Pey­ton’s team again

Ku­biak says Man­ning will start for the Bron­cos in the play­offs

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - SPORTS - THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Gary Ku­biak stuck to his word in nam­ing Pey­ton Man­ning his starter even af­ter declar­ing Brock Osweiler had done noth­ing to de­serve a de­mo­tion.

“Pey­ton’s our quar­ter­back,” Ku­biak said on the day Man­ning hob­bled to the side­line and gave way to his long­time un­der­study fol­low­ing his fourth in­ter­cep­tion against Kansas City on Nov. 15. “If he’s healthy and ready to go, Pey­ton’s our quar­ter­back.”

Man­ning is healthy and ready to go.

So, he’ll be un­der cen­tre for the Den­ver Bron­cos (12-4) in the play­offs.

Ku­biak called his quar­ter­backs into his of­fice Thurs­day when play­ers re­turned from a three-day fur­lough and in­formed them of his de­ci­sion.

“I feel really good about this,” Ku­biak said. “I feel good about how far Pey­ton has come, where he’s at phys­i­cally, mentally. I could see it hap­pen­ing through­out the course of the last two weeks. I’m ex­cited for him to get go­ing.”

Man­ning said his left foot is fine now and he’s even re­freshed af­ter tak­ing nearly two months off.

He also suf­fered no lin­ger­ing ef­fects from Damion Square’s text­book hel­met-to-chest hit on Sun­day in what the 39-year-old quar­ter­back called his wel­come­back-to-foot­ball mo­ment.

“I felt good go­ing into the game Sun­day, had no is­sues com­ing out,” Man­ning said. “And th­ese past couple of days off cer­tainly helped as well.”

Man­ning praised his backup, say­ing the Bron­cos wouldn’t be the AFC’s top seed with­out him, “but I’m look­ing for­ward to be­ing back” call­ing the shots be­gin­ning Jan. 17 in the divi­sional round.

Osweiler re­acted the way Ku­biak and GM John El­way hoped he would: with dis­ap­point­ment and de­ter­mi­na­tion.

“I stand be­hind Pey­ton. I stand be­hind coach. I stand be­hind this team,” Osweiler said. “You’re go­ing to see the same ex­act guy out of me as you’ve seen the whole sea­son. Bot­tom line: I just care about this foot­ball team win­ning games. If coach thinks Pey­ton gives the team the best chance, then I fully sup­port that.”

Man­ning missed seven starts with a torn plan­tar fas­cia. He re­turned to ac­tion Sun­day when he re­lieved Osweiler in the sec­ond half and led the Bron­cos to a 27-20 win over San Diego. It marked Man­ning’s first game as a backup since his fresh­man year at Ten­nessee.

Man­ning went 7-2 as Den­ver’s starter, al­though he strug­gled all sea­son with his foot in­jury, which af­fected his throw­ing mo­tion and led to right shoul­der and rib in­juries as well.

It also forced the Bron­cos to put Man­ning in the pis­tol or shot­gun on most snaps. On Sun­day, he was un­der cen­tre 40 per cent of the time, which did won­ders for their ground game.

“I’m glad to have him back,” re­ceiver De­mary­ius Thomas said. “I’m ex­cited to see how he’ll play now that he’s healthy.”

Osweiler went 5-2 and both losses came down to dropped passes. That’s why Thomas said not to call this a quar­ter­back quandary but de­pend­able depth.

“We’ve got two guys we can go with,” Thomas said, “and both of them can win games for us.”

AP PHOTO

Den­ver Bron­cos quar­ter­back Pey­ton Man­ning looks to pass the ball dur­ing a prac­tice Thurs­day in En­gle­wood, Colo.

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