Back in sad­dle

Bron­cos go­ing with Man­ning as their start­ing quar­ter­back

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Troy E. Renck

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.”

Brent Lewis, The Den­ver Post

Pey­ton Man­ning, look­ing for a pass­ing lane dur­ing prac­tice Thurs­day, is 47-15 in starts with the Bron­cos, in­clud­ing play­off games.

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