Back in saddle
Broncos going with Manning as their starting quarterback
Peyton Manning sat at his locker, ran his hand through his hair, and asked a question. ¶ “Any other coaches get fired today?” said Manning, noting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had dismissed Lovie Smith. ¶ Manning loves football, devours information, but with all due respect to the NFL’s coaching carnage, only one story matters in Denver. ¶ To QB or not QB?
That was the question hanging over Manning and the Broncos as they returned to work Thursday in preparation for their Jan. 17 playoff game. Coach Gary Kubiak removed any uncertainty, naming Manning the starting quarterback after talking to Manning and Brock Osweiler before practice.
The decision came as no surprise after Manning rallied the Broncos to a 27-20 victory Sunday against San Diego, clinching the AFC West title and a No. 1 playoff seed. In the end, the Broncos are back to where it all it began: with a 39-year-old Manning attempting to make a last stand while navigating a
precarious foot injury.
“I just did what I thought was best for the team,” Kubiak said. “I know one thing: He’s doing everything that he was doing at the start of the season, the way he’s throwing the ball and the way he’s moving around. I don’t have any doubts.”
The stakes escalate in the postseason. A poor half can leave a sea of regret. Manning earned his job back with Sunday’s performance. Not only did he prove his health, he caffeinated a sluggish offense, leading scoring drives on three consecutive possessions in relief of Osweiler. Manning completed 5-of-9 passes for 69 yards. Even more salient, which spoke of his experience, he deciphered the Chargers’ defense, twice checking to running plays when San Diego attempted the same
Man up or man down?
Coach Gary Kubiak chose experience, deciding to go with 39year-old Peyton Manning to start at quarterback for the Broncos’ playoff opener: Manning’s playoff record: 11-13 Playoff home record: 8-6 Playoff highlight: Winning Super Bowl XLIV One and done in postseason: Nine times Playoff record against Steelers: 0-1, losing in 2005 Playoff record against Chiefs: 2-0, winning in 2003 and 2006 Playoff record against Texans: Never faced them in postseason blitz that created a fumble by Osweiler.
“We all know it’s no shot to Brock,” running back C.J. Anderson said. “Brock is just young in his career. One thing we just know Peyton has done all his career, he’s put his team in the best plays. His audible system is up every play. That’s one thing he does, and we saw that Sunday against the Chargers and you should see that more in the playoffs now that he was named the starter.”
Manning absorbed a huge hit from Chargers defensive end Damion Square but emerged unscathed. He embraces an opportunity that appeared unlikely last week when he served as a backup for the first time since his 1994 freshman season in college.
“Even though I’ve never felt like I’ve taken it for granted, when you are not out there playing it certainly does remind you how fortunate you are when have the chance,” Manning said. “I look forward to contributing.”
Osweiler became a casualty of an offense that couldn’t hold on to the ball, committing five turnovers. Kubiak expressed confidence in Osweiler, who represents the team's potential quarterback of the future if a deal can be struck in free agency. Osweiler admitted disappointment but understood the decision.
“It’s hard to hear that you’re not going to be the one playing. However, I am a big team player,” Osweiler said. “If Coach believes Peyton gives the team the best chance, I fully support that. I stand behind Peyton, Coach and this team.”
Manning and Osweiler have both had success this season. Manning’s recent relief appearance resonates but raises a final question, given how quickly Osweiler was pulled Sunday. Will Manning have to look over his shoulder in the playoff opener?
“I don’t want him ever to do that,” Kubiak said. “This is what I feel is the best for the team. They know that. The team knows that. Our quarterbacks know exactly how I feel, and we will move forward so none of that is happening.”
Peyton Manning, looking for a passing lane during practice Thursday, is 47-15 in starts with the Broncos, including playoff games.