SAN DIEGO -- **Their quarterback was sick, fresh off spending Saturday night and Sunday morning receiving IVs. Their franchise left tackle spent most of the game sidelined with a thigh injury. Their two playmaking weakside linebackers were both out by the end of the game.
So the Broncos could have been forgiven if their entire operation went on the fritz because Peyton Manning was ill, Ryan Clady had a thigh injury, Brandon Marshall was out with a foot injury and Danny Trevathan watched the final moments from the sideline with a towel over his head after being shaken up early in the fourth qaurter.
But they wouldn't have forgiven themelves. Not when they repeat the words, "Next man up," so often that they probably mutter them in their sleep. Not in a season that has been defined by an incessant state of urgency.
"It's what we signed up for," said defensive end Malik Jackson. "We knew when we sign up for football you know you were going to get nicked, you know you're going to get bruised, you know know you're going to be a little injured sometimes, it's all about fighting through it.
"(Head) Coach (John) Fox says, 'Nobody cares if you're going to be hurting on Sunday or tired or it's cold outside. You have to go out there and play and perform.'"
Even when you receive four IVs in order to play. That was the cross that Peyton Manning bore after taking ill Saturday evening.
"He was in his bed and they was saying he was throwing up and all this," said wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. "Everybody knew how sick he was."
Added Manning: "I had a rough night."
Check out the action from the second half of Sunday's big win over the Chargers.
And then, just before the first half ended, a thigh injury compounded the insult of feeling ill. He left for the locker room early, just after trying to block Chargers linebacker Donald Butler on a C.J. Anderson run that was ruled a touchdown, but overturned on instant replay. Manning was already injured when he tried to block, but he got into position, anyway.
"I really tried to use him as a decoy. I didn't think he was going to stick his neck in there," said Anderson. "But it just shows how tough 18 is, and what he'll do: he'll do whatever it takes to win."
And after receiving treatment, he returned for the second half following a brief, two-minute drill cameo for Brock Osweiler, who fired an incompletion, was called for intentional grounding and handed off the football in his one series.
Manning returned for the second half, and completed a performance that was as healthy as his condition was hindered: completions on 70 percent of his 20 attempts, a 125.6 quarterback rating and an average of 11.65 yards per attempt, his second-highest figure in the last five seasons.
Thanks to well-placed deep outside passes to Julius Thomas, Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, Manning had one more yard than Philip Rivers -- even though the Chargers' quarterback had 21 more attempts.
Not bad for a sick guy, eh?
"You can't ask for [any] better," said Demaryius Thomas. "If a man comes out and plays that sick and throwing up and all this other stuff, that's all you can ask for.
"He did great, if you ask me. We got the win and the game was manageable, we didn't turn the ball over. It was good."
But it was only the beginning for the Broncos. Manning made it through the game. Clady and Marshall did not; by halftime, both were in the locker room to stay, lost to thigh and foot injuries, respectively.
The Broncos had viable relief options for both. Chris Clark, last year's injury replacement for Clady, returned to left tackle, a position that he admits is "more natural" than the right tackle spot he manned in the first six games of the regular season until ceding the job to Paul Cornick. And the return of Danny Trevthan from injured reserve kept the defense humming without Marshall.
But when Trevathan hobbled to the sideline in the fourth quarter, it exacerbated the Broncos' crunch at linebacker; they were without both of the players who have radio receivers in their helmets.
"We couldn't get the call in. that was so frustrating and tough. We had nobody with the headset," said cornerback Chris Harris Jr. "We tried to signal, but you can't signal because they know our signals. We were in a tough situation right there at the end."
But like Manning, the team waded through the mess. Clark settled in on the left side. Recent acquisition Todd Davis saw his role expand at linebacker, with T.J. Ward moving back to nickel linebacker on the last two series. Clark and the offensive line didn't allow a sack after the first series. The defense intercepted two passes on consecutive series after losing Trevathan.
The Broncos were injured and ill, but indefatigable, and flew home with their fourth consecutive AFC West championship as a result.
"We're prepared, and we all trust each other," said Clark. "It's a brotherhood."
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