DENVER Peyton Mannings right thumbnail was covered with white tape and put under a media microscope upon his return to the football field Wednesday.
The tape didnt wrap all the way around his thumb, leaving him able to grip the football like normal, and teammates said his throws and handoffs at practice were unaffected by his injury in his first action since smacking his throwing hand on a defenders helmet Sunday night.
For the first time, Denver coach John Fox listed his quarterback on the teams injury report Peyton Manning, right thumb, full but said he noticed no lingering effects.
Manning, who threw two second-half touchdowns in Denvers 34-14 win over New Orleans after getting hurt just before halftime, said after practice that his thumb was sore, but its more of an irritant than anything else.
Manning gets all this scrutiny.
After all, he missed all of last season in Indianapolis with a nerve injury in his neck and now plays in a city that 24 years ago argued about the quality of Halloween candy handed out to trick-or-treaters by a young John Elway.
Now, the discolored right thumbnail on the four-time MVP whos playing like hes hungry for a fifth certainly is a big deal in media circles, both traditional and social.
Manning acknowledged he was probably a little bit lucky that he banged the nail and not the knuckle of his right thumb on New Orleans defensive end Martez Wilsons helmet just before absorbing his only hit of the night.
Another half-inch, and all bets would have been off for the rolling Broncos (4-3), who lead the AFC West and finally are hitting their stride behind Mannings spectacular play and steady leadership and look every bit like a team ready to take off.
Another half-inch, and this is rookie Brock Osweilers offense. Or Caleb Hanies.
They say its a game of inches, wide receiver Eric Decker said. Maybe its a game of centimeters.
The leagues leading passer at age 36, Manning is playing better than anyone the Broncos and their quarterback included could have hoped for over the seasons first two months.
Well, certainly, it was a lot of unknown before this season, Manning said. I think there still is. This is a new team, and nobody knew how this team would form chemistry-wise. I didnt know what my situation would be. I mentioned early on that Im feeling my way out. Were finding out our identity. I think we are still doing that. I think we have it in some places.
Even though theyre not all the way there yet, Elway, the Broncos vice president of football operations, said during his weekly podcast on the teams website that Denver is coming off its most complete game of the year.
We thought it was going to be a track meet, and wed really have to keep up with them, Elway said. The compliment goes to (defensive coordinator) Jack Del Rio, his staff and the defensive players. They really answered the bell.
Drew Brees was limited to 137 yards through the air until the Saints final drive, when he threw for 76 yards with several Broncos backups in the game.
Weakside linebacker Wesley Woodyard, an undrafted fifth-year pro from Kentucky, won AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors Wednesday for a monster game that included 13 tackles (9 solo), a sack, an interception, two pass breakups and a forced fumble exceeding or matching his career high in every category.
Despite losing linebacker Joe Mays (broken leg), the Broncos could get cornerback Tracy Porter back this week. Hes missed the last two games after experiencing light-headedness and a racing heart the same symptoms he had before suffering a seizure during training camp.
He returned to practice on a limited basis Wednesday and said he hopes to play Sunday at Cincinnati: Its a matter of me getting my conditioning back, getting my legs back up under me, Porter said. As far as seizure-wise, I dont have any problem.
The last time the Broncos visited the Bengals (3-4), Brandon Stokleys 87-yard Immaculate Deflection touchdown catch on a batted pass with 11 seconds left gave Denver a farfetched 12-7 win in the 2009 opener.
Brandon runs through my mind all the time, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said during a conference call with Denver reporters. But I wish we had more guys here that were on that team. I think we have about seven guys that were actually in that game.
Believe it or not, Stokley also has had bad dreams about that play in which he cradled cornerback Leon Halls deflection at midfield and raced untouched into the end zone but not before he headily took an extra couple of precious seconds off the clock by running along the goal line before stepping across for the score.
I just kind of saw that nobody was behind me chasing me. I saw a guy kind of give up on it. I knew there wasnt a lot of time left, so I thought, why not try to run some time off? Stokley said. And then the next day, I kind of started having nightmares about it. What if Id have gotten caught? What if I had fumbled? What if somebody would have hit me?
I think next time Ill probably just get in the end zone.