INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -This is Jim Sorgi's favorite time of year.
There's nothing at stake for Indianapolis and Peyton Manning is expected to make another early exit Sunday, putting the Colts' backup quarterback squarely in the spotlight.
It's a rarity for the man who spent part of the offseason trying out for a fitting role: the little-needed Maytag repair man.
``I've certainly grown accustomed to it,'' Sorgi said Wednesday. ``Last year was a little weird because I wasn't playing at the end of the year, but this is when I usually get an opportunity.''
These rare chances have become part of Sorgi's regular holiday routine.
Each season, for roughly 3 1/2 months, Sorgi is mired in virtual solitude because of Manning's uncanny durability and success. The Super Bowl MVP has started 159 consecutive regular-season games, second all-time to Brett Favre among quarterbacks.
But once Thanksgiving rolls around, the Colts are usually closing in on another AFC South title. Once they're locked into a playoff seed - typically between mid-December and Christmas - Sorgi emerges as a celebrity.
Just as he was Wednesday.
Despite going 7-of-12 for 64 yards in three appearances this season, almost as many reporters crowded around Sorgi's locker as Manning's.
Sorgi hasn't done much more of note in his three other NFL seasons. His career numbers are 66-of-102 for 683 yards with five touchdowns and one interception. But he did start 2007 with a better career passer rating, 99.3, than Manning, 94.4.
Some cities might consider the ratings number as the impetus for a quarterback controversy. Not in Indianapolis, where Manning has led the Colts (13-2) to five straight AFC South titles, two conference championship games and last year's Super Bowl crown.
Meanwhile, Sorgi remains mostly an afterthought until he's needed in those meaningless late-season games, mop-up duty and or at a Maytag audition.
And now Sorgi has some new fans in Cleveland, which needs an Indy win to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
``There are a lot of Cleveland fans in Michigan from where I'm from,'' Sorgi said. ``I've gotten a lot of voice mails from Cleveland fans saying 'You need to play well, you need to beat these guys.' I've given them the same old speech. All I can say is I'll do my best and see what happens.''
Yet the biggest question in Indy is how much the backups will play Sunday?
Coach Tony Dungy plans to give Sorgi at least one half, perhaps more.
Part of the decision hinges on whether perennial Pro Bowl receiver Marvin Harrison returns after missing nine straight games with a left knee injury. Early indications lean toward Harrison sitting out again, and if he doesn't play, Sorgi could take even more snaps.
Dungy all but ruled out defensive tackle Raheem Brock (ribs), right tackle Ryan Diem (knee) and tight end Ben Utecht (shoulder), and he's still debating how long to play the other regulars.
But he understands the importance to Sorgi.
``I had two starts in my lifetime in the NFL, and they were when we had playoff position,'' Dungy said. ``We just happened to win both of those games, so I like to think I had something to do with it. But you look forward to it.''
If Dungy follows his usual script, it could mean Sorgi gets nearly four quarters of action.
When the Colts wrapped up their playoff seed in 2004, Sorgi replaced Manning after one series against a Denver team they faced the following week in a wild-card game. The next year, the Colts clinched the AFC's top seed early, and again Sorgi entered after one series.
Now, with the Colts locked into the No. 2 seed, it could happen again despite Manning's best lobbying efforts.
``You'd always rather be in there, there's no question about that,'' Manning said. ``But it doesn't change anything and nobody's told me that (I'd play a half) directly. So my thing is to prepare like I always do.''
The same cannot be said of Sorgi, who, like most NFL backup quarterbacks, often gets only spot duty in practice.
Except this week, on national television, Sorgi could change the AFC's postseason landscape. Tennessee (9-6) is in with a win. So Sorgi suddenly finds himself in a more vital role than just being a trivia question answer as Manning's longest-tenured backup.
And all jokes aside, Sorgi intends to make the most of it.
``You have to go out and play hard and play well,'' he said. ``We'll have a lot of young guys in there, so I have to make sure they're all on the same page with me.''
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