ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Even though he’s just two touchdown throws shy of Brett Favre’s NFL record of 508, Peyton Manning isn’t getting caught up in history, and neither are his teammates.
It’s easy to see why: they’re too busy scything their way through a two-month thicket of opponents that averaged 10.75 wins a year ago.
”We’ve had a pretty salty schedule thus far,” coach John Fox said Wednesday. ”And this week is no different.”
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The Broncos (4-1) host the San Francisco 49ers (4-2) on Sunday night. Five nights later, the San Diego Chargers (5-1) pay the Broncos a visit.
”Two big games coming up,” Manning said. ”That’s plenty to think about.”
The first half of the Broncos’ season features six games against teams that reached the playoffs last year and none of their first eight opponents even had a losing record in 2013.
The 86 wins between those first eight opponents represent the most in Manning’s 17-year career, rivaled only by the strength of schedule in his first season in Denver in 2012.
That year, the Broncos faced a gauntlet of teams over the first half of the season that had won 83 games the year before, or an average of 10.37.
In his other 14 seasons – he missed 2011 in Indy with neck problems – Manning’s opponents over the first half of the season averaged 8.29 wins the year before.
The Broncos are atop the AP Pro32 power rankings despite a plethora of penalties, a propensity to let teams hang around too long and an inability to put together four quarters that either they or their fans could be proud of.
Yet, the stiff competition is undeniably a major reason that half of Denver’s drives have ended with Britton Colquitt punting rather than Brandon McManus kicking extra points.
”We’re the Denver Broncos. Our team is put in place to not just win, we’re put in place to dominate games. We have not been doing that,” left guard Orlando Franklin said on his radio show on 104.3 The Fan in Denver this week.
It doesn’t get any easier, either.
The Chargers were the only team to win in Denver last season, also on a Thursday night, and the 49ers came within Richard Sherman’s outstretched arms of reaching the Super Bowl, where many observers believe they would have handed the Broncos the same kind of beating the Seahawks did.
San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh, a bridesmaid in the pursuit of Manning in 2012, added to the din surrounding the five-time MVP and his record-breaking pursuit Wednesday.
”Whenever he takes the field, he’s just great all the time and that speaks volumes for the player that he is and continues to be,” Harbaugh said. ”Just keeps doing it and doing it and doing it. Great. Great with a capital `G’ at the highest level.”
Asked Wednesday whether the football world’s focus on his pursuit of Favre’s all-time touchdown mark was flattering or distracting, Manning said, ”what I’ve concentrated on is doing whatever it takes to win and I don’t feel like it’s been a distraction because we’ve handled it and we’ve focused on what’s important.”
Tight end Julius Thomas said the only ones who bring up the impending record-breaker around the Broncos’ headquarters are reporters.
”It’s not something we talk about as an offense,” Thomas said. ”Peyton doesn’t talk about it. We just keep playing football.”
Five-oh-nine just isn’t on their radar.
”I don’t think anybody in here is on record watch,” tight end Jacob Tamme said. ”It’ll be great for him. It’ll be awesome when it happens, but we’re kind of focused on winning the game.”
Thomas caught Manning’s 500th touchdown pass and promptly presented the memento from that milestone to his quarterback. No. 509 wouldn’t go in Thomas’ trophy case, either.
”But,” Thomas said, ”I’m sure we’ll have fair game for 510, 511, 512.”
Notes: NT Terrance Knighton told reporters he was fined $11,025 for inappropriate language Sunday and that he wouldn’t appeal. … LB Shaquil Barrett, who went undrafted after starring at Colorado State, was promoted from Denver’s practice squad to take the roster spot of LB Danny Trevathan, who was placed on recallable IR Monday with a broken left leg.
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Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton