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Don't ask Peyton about next year; he's got the Ravens in three days

The 18-year quarterback is used to questions about his age and when he'll retire, how long he'll play, etc. But those are questions for a long time from today. Right now, it's time to focus on the season, and that means Baltimore on Sunday.

Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

If you want to ask Peyton Manning whether he thinks he can play another year after this - three days before the Broncos open the 2015 season against the Ravens no less - you really should re-think that question.

Because he is going to make you feel silly for asking something so ridiculous before the first game of the current season has even gotten underway.

Actually, Manning won't, but I will.

"Anytime I have to do an interview that kind of gets general..." Manning said yesterday after a question about whether he can play another season after this. "I'd like to talk about just this game, if I could."

Yes, please.

Asked last week about retirement plans, Manning said he doesn't "have those thoughts. I think about playing football to the best of my ability in 2015."

While the 39-year-old quarterback understands this is a common topic of a quarterback entering his 18th year in the NFL, he's really just trying to focus on this season and particularly this first game - a doozy of a home-opener against Baltimore.

"I think everybody, including me, feels good right now going into the season. We want to keep feeling good. The best way to do that is to win. You want to win," Manning said. "I think the key for us is just to keep improving throughout the season, whether it's me or all of our players, just to keep getting better."

And if you check in with his coaches and players, Manning is certainly doing his part to achieve that.

Just ask the quarterback's No. 1 receiver.

[Peyton] is doing great to me. I don't think he's lost a step yet. Everybody is going to have their own opinion. My opinion is he's good.  -Demaryius Thomas

"He's doing great to me. I'm out there catching balls. This is my fourth year with him. I don't think he's lost a step yet, and I've already had three great years with him," said Demaryius Thomas, who recently signed a major contract extension to stay with Manning and the Broncos. "Everybody's going to have their opinion. That's their opinion. My opinion is he's good still."

Thomas pointed out that preseason games are not the best test of Manning's "state," noting that the five-time NFL MVP quarterback has often not thrown a touchdown pass in the preseason, only to come out gun-slinging on opening day.

"I don't know if it's designed or not, but it happens," Thomas said, adding that it's the same competitive Manning out there this year as every year.

"He's the same Peyton Manning. If something happens, the offense is going to look to Peyton. Especially when it's game time on the field because you can't ask coach what to do," Thomas said. "All he wants to do is make sure that everybody is ready, doing their job and that we're out there competing."

Head coach Gary Kubiak is also feeling good about how his conservative approach with Manning has worked out during the offseason and preseason.

"He's throwing the ball well, he's very sharp mentally on what we're trying to get done and I think that the process has been good," Kubiak said after Wednesday's practice. "Right now, he's probably as fresh as he's been."

Whether Manning liked that approach, loved it or wouldn't have preferred it, no one will know because the 18-year QB would never complain about his coaches taking a championship view on the season.

"I'm on board. I feel like I've always had a good attitude - team player," Manning said. "Whatever they feel they want me to do, that's what I'll do. If it's being out there or if it's taking a period off or cutting down on certain reps, if that's kind of part of the plan, then I'm all for that."

The most important thing, Manning emphasized, is that the offense - and the team generally - continues to improve throughout a game as well as throughout the season.

"We want to be playing well to start the season, but we want to improve and hopefully be playing even our best football late in the season," he said. "I think that is kind of our ultimate goal."

It won't be an easy goal this first week, for sure, as Manning and his offense - one still trying to gel with several newbies and newly signed free agent Evan Mathis - will face one of the toughest defenses in the league.

It's an excellent defense. ...That's not just the offensive line's challenge. It's the quarterback's. The receivers need to get open. The running backs have to be sharp in pass protection. Everybody's got to do their part.  -Peyton Manning

But don't you worry about Manning's confidence in or patience with the offensive line. He knows it will be a work in progress, and he's going to roll with that. Plus, it's not just the o-line that has to get its job done.

"It's an excellent defense and really an excellent defensive front. They play well together," Manning said, adding that it's everybody's challenge to stop it. "That's not just the offensive line's challenge. It's the quarterback's. The receivers need to get open on time. [The] running backs have to be sharp in their pass protection. Everybody's got to be doing their part if you want to have a chance against these guys."

It's really about perspective - something that after playing in the NFL for 18 years, Manning has more of than anybody.

"I think I've said all along, the key for us is to improve throughout the season, throughout the course of a game," he said. "Baltimore is an excellent defense. Are you going to dominate all four quarters? I don't know if anybody's ever done that against Baltimore. Hopefully you can win enough plays and be efficient enough where you can do well enough to win the football game."

And the Broncos' fourth-year offensive team captain sees that as a bit of a metaphor for 2015.

"I think this game can be a lot like our season - just keep improving, being sound in the things that we're doing and trying to be on the same page," he said.

Still want to ask about Manning's 2016-17 season, or can he just focus on the one we're in?

Thought so.