Chargers a playoff challenge for Manning

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Perhaps it's because Dave Logan is a former NFL wide receiver.

Perhaps it's because Logan's athletic life is something of a state landmark, having once been selected in the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball drafts, or that the Broncos' play-by-play voice is also one of the most successful prep football coaches in the state's history.

By when Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning let down his well-rehearsed guard this season, when Manning pulled back the curtain on his emotions a bit it was to Logan in the moments following the Broncos' Dec. 8 win over the Tennessee Titans.

On a day when the kickoff temperature was 18 degrees, Manning had just blistered the Titans' defense on 39-of-59 passing for 397 yards and four touchdowns. And in a postgame interview with Logan, Manning simply said the people who said he couldn't play in the cold could take that "narrative" and "stick it where the sun don't shine."

Those who know Manning well were not surprised and they say, despite his perpetually calm demeanor in interviews, the narratives matter to Manning. Perhaps one of the most driven players to wear a helmet, Manning is often fueled by circumstances.

And at a time when his playoff record is making the rounds -- it's 9-11 -- there is also the matter of Sunday's opponent, the San Diego Chargers. The Chargers are 2-0 against Manning in playoff games -- to close out the 2007 and 2008 seasons, both against the Colts -- and the Chargers are one of three teams to have beaten Manning and the Broncos this season.

It's yet another narrative. And mix in the fact Chargers head coach Mike McCoy was Manning's offensive coordinator in Denver last season so he knows what the quarterback does and doesn't like in a game plan and from a defense.

Also consider that McCoy and Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano put together a defensive game plan Dec. 12 that was essentially one of the best anybody authored against the Broncos this season. And while it is a testament to the Broncos' record-breaking season on offense that the 20 points scored in the 27-20 loss was their fewest of the year, the Chargers were the only team to limit the Broncos' offense to fewer than 61 plays in a game this season. And the Chargers did it in both games, including a season-low 53 plays in the Dec. 12 game.

Asked if his up-close-and-personal time with Manning helped in devising game plans, McCoy deferred to his players' efforts.

"Players play, coaches coach," McCoy said. "There are 11 guys out there on the field, they've got to play. We could call out every play, or call out every defense, whatever it is. The players have to go out and execute it. Peyton is good enough, he knows where to go. He sees a certain coverage and knows where to go with the ball. So it's all the players, give the players all the credit for the way they played last time."

Manning is in just his second season with the Broncos so many of his teammates are still adjusting to the swirl that follows the future Hall of Famer through a season. His sore ankle earlier this season was the stuff live updates were made of in the news cycle and some of his teammates simply shake their heads at all the fuss, even this week.

"I don't really think about it," defensive end Shaun Phillips said. "I try to worry about our side of the ball. Peyton is going to handle his business. He's been doing that for years. That's something -- when you're great, they're going to find something to nitpick at you. He can't be perfect. If he was perfect, he would win every single game and win every single Super Bowl. But no one is perfect. All he can do is go out there and do his job. And we're going to do our part to try to help the way we can on our side of the ball."

Manning did admit, like many of his teammates, that last January's double-overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens, a one-and-done exit from the postseason as the AFC's top seed, provided plenty of fuel this season in many of the team's activities. But Manning has also consistently said if you're just ramping up your intensity now, with the playoffs underway, you probably weren't handling your business properly before that.

"I think we've kind of used that throughout the season," Manning said. "We talked about that going into the month of April, with our weightlifting and our offseason training, about using that to fuel you, to make you do an extra set of sprints or an extra set of squads, whatever it may be. We've used it on the practice field. I don't think that you just get to this week and you start thinking about it. I think you always want to have something to try to drive you, fuel you and make you better than the year before. I feel like we've done that and, like I said, we're excited to be at this place right now.

"I think you just sort of focus on the now. I think we've prepared well throughout this season. I don't think you do anything differently here now that you're only one of a few teams left playing. It means you haven't been preparing the right way all along if you try to do something differently now. I'm not sure that you really look much past this season, the games you played against these guys, the games they played last week, our game we played a couple of weeks ago -- and kind of focus on that. I'm not sure any of the other stuff has a whole lot to do with what actually is going to occur in this game."