Broncos survive scare with Peyton Manning’s thumb

Peyton Manning counts himself fortunate. Consider his team

furious.

Manning acknowledged he was ”probably a little bit lucky” that

he banged the right thumbnail and not the knuckle of his throwing

hand on New Orleans defensive end Martez Wilson’s helmet Sunday

night.

It’s what happened a split-second later that has the Broncos

miffed.

The crown of Wilson’s helmet smacked into Manning’s chin, a play

the Broncos are expected to have the league look at this week.

Although no flag was thrown, it was similar to the illegal hit

last month that cost Broncos linebacker Joe Mays a $50,000 fine and

a one-game suspension for blasting Houston Texans quarterback Matt

Schaub.

”It’ll be something we look at and get the TV copy,” Broncos

coach John Fox said Monday. ”We haven’t done all that yet. And I’m

not really able to comment on what we turn into the league and what

we don’t, but that’s one we’ll look at closely.”

In all likelihood, so will the NFL and the result could be a

hefty fine for Wilson, a backup on a team that’s been dogged by

turmoil all season after the NFL penalized the franchise for

running a money-for-hits bounty pool.

Unlike Schaub, who lost a chunk of his left ear when his helmet

went flying after Mays’ hit, Manning’s helmet stayed on after he

was sandwiched by Wilson and strong safety Roman Harper on a blitz

just as he released a 23-yard pass that Eric Decker caught along

the left sideline in the first half of Denver’s 34-14 win.

”I got nervous,” said slot receiver Brandon Stokley, Manning’s

old pal from their days together in Indianapolis.

Manning picked himself up off the grass, shaking his thumb. He

handed off on the next four snaps before throwing twice, then

giving way to Matt Prater, who kicked a short field goal as the

first half expired.

Manning, who had his third sackless outing in his last four

games, answered any questions by going 4 for 4 to start the third

quarter, moving the Broncos 93 yards and capping it with a 1-yard

pass to Demaryius Thomas.

Fox gave this update on Manning’s thumb Monday: ”Oh, it’s

fine.”

So, too, are the Broncos (4-3), who lead the AFC West as Manning

grows more and more comfortable with his new teammates.

Navy and orange just no longer clash with Manning.

Add a defense that doesn’t look so lost anymore under new

defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, and the Broncos are on a roll,

and against the Saints they finally found that 60-minute game

they’ve been talking about.

The Broncos are serving notice that not only is the four-time

MVP back, Peyton Manning Version 2.0 just might be every bit as

good as the original.

Despite the throbbing thumb and the scars of four neck

operations and a bitter divorce from the Colts serving as testament

to all he’s gone through to get here, Manning, 36, is in the midst

of one of the best stretches any quarterback has ever had.

Manning leads the NFL with a 109.0 passer rating. He’s surpassed

the 300-yard mark five straight times to match his personal best

and set a franchise record. Ever since throwing a trio of

interceptions at Atlanta in Week 2, Manning has been nothing less

than sensational even though he dismisses the notion that he’s as

good right now as he ever was in Indy.

There’s just no comparison to some of his best days with the

Colts, he insists. But consider this: since matching the worst

quarter of his career – interception-wise – Manning has thrown for

1,827 yards with 15 touchdowns and just one interception in 225

throws, and that one pickoff was his receiver’s fault for not

adjusting his route.

”I think it’s a reflection of our whole offense starting to

jell,” tight end Jacob Tamme said. ”And this is a good time. The

last few weeks have been an improvement and if we can keep that

improvement going, we’ll be pretty tough to reckon with.”

Decker, who caught two TD passes Sunday night, said, ”We’ve

shown flashes, we’ve had some bumps along the way but we’re

starting to be more consistent. It’s good when you got the right

guys in the right places.”

While Manning was picking apart the Saints secondary, Willis

McGahee and rookie Ronnie Hillman were piling up 208 yards on the

ground and tight end Virgil Green was showing some speed and

promise with three catches for 44 yards.

Wesley Woodyard led a swarming defense that held Drew Brees in

check and limited the Saints to a single third-down conversion.

”We’ll never use excuses, but it’s a new scheme what Jack Del

Rio brought in here,” linebacker Keith Brooking said. ”So, it’s

guys just becoming more familiar with the scheme and their

responsibilities and playing fast. … We’re getting better every

week.”

Special teams are, too. Trindon Holliday hit his stride with 43

yards on four punt returns against New Orleans.

”I’m sure the coaches will find some mistakes on the film,”

Manning said, ”but it’s what we’re looking for offensively,

defensively, and special teams: kind of feeding off one

another.”

Notes: Fox said he wasn’t sure if CB Tracy Porter has been

medically cleared to return to practice. Porter has missed the last

two games after experiencing symptoms similar to what he had before

suffering a seizure in August.

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