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Manning's neck might determine his future

Monday, January 13, 2014 | 7:57 p.m. CST; updated 8:23 p.m. CST, Monday, January 13, 2014
Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning walks off the field after Denver beat the San Diego Chargers 24-17 in a divisional playoff game Sunday in Denver.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Peyton Manning's mind is on New England, not his neck.

When answering a question last week about whether he could still enjoy the playoffs given his previous postseason disappointments, Manning dropped in a phrase that "the light is at the end of the tunnel for me, no question."

Meaning, that at age 37 he certainly has more games and seasons behind him than ahead.

Following Denver's 24-17 win over San Diego on Sunday that sent the Broncos into the AFC championship, Manning was asked whether a medical exam on his surgically repaired neck following the season, which ESPN reported will determine whether he even plays in 2014, was weighing on his mind.

"It's really not," Manning said. "What's weighing on my mind is how soon I can get a Bud Light in my mouth. That's priority one."

Neither Manning nor the Broncos have any indication whatsoever that Manning won't pass his medical exam in March — if anything were wrong, he wouldn't be playing right now.

And Manning is coming off the best statistical season of his brilliant career, one in which he threw for a record 55 touchdowns and 5,447 yards.

But he's not one who likes to look too far ahead anyway, just like he hates going down memory lane or talking about his health publicly.

Now, Patriots pass-rushers Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich might be among his concerns this week. But he didn't even want to talk about the Patriots following Denver's win over the Chargers, much less about his upcoming medical exams or his football future.

"It was an intense game and up and down and a lot of emotions," Manning said. "Even the Patriots is (too far) ahead. And that question is way far ahead. I am not there. This team has been a one-week-at-a-time season. For all we've been through, losing our coach, losing different guys to injury, that approach has served us well, and I think we need to keep that approach from here on out."

Manning has always said that if doctors had told him after his spinal fusion surgeries two years ago that he shouldn't continue playing football, he would have walked away from the game without regret and that he'd do the same if he receives such medical advice down the road.

All parties expect him to receive the go-ahead to play next season when he has his medical exam in March, which is just like the one he had after last season.

Manning was released by the Indianapolis Colts in March of 2012 after four neck operations that weakened his throwing arm. He signed with the Broncos and has gone 27-7 in Denver with 97 touchdown passes and 24 interceptions, counting playoffs.

The Broncos (14-3) on Sunday host the Patriots (13-4), who haven't played on the road in the AFC playoff bracket since losing to Manning and the Colts 38-34 in the AFC title game following the 2006 season.


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