ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — If Peyton Manning’s injury was worse than he let on, his teammates sure didn’t see it.
In the aftermath of his poor playoff performance in the Broncos’ 24-13 loss to Indianapolis, Manning said the right thigh bruise he suffered Dec. 14 at San Diego lingered but wasn’t bad enough to sideline him.
On Monday, ESPN, citing two people it didn’t name, reported that Manning played with a “torn” quad muscle, the severity of which he had tried to conceal.
However, two people with knowledge of Manning’s health told The Associated Press it was “a strain,” as the team had characterized it all along. They both spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the subject.
They also said the tear-strain debate could be a matter of semantics because a strain occurs when a muscle is stretched too much and tears. It’s also called a pulled muscle.
After the game, John Fox — who parted ways with the Broncos on Monday — was asked if Manning was healthy and he said everybody’s banged up at this time of year, “but he’s definitely healthy enough to play in the game.”
Manning was ambivalent about his future after the game but didn’t say his health was at issue. He said he just needed time to process Denver’s disappointing loss to his former team before deciding whether he’ll be back for an 18th season in the NFL.
He did, however, dispute a report that he had injuries to both thighs, saying “that would be news to me.” He said he felt he could manage his right quadriceps injury, adding it felt good heading into the playoff game.
Manning blamed the injury on dehydration from a stomach bug the night before the Chargers game. He missed the team’s next practice, on Dec. 18, although he participated in the walkthrough that day. And he skipped the two days of practices during the team’s bye week after Denver earned the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs. He practiced all of last week.
Receiver Wes Welker said he couldn’t tell if Manning was hiding the extent of his injury over the last month, and cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said he got no such indications at practice — although he acknowledged practices weren’t the best barometer.
“Practice is easy for a quarterback: you don’t have to move, you don’t have to run,” Harris said. “You probably couldn’t tell that Aaron Rodgers was hurt until the game and then you could see him running with a limp. But in practice, he probably looked like it was nothing.”
Manning overthrew his receivers eight times Sunday and came up empty on 11 drives after leading Denver to a touchdown on its first possession. He’s never been a good scrambler — he’s had minus-49 yards rushing in his three seasons in Denver — and he threw an incompletion on third-and-5 instead of taking off despite a 20-yard gap between him and any defender.
Linebacker Brandon Marshall said Manning looked stronger, if anything, Sunday, perhaps due to the rest, “but you knew he wasn’t all the way 100 percent. Nobody was.”
Backup QB Brock Osweiler told the AP that Manning’s playing through the pain was “a great testament to his character, his toughness, how much he loves the game, his passion for this game. He did everything he possibly could for this football team and that’s what makes him a special football player.”