Klee: Polar Express? How about the Peyton Manning Express?

By Paul Klee Updated: December 9, 2013 at 8:52 am • Published: December 8, 2013 | 11:20 pm 0

DENVER - First things first, just so we can bury one of the most nonsensical debates beneath two feet of snow.

Peyton Manning passed for 397 yards and four touchdowns Sunday. His 39 completions set a Broncos record. His offense piled up 39 first downs, another record.

And it was 18 degrees at kickoff. That was with the sun out. By game's end, Sports Authority Field felt cold enough to send a polar bear into hibernation.

Peyton can't play in the cold?

What's the next debate? Peyton can't beat Eli at Connect Four?

"They'll find something. They'll probably say he's not good below zero (degrees)," defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said.

"I consider us a weatherproof team. We're not really worried about that."

On the surface, there's not much to worry about after the Broncos thumped the Titans, 51-28. More scoring records fell quicker than a wind chill that slid into single digits.

The reason to worry limped through the Broncos locker room. Over in the doorway, Kevin Vickerson leaned on a set of crutches. He's done for the season. Rahim Moore wore fancy street clothes, not a uniform. He might be done for the season.

"I haven't had an interview in two weeks!" Moore shouted while hijacking a TV interview. "I've got to get in front of a camera!"

Champ Bailey and Derek Wolfe didn't play in the game; Wesley Woodyard and Duke Ihenacho didn't finish the game.

"It feels like we're just holding on right now," cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie told me in a brush of refreshing honesty.

Don't worry about Peyton in the cold.

Worry about a banged-up defense that seems to lose another starter every time Manning throws another touchdown. He has 45 touchdown passes, by the way, five shy of Tom Brady's record - with three games to play. If only his passes didn't wobble.

The good news is that Manning seems to be heating up as the weather cools down.

The bad news is that Manning must continue this pace if the Broncos are to reach the Super Bowl. The playoffs begin in four weeks, and Denver's defense is a patchwork of Von Miller, waived free agents, rookies and substitutes shoved into starting roles.

Can you picture a Super Bowl defense with rookie Kayvon Webster, midseason signee Paris Lenon and 12-year veteran Quentin Jammer playing in key situations?

After 18 games, the majority of Broncos fans would still need a game roster to identify whom they are rooting for in the Super Bowl.

What is the most important move for the Broncos as the playoffs inch closer?

"I think the main thing is we've got to get everybody healthy. We've got to get everybody healthy," Rodgers-Cromartie said. "We're holding on right now on defense. When we get everybody healthy, that's when we're going to come around."

The most remarkable Super Bowl champion of the past 20 years was the 2010 Packers squad. It lost 15 players to injured reserve and still hosted a parade.

Just last year, the Ravens got hot because the Ravens finally got healthy. The Broncos seem to be going the other way, the wrong way, to the training table and the cold tub.

At the fifth-coldest game in Broncos history, hearty fans were reminded not to bring a Thermos inside Mile High. Can they bring in Band-Aids for the ailing defense?

With the Broncos leading 27-21 in the third quarter, Knighton dropped into pass coverage. He's 335 pounds and is nicknamed "Pot Roast." The pass was tipped, Knighton hugged the interception, then he danced like a pot roast might dance.

"I was an All-State wide receiver in high school," Knighton said in the locker room.

The best part of the play is that Knighton didn't get hurt.

"I threw (the ball) into stands," he said. "I don't know what I was thinking."

In frigid weather or Colorado sunshine, Manning and the Broncos are busting into the conversation of greatest offense in NFL history. It is already the greatest in team history with 515 points, soaring past John Elway's 1997 juggernaut (501).

Manning made cold the new hot. Was he trying to freeze out criticisms that claim he can't play in cold weather?

"I wasn't trying to answer it," Manning said, "Because I didn't give it validation in the first place."

Denver's defense is clinging to its last legs. Unless it suddenly gets healthy, to survive the playoffs, they will need Manning to continue doing things we've never seen before.

Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

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