''I thought our offense stunk today,'' Manning said after Tuesday's two-hour practice in shells and shorts. ''I thought their defense totally kicked our butt.''
And when the five-time MVP isn't happy, nobody's happy.
''I don't feel like we had our best day as a group, especially on the offensive side of the ball,'' Demaryius Thomas said. ''There were a lot of penalties, not converting well, I don't think I had one of my best days.''
Asked specifically what had set him off, Manning stared at a reporter like he had stared down receiver Bubba Caldwell after a poorly run route or two an hour earlier.
''Were you watching?'' Manning retorted.
What observers saw, actually, was a Broncos offense that produced its share of big plays in both 7-on-7 and team drills against a Romeo Crennel-designed 3-4 defense led by J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney but also some sloppy moments less than 48 hours after a chest-thumping 34-0 shutout of the San Francisco 49ers.
The Texans had an extra day's rest, having played Atlanta on Saturday night.
''They executed better than we did,'' Manning said. ''They just did their jobs a lot better.''
Denver's starters have looked solid in preseason wins over Seattle and San Francisco, games in which Manning has completed 22 of 27 passes for 182 yards and a TD, leading some to suggest the Broncos are ready for the regular season right now.
''I think that story ought to die pretty quickly after today's performance out there,'' Manning said.
He said there was no ulterior motive to his harsh assessment, denying that he was just trying to light a fire under his team so it didn't start to feel like the next two weeks didn't matter.
''I kind of call it like I see it. When you have a pretty below-average practice, you've got to call it a below-average practice,'' Manning said. ''So, I think this team does a pretty good job staying pretty even-keeled. I don't think anybody is overly excited about beating a San Francisco team that didn't have Justin Smith, Patrick Willis, that didn't blitz us one time, playing kind of a pretty vanilla scheme. They will be a different animal when we play those guys in the regular season, trust me.''
The Broncos will also see the Seahawks again in September, but after Saturday night's game against Houston, they won't see the Texans again this season unless they meet up in the playoffs.
Manning said he's thrilled to get three workouts in against the Texans and Crennel, who is in his first season as Texans defensive coordinator, having joined the staff after another former Bill Belichick disciple, Bill O'Brien, was named head coach.
''Romeo Crennel is one of the best coaches out there,'' Manning said. ''Overall, it will be a good week for us. But we've got to do better than we did today on offense.''
While the Texans, who went 2-14 last year, talked all about how beneficial it was facing the defending AFC champs, it was the Broncos who were talking up the Texans.
Thomas said the Texans had plenty to do with Denver's discombobulated performance that so upset Manning.
''They came in and did what they were supposed to do. They put pressure on us. They stopped us on a couple of third downs, fourth downs and two-minutes,'' Thomas said. ''They get a lot of credit.''
To be sure, Denver's defense also got the best of Houston's offense.
''I feel like we had a pretty good practice,'' Von Miller said. ''Today had a game-type atmosphere. We still made some errors. That's what practice is for, you just go out there and try to smooth everything out.''
The teams will suit up in full pads Wednesday. That, combined with Manning calling out his teammates, promises to ratchet up the intensity.
Notes: Watt said he'd like a new contract soon, but he's not stressing over it: ''I get paid to go after quarterbacks. There are people who get paid to decide how much I get paid to go after quarterbacks,'' he said. ... Texans RG Brandon Brooks participated in his first practice after missing camp with an undisclosed injury and CB Johnathan Joseph is back after missing all of camp following offseason toe surgery. ... WR Andre Johnson, RB Arian Foster and LB Brian Cushing, who didn't play against the Falcons, ramped up their workload Tuesday.
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