DENVER -- Less than an hour after a crushing 24-13 loss to the Indianapolis Colts that shattered another season's worth of Super Bowl dreams for the Broncos, quarterback Peyton Manning was still sorting through what happened in those shocking four quarters and what it would mean for his future.
"My mindset right now is just disappointment after [Sunday's] game," Manning said following the loss. "I'm disappointed, I kind of need to process this game, we'll meet [Monday]. I'm disappointed I need to process this game.''
Asked if he could definitely say he was still planning to return to the Broncos next season, Manning said, after a short pause:
"Uh, yeah, I guess I just can't give that simple answer. I'm processing it. I can't say that. I could not say that.''
Manning was asked on Christmas Eve, in the days leading up to the regular-season finale against the Oakland Raiders, if there were any set of circumstances that would lead him to retire at season's end.
"I have not thought about those circumstances at all. I certainly plan on being back if the Broncos would have me, but at this point I'm kind of thinking about Oakland," he said at the time. "I know this is the time where conversations about what head coaches are going to return and I guess for some reason I get to fall into that category because I'm closer to the same age as some of the coaches. I have no plans along those lines [of retiring]. I'm enjoying playing, I'm looking forward to Sunday's game and hopefully the game to follow that.''
But after the third consecutive season of finishing short of the team's stated goal of a Super Bowl -- including two losses at home -- the Broncos are a team with 17 players set to be restricted or unrestricted free agents. And head coach John Fox, amid reports before Sunday's game even kicked off that he would be available to other teams if the Broncos lost, was asked about his future with the Broncos following the game.
"I've seen all kinds of reports in the past,'' Fox said. "I'm sure I'll see some moving forward. I don't make those decisions, I don't control that. My intentions are to be a Denver Bronco and have been since I got here. It's not about me, it's about the football team.''
But Manning, until he publicly tips the scale definitively to either a return for 2015 -- he has two more year left on his contract -- or retirement, will be the biggest question. He finished 26-of-46 passing against the Colts for 211 yards and a touchdown.
The touchdown pass, however, came on the Broncos' first possession of the game and Manning struggled mightily at times to push the ball down the field.
According to ESPN's Stats & Information, Manning was just 2-of-12 passing for 49 yards on pass attempts that traveled at least 15 yards and just 6-of-21 for 107 yards on passes that traveled more than 5 yards.
After the game, several Colts players said they followed the Seahawks' blueprint of playing the outside receivers more physically, clogging the middle of the field and forcing Manning to make throws outside the numbers.
Sunday's game was Manning's fourth-lowest yardage total in a postseason game in his career.
"Not good enough, didn't play well enough,'' Manning said. "I give them a lot of credit ... Their defense forced us into some bad execution, but we have some chances as well and thought I could have played better.''
In the second half of the season, particularly since the Broncos' Nov. 16 loss in St. Louis, Manning topped 300 yards passing just once -- in a Monday Night Football loss in Cincinnati -- over the last six games of the regular season.
Over the last nine games of the season, six of those on the road, the Broncos went 6-3 as Manning threw 17 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
"I didn't play as well consistently in the second half of the season,'' Manning said. "I can't give you a great reason for that. Played well at times, but probably not as consistently, certainly didn't play as consistently in the second half of the season as I did in the first half.''
Manning, who had four IVs the night before and morning leading up to the Broncos' Dec. 14 win in San Diego, also suffered a right thigh injury in that game. Manning said the injury bothered him some down the stretch, but was not a factor in Sunday's loss.
Manning also refuted reports he had suffered a left thigh injury as well.
"I had one thigh injury, somebody said that I had two thigh injuries, that would be news to me,'' Manning said. "I had that one thigh injury that I had in the San Diego game, it's kind of hung around. I felt like I could manage it, completed some passes, won some games with it, so it kind of hung around, just that one thigh injury, nothing more to it than that. I felt good with it coming into the game today.''