ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — NFL fans and fantasy football owners debating Peyton Manning’s prowess and problems can continue that discussion well into the new year.
The five-time MVP says he plans to return to the Denver Broncos in 2015 for an 18th NFL season.
Manning was asked during his weekly news conference Wednesday if there were a set of circumstances that would lead him to retire after the upcoming playoffs.
“I have not thought about those circumstances at all,” Manning replied. “So, I certainly plan on being back, if the Broncos will have me. But at this point, I’m kind of thinking about Oakland.”
A win over the Raiders (3-12) on Sunday would earn the Broncos (11-4) a first-round bye.
Manning said he knows talk this time of year turns to the coaching carousel and “I get to fall into that category because maybe I’m closer to the same age as some of the coaches. But yeah, I have no plans along those lines. I’m enjoying playing and looking forward to Sunday’s game and the game to follow that.”
Manning, 38, is trying to supplant his boss, Broncos GM John Elway, as the oldest QB to win a Super Bowl.
But first, he’s trying to bounce back from a poor performance in Denver’s 37-28 loss Monday night at Cincinnati, where he threw four interceptions for the sixth time in his career.
Although the Broncos have down-shifted their high-octane offense over the past several weeks to work on a better ground game, Manning has thrown just five TD passes to go with six interceptions in the past month.
That’s sparked a debate over whether time is finally catching up to Manning despite his posting a 39-12 record following spinal fusion surgery in 2011.
With every interception, the debate grows in both traditional and social media over his age, health and even his credentials.
“Yeah, that’s probably a little deeper than I can handle,” Manning said. “… But the ones the other night were a combination of bad throws and bad decisions. … I take a lot of pride in trying to be an accurate quarterback and trying to be disciplined in my decision making. So, I didn’t play up to my standards the other night and certainly on those four particular plays, I’ve got to do a better job.
“I’m not sure how old you are has (anything) to do with it. You can be 22 and throw a ball behind a guy, you’re probably going to get intercepted.”
Manning is in some ways a victim of his own greatness. In his first 43 regular-season games in a Broncos uniform, Manning averaged 27 completions per game for 318 yards. Over his past four, he’s averaged 18 completions for 224 yards. His TD rate has fallen from 2.68 per game to 1.25, and his interception rate has more than doubled from .69 to 1.5.
Coach John Fox issued an impassioned defense of his quarterback this week, saying, “if you look at the meaningful statistics as it relates to quarterback, I think he’s probably in the top five in the National Football League, which we’re pleased with.”
Manning leads the NFL with 39 TD passes and his 102.9 passer rating and 4,454 yards passing both rank fourth.
And he’s done it despite Julius Thomas’ six-week TD slump, Wes Welker’s drastic drop in production and a jumbled O-line that’s not given him enough time or space to step into his throws.
Although his teammates fully expected it, Manning’s pronouncement Wednesday was met with glee.
“Eighteen’s back, we’re back!” running back C.J. Anderson said. “Naw, I just think he’s got a lot to prove. I don’t know if Peyton pays attention to that. But I just know if someone’s talking bad about me almost every week, I would want to come back and show you guys wrong.”
Cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said he anticipates Manning playing beyond 2015.
“I expect him to play out his whole deal,” Harris said. “Even if we win the Super Bowl, I see Peyton coming back still because we would pretty much have everybody back.”
Manning is due $19 million salaries in both 2015 and ‘16.
Notes: RB Ronnie Hillman was a full participant in practice for the first time since he sprained his left foot Nov. 9. … S T.J. Ward (neck) was limited. … Anderson apologized for his terse postgame interview in which he answered every question with a version of: “We played terrible. We’ve got to get better.” He said he should have cooled off before speaking with reporters.