Dungy says he thinks Manning will return in '15 - if healthy

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Count Tony Dungy among those who believe Peyton Manning will play in 2015.

''I was with him last week and he didn't give me any indication one way or another, but he certainly didn't say anything to me that led me to believe he wouldn't be playing,'' Manning's former coach told The Associated Press.

Dungy said he thought only a serious injury would prevent Manning from playing an 18th NFL season.

Manning delivered a shocker after Denver's 24-13 loss to Indianapolis in the playoffs, saying he was unsure whether he'd return for a fourth year with the Broncos. The team then parted ways with coach John Fox and hired Gary Kubiak.

After a terrific start in 2014, one that saw him surpass Brett Favre as the NFL's touchdown champion, Manning dealt with a nagging thigh injury that hampered his performance down the stretch and in the playoff loss to his former team.

''My gut feeling is that he'll be back unless he really has a health-related problem,'' Dungy said. ''He enjoys the team. He enjoys his teammates. I think he really wants to come back and play well and not let that be the last game of his career.''

Former Broncos great Terrell Davis, now an analyst for the NFL Network, said he, too, feels Manning will put off retirement at least until 2016. But Davis said he doesn't think the Broncos' last game will be a motivating factor.

''My gut tells me that he comes back. But if he comes back just because he didn't want to go out like this, I don't know if that's the right reason,'' Davis said. ''You come back because you love the game, you want to compete, you enjoy working out, you enjoy going to practice.''

These are all things Manning is ostensibly deciding after heeding GM John Elway's advice not to make a rash decision in the emotional aftermath of a season that finished so shy of expectations - another trip to the Super Bowl.

Manning overthrew eight passes in Denver's playoff loss, an indication to Dungy that Manning was hampered by his health.

''I've never seen him miss balls by as much as he missed them in that final game,'' Dungy said. ''Usually, he misses a pass and it's inches off or a foot off, not a couple of yards off. So, I have to believe there was something physical in that last game and probably coming down the stretch, too.

''And when I look at those first eight or 10 games of the season, you didn't see that. You saw nice balls and on-target throws and that just why I'm guessing and just looking from afar, I haven't talked to him about it, but my guess from watching him all these years, I think it was something physical.''

In an appearance during Super Bowl week, Manning's father, Archie, said he had no advice for his son regarding retirement.

''I would never tell him what to do and I don't have an opinion,'' said the patriarch of football's first family. ''I want him to do what's in his heart and what he thinks is best. He's pretty good at that. He'll be 39 years old and he's had to make big decisions before and he's usually made a pretty good one.

''So, I know one thing you can count on about Peyton: he will lay it all out there. He will evaluate everything and make a decision. So, we're confident whatever that it, it's going to be the right decision.''

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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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