David Zalubowski
December 10, 2014

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Peyton Manning is tied for the NFL lead with 36 touchdown passes and he's 90 yards shy of his 14th 4,000-yard season.

So, why all the angst?

Because he hurt fantasy owners in their playoffs last week when his TD streak came to a halt at 51 games, three shy of Drew Brees' NFL record, and he was picked off twice for the fourth time in the past six games.

Never mind that the Broncos (10-3) beat Buffalo, keeping pace with the Patriots in their quest to earn home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs for a third straight season.

Manning had 22 touchdowns and just three interceptions in September and October. In November and December he has 14 TDs and eight interceptions.

And he's coming off his first career home game in which none of his passes ended up in the end zone and multiple throws ended up in opponents' hands.

Coach John Fox saw the need earlier this week to declare ''our passing game is fine,'' and defend his five-time MVP, saying, ''I can't think of another quarterback I'd rather have than Peyton Manning.''

Broncos fans and fantasy players who have Manning on their team are worried, though. They fill the airwaves and social media with questions about his health.

They debate whether Denver's midseason shift to a run-heavy offense was more out of necessity than design (as in, are defenses and age finally catching up to Manning?).

''I don't have a great answer for them I guess,'' Manning said Wednesday. ''I'm always trying to play better, always watch the film of the games with my coaches pretty critically, trying to improve whether we've won a game or lost a game, trying to see how I can do my job better in whatever phase that is.

''So, I feel good physically and certainly I'm always looking to play better.''

Mike McCoy, whose Chargers (8-5) face the Broncos this weekend, said if anybody thinks Manning is losing it, they're mistaken: ''That's the furthest thing from the truth if you ask me.''

Here's a breakdown of what's happening in Denver:

-Manning won't match last year's high numbers, including his 55 TD passes. But he and San Diego's Philip Rivers are the only quarterbacks who have seen such stiff competition: Both have faced seven of the league's top-10 scoring defenses.

-Manning has four more TD throws than MVP favorite Aaron Rodgers and is once again the hardest QB in the NFL to sack.

-Denver made wholesale changes to the offensive line at midseason, and that chemistry remains a work in progress.

-The Broncos downshifted their high-octane offense in part to capitalize on C.J. Anderson's rise from fourth stringer to starter and because of injuries to Julius Thomas, who's missed almost a month, and Demaryius Thomas, who got stepped on last week in practice.

The absence of Julius Thomas has allowed defenses to play a single high safety and bring the other safety up to clog the crossing routes, forcing Manning to make throws outside the numbers, which are sometimes harder.

Demaryius Thomas was held to two catches for 11 yards Sunday against Buffalo, his lowest output since 2011, when Tim Tebow was his quarterback.

McCoy was half-jokingly asked on a conference call in Denver his thoughts on this new ''Mike McCoy/Tim Tebow'' offense that coordinator Adam Gase is running.

''It's looks outstanding,'' McCoy said, adding he's not surprised the Broncos have made such a dramatic shift: ''It's whatever's best for your team, that's what you do.''

Fox reminded everyone this week that the Broncos could teeter-totter the other way and throw the ball like crazy Sunday.

Manning, too, is reticent to acknowledge there's been a fundamental shift in offensive philosophy in Denver.

''What you're looking for is to win the game,'' Manning said. ''And there's different ways to win.''

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

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