SAN DIEGO —** It takes a lot to keep Peyton Manning out of a football game.
The only games he's missed in his 17-year NFL career came in 2011, when he missed the entire season due to neck surgery.
But after illness hit him Saturday evening, kept him up most of the night and continued into morning, Manning wasn't certain he would play against the Chargers on Sunday.
"Last night was pretty miserable," Manning said after the game. "So it might have crossed my mind a couple of times during a couple of those trips last night."
Manning said he expected to feel better as Sunday went along but he was still "under the weather" as the game approached, and didn't want to attempt to play if he felt like he couldn't make his normal impact.
"I think I take a pretty honest assessment of myself," he said. "Can I perform? Am I going to hurt the team? You know what I mean? I have zero selfishness when it comes to, 'Oh, I have to be out there.' I want to be out there, but... if I felt like I was going to hurt the team by being out there, then obviously (I wouldn't have played)."
After leaning on Head Coach John Fox and Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase to help assess whether or not he was healthy enough to be effective, Manning did play, making the 277th start of his career.
The Broncos began with the run-heavy approach that has been the backbone of victories in recent weeks, running on six of the first eight offensive snaps and 13 of the first 19. When Manning did throw, he was effective, connecting with Demaryius Thomas for 36 yards and Julius Thomas for 30 yards before the first quarter ended.
But another hurdle arose for the QB when, late in the first half, he injured his thigh after rolling out toward the sideline to make a throw to Emmanuel Sanders.
"I have to believe it was related to the symptoms last night, from probably being dehydrated if I had to guess," Manning said of the injury.
He remained in the game as the Broncos drove down and earned a first-and-goal at the 1-yard line, but Juwan Thompson and C.J. Anderson were stuffed on consecutive plays just short of the goal line. After Anderson fought through defenders in the backfield — and got a block from Manning — to earn what appeared to be a touchdown on third-and-goal, Manning headed up the tunnel to the locker room with 1:53 remaining in the second quarter and an extra point pending to put Denver up 13-0.
"I thought we scored a touchdown obviously, and I thought I needed a little extra time at halftime where hopefully I could be able to go in the second half," Manning said. "So I went in and got some treatment, between [Head Athletic Trainer Steve Antonopulos] and Luke [Richesson], the strength coach. And I do think that extra time helped me get ready to go for the second half."
Unfortunately for the Broncos, Anderson's touchdown was reversed upon replay review, bringing up fourth-and-goal from the half-yard line, leading to a Connor Barth field goal to extend the lead to 9-0. After the Broncos' defense forced a three-and-out, backup QB Brock Osweiler came in but couldn't move the ball. The Chargers forced a three-and-out and picked up a field goal before the half expired.
At halftime, Fox didn't know whether it would be Manning or Osweiler who would take the field in the second half.
"I don't think anybody was sure," Fox said after the game. "We kind of prepared otherwise, but I think it's a tribute to the kind of toughness that Peyton has and the kind of competitor he is that he gutted it up and I thought [he] did a tremendous job in those conditions."
Manning didn't throw often in the second half, but he did what was necessary for a win, completing 6-of-8 attempts for 96 yards including a gorgeous back-shoulder throw to Demaryius Thomas for a 28-yard score late in the third quarter. When the Chargers' offense finally broke through for a TD against Jack Del Rio's stingy unit, Manning responded with a 33-yard throw to Emmanuel Sanders that helped restore a two-possession lead for Denver with less than five minutes remaining in the game.
On four meaningful second-half possessions (excluding three kneeldowns to end the game), Manning led the Broncos' offense to 13 points, enough to salt away the Chargers and wrap up the fourth consecutive AFC West title for the Broncos. After the game and still feeling ill, Manning was asked how he managed to get through the contest, let alone do so playing at a high level.
"Maybe [the adrenaline]," he said. "Or maybe some of those, the four IVs that I might have had between last night and this morning, probably helped me a little bit as well.
"I haven't had to have an IV in... I'm not even sure I've ever had to have one in 17 years. So that was a new experience last night and one that I'd prefer not to have going forward."
Manning's ability to soldier on reflected the fight of the entire team on Sunday. With Julius Thomas (ankle) playing limited snaps, Demaryius Thomas fought through his own ankle injury for his eighth 100-yard game of the season. Elswehere, Ryan Clady, Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan all exited the game and required replacing. Ultimately, the collective effort still proved to be too much for the Chargers.
"[It took] a lot of toughness on our team's part," Manning said. "We had a lot of guys banged up, a lot of reserves stepped up and did a good job, a lot of the main starters raised their level of play.
"...We faced some adversity throughout the day today and to beat this team here at their place, it's very satisfying."
It's fitting that the victory that secured the Broncos a playoff spot came in such gritty fashion, with a style of play that proves necessary in the postseason. With its fourth consecutive victory since losing two of three games in the middle of the season, Denver upped its road record to 4-3 and the team also tied an NFL record with its 12th consecutive divisional win away from home. Considering their recent win streak, despite a spate of injuries and a few bad breaks, there's no doubting the Broncos' toughness. And if Sunday was any indication, it all starts with No. 18.
"You can't ask for better," Demaryius Thomas said of his quarterback. "If a man comes out and plays that sick and throwing up and all this other stuff, that's all you can ask for."
Check out the best action from the first half in San Diego.
Check out the action from the second half of Sunday's big win over the Chargers.