Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning looks to the sidelines during the second half of an NFL football game against the San Diego Chargers Sunday, Dec. 14, 2014, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)
Lenny Ignelzi
December 18, 2014

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Peyton Manning is over his illness but not his injury.

Denver's quarterback was limited Thursday when the Broncos reconvened for their first practice since their win at San Diego on Sunday. Manning fought through the flu in that game and strained his right thigh late in the first half.

Manning participated in the walkthrough but retreated to the Broncos' facility after the team stretch while backup Brock Osweiler took over the offense.

He didn't appear in any discomfort afterward, saying, ''I feel OK,'' and, when asked if he'll be ready to play Monday night, added, ''I certainly hope so.''

Save for the season he missed following spinal fusion surgery, Manning has never missed a start in his 17-year NFL career.

He was clearly feeling better Thursday. He had his coloring back in his face and even jokingly referenced Bill Belichick three times when he answered reporters' questions with a ''We're on to Cincinnati'' mantra.

That's something the Patriots coach did five times a day after their 41-14 drubbing at Kansas City on Sept. 29. New England turned around and walloped the Bengals 43-17 the following week, the start of a stretch of 10 wins in 11 games.

The Broncos (11-3) will try to secure a first-round bye in the playoffs and keep the heat on the Patriots for the AFC's top seed when they play the Bengals (9-4-1) in Cincinnati on Monday night.

Coach John Fox gave the players Tuesday and Wednesday off.

''I think it's good for everybody this time of year,'' Manning said. ''Everybody - not just me - is dealing with different things physically. So, you get a little extra time to take care of your body, treatment or whatnot. I think guys took advantage of that and hopefully that'll pay off for us.''

With Manning on the mend, what about Denver's ailing offense?

The Broncos have been wildly inconsistent in the red zone over the last month, in large part because tight end Julius Thomas (ankle) was out. Before he got hurt, their red zone efficiency was 77 percent with 24 TDs in 31 trips inside the opponents' 20-yard line. Since then, that figure is just 42 percent (9 of 21).

Three weeks ago, the Broncos stalled at the Chiefs' 4, 6, 11, 15 and 19. And against San Diego, Connor Barth was called upon for three more chip-shot field goals after drives twice stalled at the Chargers' 1 and again at the 8.

In between, they reached the red zone three times against Buffalo and C.J. Anderson rushed for TDs of 6, 1 and 3 yards. Manning's last red zone touchdown toss came Nov. 30 against Kansas City when Anderson took a short pass and scored from 15 yards out.

''I think it's just our execution ... hasn't been as good as we needed it to be,'' Manning said. ''That is something we can improve on I think and certainly it's something we can fix.''

After another question about getting rest this time of year, Manning finished his reply with a smirk, saying, ''We're on to Cincinnati.''

He was asked about Terrance Knighton's Super Bowl guarantee that the Broncos nose tackle issued after Denver won its fourth straight AFC West title last weekend: ''I think Terrance has a lot of confidence. I think it's a good quality about him,'' Manning said. ''As far as me though, I'm on to Cincinnati.''

And told that Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib, who was named AFC defensive player of the week, revealed he, too, was sick last Sunday, Manning was asked about how difficult it is playing while under the weather and if he could lob some blame at Talib for getting him sick.

''No, I couldn't do that,'' Manning replied. ''I think I'm past talking about it. So, we're on to Cincinnati.''

Notes: LB Brandon Marshall is no longer wearing a protective boot on his sprained right foot and said his sprain wasn't as bad as the team's medical staff originally feared. ... Knighton said Fox admonished him to be careful what he says in light of his Super Bowl guarantee. ''I feel like our defense right now is playing the best of any defense in the NFL, and we want to carry this team to a Super Bowl victory,'' Knighton explained. ''I stand by what I said - I don't care who we play, where we play. Put the ball down and we're going to come out with a victory.''

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