ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When it comes to a quarterback's throwing hand, even the smallest of collisions can often have significant consequences.
That's why when quarterback Peyton Manning smashed his thumb on the helmet of Saints defensive end Martez Wilson on a 23-yard second-quarter completion to wide receiver Eric Decker, there was momentarily reason to believe that the big gain might have been a costly one.
"Quarterbacks, probably the biggest fear is always the thumb on the helmet of the defensive lineman, so that's what happened," Manning said Sunday night.
Fortunately for the Broncos, the injury appeared to be a nonfactor, as Manning was able to direct two touchdown drives after halftime without a problem and finish with 305 passing yards and three touchdowns.
"It'll be sore tomorrow, but I'm probably a little bit lucky," Manning said after the game.
On Monday, Head Coach John Fox confirmed that Manning was showing no ill effects from the play.
"It's fine," Fox said of Manning's hand.
BRONCOS TO MISS MAYS
The Broncos received discouraging news on Monday regarding middle linebacker Joe Mays, who started four games this season.
Mays suffered "a fracture in his fibula of the left ankle," and according to Fox is "out for extended time." It remains unclear if the injury will require surgery and Fox said it hasn't been determined when, if at all, Mays might return to the playing field this season.
"We'll evaluate and move from there depending on what we decide to do with the roster spot," Fox said.
On Wednesday, veteran linebacker Keith Brooking said he can relate, recalling how hard it was missing the final 11 games of his third season in the NFL with a Lisfranc injury. He said it was tough to see a player like Mays go down.
"We all know that injuries are a big part of this game," Brooking said. "You hate to lose a warrior, a guy that we all were counting on. He's been a very big part of this football team. I spoke to him last night after the game and told him to keep his head up. … The main things are for him just to keep his head up, keep fighting, believing and don't allow it to get him down. More than anything, it's just motivation for him to come back even better than he was before."
Though it could be a while until Mays rejoins his teammates on the field, Wesley Woodyard expects his fellow linebacker's presence in the locker room to remain valuable.
"He's definitely going to be a player that we miss," Woodyard said. "He's going to be there making sure he's watching film for us to give us coaching points and what we can do better. We're going to miss him on the field, but he's going to always be around in the locker room talking to us."
Throughout the season, the Broncos have preached a next-man-up philosophy when injuries have occurred. Monday's news brings about the latest example of that mantra.
"We have everybody," Woodyard said. "Everybody plays their own part. Von (Miller) plays his part, Keith plays his part, myself, Nate (Irving). Everybody steps up and everybody holds their own weight."
DEFENSE MAKING STRIDES
The Broncos turned in one of their best defensive showings of the season Sunday against New Orleans, holding the NFL's top-ranked passing attack to just 213 yards through the air and allowing the Saints to convert on just one of 12 third down attempts.
Reviewing that effort on tape on Monday, Brooking saw a level of play he hopes the team can maintain throughout the rest of the season.
"I thought it was a good performance," Brooking said. "That's kind of the way we're looking at it. You're never there in this league. We know what's in front of us, and we have a long way to go to get to where we want to go, so I think you saw the tip of the iceberg of what this defense can accomplish, what we can do. We've just got to be consistent in that. One good game against a good offense, in the full scheme of things, doesn't really mean a whole lot if you don't start stacking those games back-to-back-to-back and becoming consistent week in and week out."
"A key ingredient in this league in my time here has been consistency," Brooking added. "That's individually, as a player, being consistent, taking care of your responsibility on every play. Obviously, that just carries over. If every guy is doing that on your football team, you have a really good chance of being successful. That's what we want to accomplish on defense."
Part of the Broncos' recent success on defense, which includes a dominant second half against San Diego, is that the unit is beginning to fully grasp Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio's system. The players' improved understanding of their roles within the defense has resulted in just 14 points allowed over the past six quarters.
"We'll never use excuses, but it's a new scheme, what Jack Del Rio brought in here, so it's guys just becoming more familiar with the scheme and their responsibilities and playing fast," Brooking said. "I think as the season progresses, you're going to see everyone, all 11 guys out on the field, depending on the personnel (and) what defense is out there, just being more comfortable in their position, what they're doing, and just their ability to play fast, so it's a progression there and we're getting better every week."