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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Ahmad Bradshaw followed the plan.
He was built to play football his own hard-headed way and wanted to leave the sport on his own terms.
So three games into his second season with the Colts and one year removed from a career-threatening neck injury, the Super Bowl winner has defied the odds by making a remarkable comeback.
"I love this game so much, I couldn't put it away that easy," Bradshaw said Wednesday when asked about the possibility of retiring after last October's surgery.
To Bradshaw, this is not just a second chance.
It's an opportunity to show those who wrote him off after the injuries started mounting that he can still play, still rely on his battering-ram style and still make a difference on a Super Bowl contender knowing there are two fused vertebrae in his neck.
The injury occurred in Week 3 last season when Bradshaw was hit near the head by a San Francisco defender.
Almost instantly, Bradshaw felt a disconcerting sensation in his arms and later in his legs.
By early October, doctors had left him two options — undergo season-ending surgery or let the neck heal on its own. Bradshaw chose surgery.
So far, he's looked good. Bradshaw has 25 carries for 150 yards, an impressive 6.0 average, 12 receptions for 114 yards and a career-best three TD catches.
With Bradshaw and Trent Richardson paving the way, Indy (1-2) is the only team with two backs already at 150 yards or more, and Bradshaw's role seems to be expanding each week.
The biggest reason for Bradshaw's resurgence might be how he uses the work week.
"He didn't practice much in New York because of injuries," said receiver Hakeem Nicks, a teammate of Bradshaw's with the Giants and now with the Colts. "But he was the only guy I knew who could be in a (walking) boot one day and run for 150 yards the next day."
Coach Chuck Pagano and quarterback Andrew Luck never doubted Bradshaw could emerge as another playmaker in Indy's emerging power-running offense.
They just needed to make sure he was healthy.
"He's a warrior. He's the type of guy that you just want to go out and play on the field with," Luck said. "I think he's got everybody's respect in this locker room and around the league for being a tough guy, a hard-nosed guy, and he's a consummate teammate."
First, though, Bradshaw had to prove to himself that his body could withstand the weekly grind.
When training camp opened, Indy protected Bradshaw with a red, non-contact jersey. When he was cleared for contact, Bradshaw acknowledged there were times his neck was sore enough to raise questions about how it would hold up through a 16-game regular season. His limited preseason workload — three carries for 2 yards — didn't help.
So Bradshaw entered the regular season still looking for answers. He wasn't convinced until he started taking some big shots against Philadelphia in Week 2.
"I always wondered why or if there was a different hit that I couldn't take. There was a question mark always there if it was," he said. "I think I've gotten hit plenty of different ways now to know that my neck is fine."
While Bradshaw's family and friends have urged him to change his style, the Marshall alum insists he didn't win two Super Bowl rings, post two 1,000-yard seasons or score the winning touchdown with 57 seconds left in the Giants' second Super Bowl win over the Patriots by playing it safe.
He did it by sacrificing his body and getting physical — and even a repaired neck isn't going to change the way he plays the game he loves.
"You sit back and you see how physical the game is and how perishable your body is," Bradshaw said. "You've just got to take advantage of every opportunity, and that's what I did this whole offseason was just trying to get my rest, hone my feet and, of course, get my neck right."
Notes: Bradshaw, receiver Reggie Wayne and linebacker D'Qwell Jackson and safety LaRon Landry, all starters, took Wednesday off to rest. ... Receiver T.Y. Hilton did individual work in practice but was held out of the team part of portion. Pagano said he expected Hilton to play Sunday. ... Center A.Q. Shipley will start his third consecutive game this week in place of Khaled Holmes. ... Indy's top three cornerbacks — Vontae Davis (ankle), Greg Toler (ribs) and Darius Butler (neck) — all missed at least a portion of practice. Starting right guard Hugh Thornton also sat out with an ankle injury. ... Indy signed outside linebacker Trevardo Williams to the practice squad and released defensive end Nnamdi Obukwelu from the practice squad with an injury settlement on Tuesday.
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