to use the No. 1 pick in this year's draft on Manning's successor and they must make key decisions over the next five weeks without knowing yet how much room they'll have under the salary cap. Manning, who turns 36 in March, had neck surgery in September -- his third in 19 months. "We're in a holding pattern in that respect," new general manager Ryan Grigson said when asked if the uncertainty would prevent the Colts from doing business with their soon-to-be free agents. "Until it is (resolved), we're going to go about our business as usual." Nobody seems to know how this will play out. The biggest problem in Manning's recovery has been regaining the strength in his throwing arm. That's something Manning and the Colts have not discussed, and, apparently, it's not even a topic between the two brothers. "I don't know what's going to happen with Peyton," Eli Manning said. "I know he is rehabbing. He is going to try to get better. I know he wants to continue to play football, if that's an option. The No. 1 priority for him is to get to 100 percent. Until he gets to that position, it's tough to say what is going to happen." The Manning circus has dominated the headlines at Indianapolis' first Super Bowl. It started with rumors about Manning's possible retirement, and the Colts' pending statement will certainly keep Peyton in the headlines -- and overshadow his brother's quest for a second Super Bowl title -- for a fifth consecutive day. The question is whether the Colts are willing to pay a 36-year-old quarterback who has had three neck surgeries in 19 months. And there have been growing indications the Colts may be ready to part with their longtime franchise player, though Irsay will make the final call. "You can't do things to where you are going to hurt the whole franchise with other decisions that you know might hurt at the moment, but in the end they help the sum of the parts," Grigson said. "It is a tough deal in this business, and it happens at every position. It happens with coaching, it happens with people in personnel and it is completely part of the process and the business." Irsay and Manning are scheduled to meet again next week. Last month, the Colts fired vice chairman Bill Polian, general manager Chris Polian, coach Jim Caldwell and most of Caldwell's assistants. The flurry of moves prompted Manning to go public with his complaints, which drew a strong rebuke from Irsay. The two appeared to mend fences Friday. But the onslaught of Manning news just keeps coming. "It's hard not to pay attention. It seems to be all over the news everywhere and I don't live in a cave," said Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, the presumed successor to Manning. "You never really replace someone like that," he added. "He (Manning) is such an iconic sports figure especially for this city, this area. From what I understand, he's done so many great things outside of football and in the community."

Northwestern holds off Ohio State for fifth Big Ten win, first win in Columbus in 40 years

bryant-mcintosh-0122.jpg
USA TODAY

Northwestern holds off Ohio State for fifth Big Ten win, first win in Columbus in 40 years

It's not something that's been said often over the decades, but Northwestern is one of the best teams in the Big Ten.

That's the story the standings tell, and with another week of the 2016-17 season in the books, the Wildcats sit at 5-2 in conference play, good for the second-best mark in the league.

That fifth conference win came Sunday afternoon with a 74-72 defeat of Ohio State. It was the first time Northwestern won in Columbus since 1977.

This is the first 5-2 start to Big Ten play for the Cats since 1968. So is this the first time ever the Cats get an invite to the NCAA tournament?

Of course that remains to be seen, but Chris Collins' squad sure seems to be setting itself up for inclusion in the field of 68. Sunday's win was just the latest to come away from Evanston, and in seven conference games, four of the team's five wins have come in road games, including three straight at Nebraska, Rutgers and Ohio State.

Northwestern had to find a way to win Sunday. A couple surges in the first half took the Cats from modest deficits to a lead that grew as big as eight. The halftime advantage was five, but that slipped away quickly as Northwestern shot poorly after halftime. Ice cold is a better descriptor, the Cats struggling to get their field-goal percentage above 30 percent over the final 20 minutes. It got there eventually, the team finishing shooting 32.3 percent in the second half, but it was the work from the free-throw line that made the win possible. Over the final 20 minutes, Northwestern was 14-for-16 from the charity stripe, including going 11-for-12 over the final minute and a half.

