ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) - Wes Welker and Peyton Manning remain in perfect rhythm even after a month apart.
At least, that's what the Denver Broncos' receiver reported after practice Thursday.
''I felt like we were kind of on the same page,'' said Welker, who is returning from a concussion he sustained Dec. 8 against Tennessee - his second in a four-game span.
Hardly a surprise, since they've been in sync all season, with Welker catching a career-high 10 touchdown passes.
Lately, though, Manning has been without his security blanket as Welker sat out the final three games of the regular season.
This first-round bye gives Welker and Manning more time to re-establish their rapport.
Not that they really need it. More like fine-tune it.
''I feel like we've been around the league long enough, where we know each other's thinking and can get on the same page and ready to go,'' said Welker, whose team will host Kansas City, Indianapolis or San Diego on Jan. 12 in the AFC divisional round. ''Hopefully, keep it rolling and just keep it going.''
With Welker sidelined, Manning had a chance to work receiver Andre ''Bubba'' Caldwell and tight end Jacob Tamme into the pass-catching rotation. Two more threats for an offense that scored an NFL-record 606 points this season.
''The more weapons we can have, the more guys out there making plays, the better off we're going to be,'' Welker said. ''We're going to need everybody here through the stretch and everybody stepping up and making plays when we need to.''
That starts with a healthy Welker, who returned to practice on a limited basis last week and was fully cleared Monday.
''I feel good,'' he said. ''I feel fine. I feel ready to go.''
Still, there are those who are concerned about Welker's return, especially since he's suffered two concussions in a short amount of time. He sustained a concussion against Kansas City on Nov. 17 but didn't sit out any games. He was concussed again just before halftime in the Broncos' win against the Titans last month.
And while he appreciates all the worry, he insisted he indeed is good to go.
''I think we've taken a lot more action than what we would have in the past with this whole ordeal,'' said Welker, who is in his first season with Denver after spending the last six years catching passes from Tom Brady in New England. ''I feel like we've taken enough time. It will be five weeks from the day I had any contact at all.
''It's always a tricky injury in just trying to manage it and everything else. The doctors and trainers do a great of just doing the things necessary to get me back out there on the field.''
He has been a refreshing sight for Manning, who frequently looks Welker's direction when defenses dial up the pressure.
''We're glad to have him back and can use this time to work and get our timing going,'' Manning said. ''I'm sure he would tell you he has liked being back out on the practice field and having some time to work.''
No question about that. Sitting out has been frustrating for Welker.
''It makes you appreciate and it makes you hungry and ready to get back out there, ready to go out there and compete, especially at a time of the year like this,'' said Welker, who had 73 catches for 778 yards this season.
He will certainly help on third-down conversions. The Broncos were converting at around a 56 percent clip for most of the season with Welker around, a figure that slipped to 20 percent against San Diego and Houston.
Not only that, but Welker has a way of opening things up for other receivers, too, especially Pro Bowl tight end Julius Thomas.
''A lot of times teams will decide to go ahead and double Wes,'' explained Thomas, who had a breakout season as he hauled in 12 TD passes. ''So absolutely, it opens up things for me. If I have single-man coverage, it's something that I definitely enjoy and look forward to.
''Wes brings a lot to this offense and we're excited to have him back.''
NOTES: Manning was selected the AFC Player of the Month after throwing for 1,755 yards and 19 TDs in December. ... Broncos DL Derek Wolfe (illness) didn't practice on Thursday. ... Broncos coach John Fox may cancel practice on Saturday as a reward to the team. ... Asked about the challenges of having a week off, Fox said: ''The challenge is it's a new season. All the records go out the window, all the stats go out there window. It's a whole new season. ... You can't have a bad day.''
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