DENVER • Peyton Manning’s right thumbnail was covered with white tape and put under a media microscope upon his return to the football field Wednesday.
The tape didn’t 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 defender’s helmet Sunday.
For the first time, Denver coach John Fox listed his quarterback on the team’s injury report — “Peyton Manning, right thumb, full” — but said he noticed no lingering effects.
Manning, who threw two second-half touchdowns in Denver’s 34-14 win over New Orleans after getting hurt just before halftime, said after practice that his thumb was “sore, but it’s more of an irritant than anything else.”
Manning missed all of last season in Indianapolis with a nerve injury in his neck and 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 who’s playing like he’s hungry for a fifth is certainly 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 Wilson’s 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, are finally hitting their stride behind Manning’s spectacular play and steady leadership and look every bit like a team ready to take off.
“They say it’s a game of inches,” wide receiver Eric Decker said. “Maybe it’s a game of centimeters.”
The league’s leading passer at age 36, Manning is playing better than anyone could have hoped for over the first two months.
“Well, certainly, it was a lot of unknown before this season,” Manning said. “I mentioned early on that I’m feeling my way out. We’re finding out our identity. I think we are still doing that. ”
Even though they’re not all the way there yet, Elway, the Broncos’ vice president of football operations, said during his weekly podcast on that Denver is coming off its “most complete game of the year.”
“The compliment goes to (defensive coordinator) Jack Del Rio, his staff and the defensive players,” Elway said.
Drew Brees was limited to 137 yards through the air until the final drive, when he threw for 76 yards vs. several backups.
Despite losing linebacker Joe Mays (broken leg), the Broncos could get cornerback Tracy Porter back this week. He’s 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:
“It’s a matter of me getting my conditioning back, getting my legs back up under me,” Porter said.