The key stretch came when a Scottie Lindsey 3-ball broke a 56-all tie with four and a half minutes to play. Ohio State countered with a bucket, but freshman point guard Isiah Brown turned in back-to-back scores of his own, the second a breakaway layup off a steal. That made it a five-point lead, and though the gap shrunk over the game's final three minutes, Northwestern's free-throw shooting allowed the Cats to hold that lead the rest of the way.

Meanwhile, the Buckeyes shot themselves in the foot at the free-throw line. They were 12-for-23 on the game, and all but one of the attempts came in the second half, making for 10 missed free throws over the game's final 20 minutes. Northwestern committed a lot of fouls, but Ohio State couldn't capitalize, something that has to be quite painful for the Buckeyes, considering they had edges in other statistical categories. They shot 45.6 percent from the field compared to the Cats shooting 37.5 percent. Ohio State also had 16 second-chance points and 28 points in the paint. But Northwestern had 17 points off 13 Ohio State turnovers.

Lindsey finished with a game-high 21 points and has scored in double figures in every game this season. Bryant McIntosh had 17 points, and Vic Law had 10. Jae'Sean Tate scored 14 points for Ohio State, with JaQuan Lyle adding 13, Trevor Thompson scoring 11 and Cam Williams putting in 10.

The win was Northwestern's fourth straight and boosted its overall record to 16-4 to go along with the 5-2 mark in the conference. The Cats next play Nebraska on Thursday.

The loss snapped a modest two-game win streak for Ohio State and dropped the Buckeyes' record to 12-8 overall and 2-5 in the Big Ten. They next play Minnesota on Wednesday.

Marcus Kruger 'pretty close' to returning for Blackhawks

Marcus Kruger 'pretty close' to returning for Blackhawks

Marcus Kruger has been sidelined a little longer than the originally expected three weeks with his right hand injury. Not that any missed time is enjoyable.

"I wanted to get back there probably a few weeks ago but unfortunately I couldn't," said Kruger, who suffered his injury on Dec. 30 against the Carolina Hurricanes. "I tried to listen to the doctors and do everything I can instead to be ready when I get cleared. That's my mindset."

Kruger is close, but not quite there, as the Blackhawks prepared for Sunday night's game against the Vancouver Canucks. Kruger skated with his teammates for the first time since being injured but wasn't among the line rushes. The center took faceoffs on his own at the end of practice. Kruger pronounced himself, "pretty close," to returning. Coach Joel Quenneville said the Blackhawks will see how Kruger is over the next few days. The Blackhawks play again Tuesday and Thursday before heading into the All-Star break this weekend.

The Blackhawks have missed Kruger's versatility and especially his play on the penalty kill. The Blackhawks' kill has been fine through Kruger's absence but he nevertheless is a big part of it when he's healthy.

"We have a lot of options and when he's out everyone gets a more important role, whether starting or faceoffs. And we have a rotation of five guys who are in there most of the time. But he definitely absorbs the most responsibility when he's playing in that area," Quenneville said of Kruger. "So it's nice you get to try some other guys and you get deeper as you go along."

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

One of the players who's emerged in Kruger's absence is Tanner Kero, who filled his third-line center void. Kero and linemates Vinnie Hinostroza and Marian Hossa clicked on the dads trip, coming up with big plays and points in the Blackhawks' victories over Colorado and Boston. As of now, Kero appears to have the hold on third-line center.

"I don't see too many things that would change his positioning because he really helped himself," Quenneville said.

Kruger said he's fine if that means returning to fourth-line center duties. Regardless, he'll help bolster the Blackhawks' forward lines. The last step is likely contact, which Kruger got a little of – outside of faceoffs – in Sunday's skate. Kruger's had to wait a little longer than expected on his injury but he's getting there.

“Obviously [I want to] get back and playing the same way,” Kruger said. “First I want to get healthy and then get back playing my best and do everything I can for the team.”