ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — If Peyton Manning is sore, he’s not saying.
If his arm is less than it used to be, well, he said, “It is what it is.”
Done with his first practice following his first loss as a Denver Bronco, Manning spoke the words of a quarterback who simply wants to move on.
Did the nine hits he took in the 27-21 loss to Atlanta leave him sore as he prepares for the Houston Texans on a short work week?
“I don’t really get into that,” Manning said Wednesday. “I’ve never really answered that question before. So, I’m full participation in practice.”
What about the strength of his arm, which has been discussed and debated by everyone from John Elway — who last week told The Associated Press it’s getting stronger but “probably not where he wants it to be” — to the fan in the top row at Sports Authority Field?
“I am what I am, it is what it is, whatever expression is appropriate for that,” Manning said. “So, I don’t know what to tell you.”
As for those three interceptions he threw in the first quarter against the Falcons — well, Manning says, these things happen, but they certainly didn’t diminish his confidence.
“It’s not deterred at all, if you’re insinuating that,” he said. “We’re still learning about each other. We’re playing different opponents each week, live bullets, different types of defenses. The key is, you want to win games as you are continuing to learn.”
That won’t be easy this Sunday.
The Texans (2-0) have allowed a total of 248 passing yards, 392 total yards and 17 points over their first two games — all league-leading statistics at this early point in the season.
Not exactly the type of team the Broncos (1-1) want to face on a short week after Manning got sacked three times and knocked down six more.
But instead of dwelling on the minuses from the last game, Manning took solace in the fact that the Broncos bounced back from a 20-0 deficit to get within a score late. They lost by six points on the road despite committing four turnovers and creating none.
Manning took umbrage to any thought that he looked dejected on the sideline at the end of the game.
“I think it was more of a determined look,” he said. “When you get off to a slow start, you’re determined. Dejected means you go out there, you lay down, you get beat 35-0. So, determined, I think, would be the more appropriate terms, and hopefully, we can build off that.”
Famous are the stories of Manning spending extra time on the practice field working on routes and building chemistry with receivers Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison in Indianapolis. He’s got a couple of hard workers in Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas, but there’s a difference between the eight to 10 years he spent with the Colts receivers and the six months he’s spent in Denver.
“There is a process there,” Manning said. “I do think there’s offseason work and there’s in-season work, going against different defenses.”
Also moving on is coach John Fox, who repeated the mantra that Manning’s return to the NFL is a long-term project, not a two-week deal.
“I don’t think we’re a finished product yet, by any stretch, when you consider this is the first year that he’s played in this offense and with these teammates,” Fox said. “There are going to be some growing pains and it doesn’t happen overnight.”
A bit was made of the fact that rookie backup quarterback Brock Osweiler was warming up at the end of Monday’s game, ready to be called upon if the Broncos had gotten the ball back with under 30 seconds left and a long, desperation pass to heave. Not such a big deal, said Fox, who thought Manning’s “arm looked way better in the second half than it did in the first half.”
“Had we had to throw a 60-yard Hail Mary, we might go with a 20-year old arm versus a 36-year old arm,” Fox said.
All of this — the arm strength, the chemistry, the general rustiness from not playing at full speed for more than a season — helps explain why Manning is getting somewhat of a break in the court of public opinion after a game in which he matched his worst quarter, interception-wise, in his 15-year career. After all, it was only one bad game. The bigger question, however, is how he’ll bou nce back.
The quarterback isn’t asking for miracles. And while not giving away anything about Sunday’s game plan, he stated one obvious area for improvement.
“We’ve got to get off to a better start,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be a great start, get out and go, you know, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown. But against a team like Houston, you’ve got to get off to a better start on both sides of the ball and kind of feed off one another. Once we got into the building today, it was on to Houston, and I think they’re easy to grab your attention because of the way they play on both sides of the ball.”