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Uncertain future: What's next for Manning, Fox?

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The devastation of Sunday's desultory effort by the Denver Broncos will quickly turn to hard questions about the future of the organization's leaders.

Peyton Manning and coach John Fox have defined this run of Broncos success, but both men will face a lot of tough questions in the days ahead. Manning said publicly in December he planned to play next season, but Manning was far less certain after the game.

"My mindset right now is just disappointment after today's game," Manning said. "I kind of need to process this game and we'll meet tomorrow, kind of need to process this game, so I'm disappointed right now."

Pressed further on the issue, Manning could not commit to returning.

"Yeah, I guess I just can't give that simple answer. I'm processing it. I can't say that. I could not say that."

Manning is due $19 million next year, which would be tough for any player to pass up. As much as he struggled Sunday and showed cracks throughout the second half of the season, Manning still finished second in the NFL in touchdowns. It's not like he was a mediocre quarterback most of the season, and his love for the game is obvious. Still, his non-answer shows that he's thinking about calling it quits.

The X-factor here is Manning's health. Coach Fox hesitated when asked if Manning was healthy after the game, saying that Manning was "healthy enough to play." Manning insisted his only injury issue all season was a thigh problem. 

Only Manning knows how his shoulder and neck feel and whether he can withstand another year of hits. There's no doubt Manning's arm strength was diminished late in the year. He could not hit on any deep passes Sunday, and it wasn't for a lack of trying.

"We probably went to that well too many times," Fox said.

The future of the Broncos head coach could be even more precarious than Manning's. Even before national reports emerged wondering about Fox's future, we heard whispers that he could be replaced in Denver by offensive coordinator Adam Gase. Manning and Gase have a close relationship, but the Denver coordinator has been a hot property in coaching interviews this offseason.

Perhaps Broncos VP John Elway sees Gase as a better long-term coach for Denver, and sees retaining him as a way to convince Manning to play one more year. Fox addressed the speculation after the game.

"I've seen all kind of reports in the past," Fox said. "I don't make those decisions. My intentions are to be a Denver Bronco. It's not about me. ... It's about this football team."

That football team could be dramatically different next season, if not next week.

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