Injuries give Broncos' Peyton Manning lesson in patience

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Peyton Manning has always looked for clues and searched for answers in the videotape. This season, one Manning has called "unique" and "strange," he has had to look elsewhere.

Inside himself.

Because when Manning tried to play the first five games through his left foot injury, he led the league in interceptions. When he sat out almost two months, his future uncertain, Manning had to deal with a concept he isn't always been able to wrap his vast football mind around.

"I had to be patient," Manning said. "... I think through it all, that would be one thing I've taken away, to be patient. I had to go through the process of my rehab, had to get back in uniform, one step at a time."

Whether Super Bowl 50 is or isn't the last game in Manning's Hall of Fame career, this season has been unlike any other. For the first time, he missed starts in a season in which he had played the opener. For the first time since he was a freshman at the University of Tennessee in 1994, he was in uniform as a backup quarterback in a game.

And for the first time most anyone in the NFL could remember, Manning ran a scout-team offense in practice to help his team's defense prepare.

"That was a little different," linebacker Brandon Marshall said. "To look across the line and see him doing that, that tells you everything. It tells you how hard he was working, what he's willing to do for his team. I mean, you can't really worry about other stuff if you look across and Peyton Manning, who's going to the Hall of Fame, and he's running the scout team, getting us ready to play."

There were several moments during Monday's Super Bowl media night when Manning, who was peppered with an hour's worth of questions, said: "I have a peace about it."

Whether it was about the future, his post-spinal fusion journey back on to the field or how his career has played out during the last two decades, Manning said: "I've been at peace about it the whole time."

"If you've been injured in this game, there are times you wonder if you're going to get back, how it will be," Broncos linebacker DeMarcus Ware said. "I think he's enjoying this team, and everybody wants to do what they can for Peyton because of who he is."

Manning says he doesn't know if it's fatherhood "or just getting older," but he finds himself "getting more emotional" about more situations. There has also been a change in the football side of things since he returned to the field in the regular-season finale.

On an injured foot -- Manning suffered a tear in the plantar fascia near his left heel in the Broncos' Nov. 8 loss to the Indianapolis Colts -- Manning led the league in interceptions, with 17, by the time he was pulled from a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs after his fourth interception of that game.

He had shoulder and rib injuries as well, adding to his inability to make many of the throws he had routinely made in his time with the Broncos. Since his return to the lineup, with just over eight minutes left in the third quarter of the regular-season finale, Manning has not thrown an interception.

"It has a lot to do with health-wise, feeling better," Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said. "He wasn't playing healthy."

Perhaps the biggest indication of Manning's comfort level now is his willingness to discuss a topic -- his right arm -- that he has purposefully kept at arm's length for much of the last four seasons.

The fact his foot was in a cast and he spent almost two months trying to get it healthy enough to play, might have actually helped his arm for the Broncos' playoff run.

"My arm is what it is," Manning said. "I honestly think that having a little time off to heal my foot maybe helped some other parts. I think it's something not getting hit every Sunday night, throwing 100 passes at a practice every week. So I took some time off and then I started rehabbing, so I tried to use that time to help other parts of my body physically. My arm feels OK. My arm has not been the same since I got injured four years ago. It just simply hasn't been. I had a strange injury. I had a neck injury that caused some nerve problems in my right arm. ... I've worked hard to sort of manage with the physical limitations and have gotten to a place where I think I could be effective and that's where it is."

Whatever happens Sunday and in the weeks to come, Manning is ready to see it unfold.

"I haven't made up my mind, but I don't see myself knowing that until after the season," Manning said. "... I've really just tried to focus on that one week and not think too far ahead and that has really helped me out a lot. I think, had I been thinking about things past that it would've affected me, and so it's really served me well till this point and I'm going to stick with that for one more week."