December 18, 2013 Updated: December 18, 2013 at 7:03 pm
DENVER - Whether it was Michael Jackson's "Thriller" thumping from a Beats by Dre beatbox, Von Miller challenging someone, anyone, to dominoes, or game film of the Texans replaying on the flat-screen TVs, the Broncos locker room was itself.
Mostly friendly, quite jovial, smelling of hand lotion.
All that felt out of place Wednesday was the presence of Peyton Manning. Yes, that Peyton Manning. During normal media hours, the ultimate quarterback usually is off doing Peyton Manning things, dissecting tape or scribing handwritten thank-you notes or winning awards or whatever he does when he's not throwing touchdowns.
"Is this what you linemen do all day?" Manning joked, tossing a jab at the heavies who protect his backside, and his frontside. The heavies were playing cards.
Does this sound like the locker room of a panicked Super Bowl favorite to you?
If there's panic after a 27-20 home loss to San Diego, it's not coming from the players. One December loss shouldn't summon panic; ask the Broncos' 1997 and 1998 Super Bowl champions, who lost four games in Decembers. I remember concern then, too.
Should there be concern now? Yes and no.
Yes, because these Broncos reached on a Week 16 free agent to patch a defense bleeding points and, quite often, real blood. A bottom-five defense in the NFL, the Broncos' has allowed 26.8 points per game, and that's since Miller returned from league suspension. Meanwhile, it has sustained enough injuries to keep two training staffs busy.
"We've had so much adversity on defense," cornerback Chris Harris said Wednesday.
The reach, and it is a necessary reach, is Jeremy Mincey. He arrived at Dove Valley on job recommendations from defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, who coached him in Jacksonville, and friend-to-all Terrance Knighton, who played alongside him in Jacksonville.
"We're turning into the Jacksonville Broncos," Manning quipped.
I've heard of Mincey only because the 265-pound defensive lineman was the focus of a rap song. The first few bars rhyme, too: "Touchin'.. Pass rushin'. Concussion.."
Alas, the tune failed to crack the Billboard Top 100. Conversely, the accompanying music video showed Mincey sacking Matt Schaub, who will start at quarterback for the Texans against the Broncos on Sunday.
"Football is football," Mincey said, explaining why he expects a smooth transition from the Jags, who cut him, to the Broncos. "I'm not the dumbest guy in the room. I'll pick it up."
Mincey's signing confirmed my belief the most impactful injury this season was not that of Champ Bailey or Rahim Moore or Derek Wolfe or Wesley Woodyard or Wes Welker, or even Ryan Clady. It was Kevin Vickerson's.
Big Vick shut lanes like a detached mobile home. Without him, San Diego ran through, over and around the Broncos for 177 rushing yards. It felt like 2009.
"Got whipped in a lot of areas," Manning said Wednesday.
So, in Week 16, the Broncos defense is reaching for Q-tips to plug an open wound. Heading to Houston, it's a defense playing without eight of the 11 starters from the playoff game against Baltimore a season ago.
How does a defense fall from the NFL's top three to its bottom third? That's how.
The result, against San Diego, was a defense that resembled more of a schoolyard fire drill than a unit ready for Jamaal Charles, Ray Rice or Tom Brady in the playoffs.
But with the mass shuffling up and down the defensive side - only three starters remain from the playoffs loss, remember - a touch of disorganization was inevitable.
The pressure's on John Fox and Del Rio to get the defense organized. It always was. That hasn't changed.
Should there be concern? Yes and no.
No, because Peyton Manning was in the un-panicked locker room Wednesday. Only contrarians with too much free time suggest Manning should not be the NFL MVP by a unanimous vote. As long as Manning is in their locker room, cracking one-liners at Chris Kuper and Orlando Franklin, the Broncos are the scariest team in the AFC field.
For all the lineups and Lisfrancs and 12-men-on-the-field penalties, this is and always was the case: This is about Peyton Manning.
In the MVP, the Broncos trust their Super Bowl hopes. That hasn't changed.