ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --For the first time this season, quarterback Peyton Manning was listed on the injury report.
But Manning downplayed any fears right away, saying his right thumb is just fine after he hit it on the helmet of a Saints defender last Sunday.
"It's OK," he said. "It's sore, but just more of an irritant than anything."
After hurting his thumb in Week 8, Manning led two more touchdown drives in the second half en route to his fifth consecutive 300-yard game.
Through eight weeks of the season, Manning leads the NFL with a passer rating of 109.0, part of a resurgence in Denver after spending the 2011 season out of football with a neck injury.
For that reason, Manning was asked on Wednesday about talk surrounding a potential NFL-record fifth MVP trophy. But the 15th-year quarterback deflected the conversation to the team's growth.
"Certainly, there was a lot of unknown before this season -- I think there still is," he said. "Any time you can make some strides, some progress, some wins while you're figuring out who you are, that's a good thing."
The Broncos have a chance to win their third consecutive game this Sunday when they head back on the road to take on the 3-4 Cincinnati Bengals.
The Bengals, coming off a bye week, have lost three straight games, but Manning said that doesn't take away from the caliber of challenge they present.
"They play in a physical division," Manning said. "The teams that they play are good running teams, physical defense and Cincinnati matches that mold. I think their record is misleading. ... It's a playoff team. Whatever their record is, all we see is what we see on film, and in my opinion, their defense is good."
That defense, Manning said, is led by a talented defensive line, which has helped rack up 23 sacks on the year -- tied for third-best in the league -- often using just four-man rushes.
With a potent offense featuring the likes of wide receiver A.J. Green, Denver knows it will have to work hard in every phase of the game to keep its win streak alive.
"It's been two good wins in a row," Manning said. "We're looking for consistency. We're not looking for two good games and then a lull. This is a really good test, going on the road."
"(Coach) Fox breaks the season into quarters, and it would be nice to finish this quarter 3-1."
This offseason, as Manning was preparing to potential enter the free agent market, the quarterback needed some help from a few of his former teammates as he rehabbed from a neck injury.
So he called up wide receivers Brandon Stokley and Austin Collie and tight end Dallas Clark and asked them to head down to Durham, N.C., for some workouts at Duke University.
But he needed to entice them first.
"I said, 'I can get you courtside tickets to Duke vs. North Carolina, but you've got to come and throw for three days with me,'" Manning smiled. "I said, 'You've got to throw all three days, otherwise, no tickets. I can call somebody else in relief.'"
Was that enough to get the three pass catchers onto campus?
"Easy sell," he laughed. "The Duke-Carolina game is a bucket-list thing for a lot of them, so they knew. But that was the deal. It was all three days. It wasn't 'half a day here,' or 'I can't go Friday.' You had to go Thursday, Friday and Saturday for tickets to the Saturday night game. It was good. It was Stokley and Collie and Clark. I knew it might be potentially the end of being with those guys, so it was a fun weekend."
As it turned out, it wasn't the end of the Manning-to-Stokley connection, as the 14th-year receiver was signed by the Broncos in the offseason.
"They brought him in and they were impressed with the workout," Manning said. "I think that workout did give him some encouragement and give him some life."
"I'm certainly glad he's been a big part of our team this year."