ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Manning vs. Luck III.
Peyton Manning gets to face his former team and his successor after Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts beat Cincinnati in the wild-card round Sunday.
They met last year in Indianapolis when Manning’s emotions and the Colts both got the best of him in his homecoming.
Manning won’t get caught up in the hype of the marquee matchup this time, suggested Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. He pointed to his quarterback’s coolness in this season opener when Denver beat Indy 31-24.
“We had them the first game of the season and he was fine,” Thomas said. “It’s a playoff game so it’s a little bit different because if you lose, you’re done and if you win, you keep going. I can’t really talk for Peyton, but I think he’s fine.”
DeMarcus Ware said he was especially appreciative for the Broncos’ bye, which they earned as the AFC’s No. 2 seed, when he saw it was Luck whom he’ll be facing next weekend.
Luck has an uncanny knack for comebacks even when things look bleak such as in last year’s playoffs when he guided the Colts back from a 28-point deficit to Kansas City.
The Broncos jumped out to a 24-0 lead on the Colts in this season’s opener. But Luck led a frenetic rally that came up short when rookie Bradley Roby broke up a fourth-and-6 pass to Reggie Wayne in the final minute to secure Denver’s 31-24 win.
“He’s one of those guys that you have to play a 60-minute game against,” Ware said. “He has really good pocket awareness. He’s always one of those guys, just like Peyton, where he hits the open guy the majority of the time. He plays a fundamentally sound game.
“He’s one of those quarterbacks you don’t want to go against, but the thing is you’ve got to make sure you get pressure on him and make them one-dimensional.”
Four months have passed since the Colts (12-5) and Broncos (12-4) saw each other, but Ware stressed “it’s still the same quarterback,” so “I think you’ve got to go back and see what you did well. You’ve also got to see how and where you didn’t play well and make sure those things are corrected.”
Thomas figures to cringe when he watches the film.
With Wes Welker serving a two-game suspension, Thomas played the slot and caught four passes for 48 yards with a couple of huge drops that night.
Once Welker returned, Thomas went back outside and had another stellar season that included a franchise-best 1,619 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“It’s great” having Welker back, Thomas said. “I tried to play the slot and it wasn’t for me that early in the season. Having him back is good because he is one of the best that does it and having him, you never know what defence they will play because they will have to watch everybody.
“Hopefully we will have Julius (Thomas) there healthy. It’s good to have Wes back and I can be back outside and try to do my best to play my best for the team and have a big impact on the game.”
Julius Thomas got off to a sizzling start with three TDs against Indy in the opener and a dozen by Week 10. But he hasn’t reached the end zone since spraining his left ankle Nov. 16.
After one score, microphones caught him screaming, “It’s so easy!”
A healthy Julius Thomas could be a tremendous help for the Broncos in the playoffs – that’s one reason the bye week was such a big deal to them.
“It was big to get this week out of the way with some rest and now get back to business,” Demaryius Thomas said. “Some guys are feeling better. That is the benefit of having a bye week off. It was real big.”
The bye also gave Pro Bowl safety T.J. Ward (neck) and top tackler Brandon Marshall (foot) more time to get healthy.
That’s “something that we need,” Ware said. “Especially just from a leadership standpoint but also having guys come back that are big playmakers for us.”