DENVER -- Peyton Manning's right thumbnail was covered with white tape and put under a media microscope upon his return to the football field Wednesday.
The tape didn't wrap all the way around Manning's thumb, leaving him able to grip the football like normal, and Denver Broncos teammates said his throws and hand-offs at practice were unaffected by his injury in his first action since he smacked his throwing hand on a defender's helmet Sunday night.
Manning, who threw two second-half touchdown passes in the Broncos' 34-14 win over the New Orleans Saints after being hurt just before halftime, said after practice that his thumb was "sore, but it's more of an irritant than anything else."
Manning understands all this scrutiny. After all, he missed all of last season in Indianapolis with a nerve injury in his neck and now plays in a city that 24 years ago argued about the quality of Halloween candy handed out to trick-or-treaters by a young John Elway.
Now, the discolored right thumbnail on the four-time NFL MVP, who's playing like he's hungry for a fifth honor, certainly is a big deal in media circles, both traditional and social.
Manning acknowledged he was "probably a little bit lucky" that he banged the nail and not the knuckle of his right thumb on Saints defensive end Martez Wilson's helmet just before absorbing his only hit of the night. Another half-inch, and all bets would have been off for the rolling Broncos (4-3), who lead the AFC West, are finally hitting their stride behind Manning's spectacular play and steady leadership, and look every bit like a team ready to take off.
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press