Yes, that is a football in Peyton Manning's crotch, and he's not just happy to see you. In fact, he's in an awful lot of pain. So while the Broncos won again, and the offense remained on a record pace, it's not absurd to wonder if Manning's right ankle is a time bomb just waiting to sabotage a season.
Manning took two hard hits in Sunday's 28-20 win over San Diego. He shook off the first, a blindside sack from Tourek Williams early in the second half. But the second, a dive at his lower legs from Corey Liuget on the last meaningful play of the game (video here), had him down in pain, and had the Broncos going after Liuget.
In obvious discomfort afterwards, Manning played coy when asked what was ailing him. "Lower body," he said. "I feel like the injury report is very revealing to the opponent as well as the folks in Vegas, so I guess somewhere in that lower body."
It's that right ankle that's now been injured and re-injured in three games within a month, and that's absolutely a worry. Against the Jaguars, Manning suffered two separate ankle sprains, one on the first play from scrimmage and the other on a low hit from Jason Babin. The next week he aggravated one of the sprains when he was sacked by Indianapolis's Robert Mathis, and had to sit out some practice. There was hope last week's bye would give the ankle time to rest up, but he took the field against the Chargers with a slight limp, and the hit from Liuget made him another date with the MRI machine.
It's preventative and cautionary, Manning says of the MRI exam he'll undergo later today. He had one after the Colts game, and says this one will be "just kind of an update to see what it says. I'm hoping for no change."
The only cure is rest, and there's no rest on the docket for Manning—the next three weeks see the Broncos face the Chiefs, Patriots, and the Chiefs again. Kansas City is first in the league in sacks per game, New England is fifth. The relentless NFL schedule has a way of turning nagging injuries into increasing liabilities, especially for a 37-year-old quarterback.
That's the real risk the Broncos took when signing Manning, beyond even his mysterious neck ailment, which he says feels better now than it did before his surgeries. At his age, the body doesn't heal like it used to, and little tweaks only get worse until the offseason arrives. If Denver's window is Peyton Manning's window, it's not propped open very securely.
"I'm not trying to test my body," said Manning, who hesitated before saying he planned to play against Kansas City.
Manning's hurt, and worse, opponents know Manning's hurt. He's clearly still one of the best QBs in the league, even playing through pain, but an old, gimpy quarterback is rarely a recipe for postseason success.