ENGLEWOOD • The numbers keep piling up and so do the wins.
Still, for anyone watching closely, it’s hard to fight the feeling that something’s not quite right with Peyton Manning.
The feeling snuck up again Wednesday.
With the undefeated Chiefs next on the schedule, Manning sat out of the week’s first practice to give his tender ankles — which make him feel like the James Caan character in the movie “Misery,” as Jim Nantz recounted Manning telling him — a bit of a rest.
“It’s my preference to be out there, but at the same time, I kind of do what’s best for the team in order for me to get healthy,” said Manning, who participated in the team walk-through, then headed to the trainer’s room for rehab.
Not that giving a 16-year veteran a day off every now and then is all that unusual — or that giving Denver’s “Plan B,” backup Brock Osweiler, some much-needed work with the first team is such a bad idea.
But Manning does not take kindly to missing practices, as he told his coach and trainer three weeks ago, when his balky ankle (or ankles, depending on who you talk to) made him a scratch for the first time as a Bronco in a regular-season practice. “I can assure you I did not go down without a fight,” he said that day.
This time, he said he’d been resigned to sitting out since Monday, when an MRI showed no further damage to Manning’s right ankle following a low hit from Chargers lineman Corey Liuget.
“It happens with a lot of guys. Champ (Bailey). Wes (Welker),” Manning said. “I don’t know if it’s an age-bracket thing or what. I’ve made a lot of adjustments these past two years at this point in my career and this is just another one of them.”
More than a missed practice or two, it’s how Manning has been looking on the field the last few weeks that has brought about some head scratching. Ever since Jason Babin of Jacksonville hit him low in a game Oct. 13 and Manning lit into officials for not calling anything, he has looked a bit more rushed than usual in the pocket.
His passes, never works of art on his healthiest days, have wobbled a bit more. He has been slightly quicker to throw to the safety valve coming out of the backfield. There are many reasons that could explain that, including the fact that Denver’s wide receivers are seeing more press coverage. Either way, Knowshon Moreno has 24 catches and is Denver’s leader in receptions since the Jacksonville game.
Dating to that game, Manning has thrown five of his six interceptions. Not surprisingly, he’s been sacked and stripped of the ball from the blindside once a game for the last three, starting when Robert Mathis of the Colts burned left tackle Chris Clark for a safety in Denver’s lone loss this season.
Manning’s latest setback came courtesy of Liuget, who dove at the quarterback’s ankles and left him wincing in pain at the end of Denver’s 28-20 win last week. The Broncos were peeved enough over that hit, they sent it to the league to review. The league said the hit wasn’t illegal.
“We’re playing football,” said Broncos interim coach Jack Del Rio. “People are going to get hit. We do as good a job as anybody out there in terms of protecting our guy. It’s important to us. We’ll continue to do that. But at the end of the day, it’s football.”
Next up, the Broncos face Kansas City, which leads the league with 36 sacks — not exactly the matchup they want with a quarterback who’s less than 100 percent and doesn’t move well when he is at full strength.
At whatever level he’s playing, Manning is still producing.
His 3,249 yards and 33 touchdown passes are still both well ahead of record pace. The Broncos are 8-1 and would climb into a first-place tie in the AFC West by beating the Chiefs.
Yes, the weather will get worse, starting Sunday, when the forecast calls for a high of 40 with a chance of snow.
And yes, the competition gets tougher, also starting Sunday, when the Broncos play the Chiefs, followed by road games against New England and the divisional rematch at Kansas City.
Manning said if he had to, he could be ready for Sunday’s game without practicing at all. That wouldn’t faze the Denver receivers.
“You still want to get some throws in and get some work in throughout the week,” Eric Decker said. “But a lot of that is taken care of physically, and mentally is the big part of it.”
Manning, though, expects to be on the practice field before the week is out. Skipping practice “kind of goes against what I believe in,” he said.
“I believe in practice. I believe there’s a reason for it.”