BUR­DEN HIGH ON BRON­COS QUAR­TER­BACK

Look for Man­ning to take fewer shot­gun snaps, with the run game now revved.

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Troy E. Renck

Bron­cos quar­ter­back Pey­ton Man­ning pro­vides a pres­ence when he steps into the hud­dle. But en­ter­ing the divi­sional play­off game Sun­day against Pitts­burgh, he might also of­fer bal­ance.

At the Bron­cos’ reg­u­lar-sea­son fi­nale, fans waited for one man. That man waited 49 days for his mo­ment of re­demp­tion.

As the Bron­cos steered and veered to­ward the play­offs, quar­ter­back Pey­ton Man­ning stood in the shad­ows, his in­jured left foot cre­at­ing con­cern that he might not play again this sea­son.

With the Bron­cos trail­ing San Diego 13-7 on Jan. 3, Man­ning en­tered as a re­liever for the first time in his NFL ca­reer, ral­ly­ing the Bron­cos to their fifth con­sec­u­tive AFC West ti­tle and a No. 1 play­off seed. His re­turn pro­vided a Red Bull en­ergy boost, while cre­at­ing some in­ter­est­ing looks.

Not count­ing kneel-down plays, Man­ning spent 10 snaps un­der cen­ter against San Diego and 12 in a shot­gun for­ma­tion. Such bal­ance re­mained largely ab­sent ear­lier this sea­son with Man­ning. In the 39-year-old’s last start, against Kansas City on Nov. 15, he worked un­der cen­ter only twice, and a penalty nul­li­fied one play. He op­er­ated in the shot­gun 28 times.

Man­ning pro­vides a pres­ence when he steps into the hud­dle. But en­ter­ing the divi­sional play­off game Sun­day against Pitts­burgh, he might also of­fer bal­ance.

“That’s how he played against San Diego. He can do both. There are no hold backs or any­thing we have to do. He’s ready to go,” Bron­cos coach Gary Ku­biak said Mon­day. “He’s work­ing in ev­ery­thing we do.”

The Bron­cos watched the AFC play­off games Satur­day as fans, but once it was clear they would play the Pitts­burgh Steel­ers in the divi­sional round Sun­day, a smile emerged on a few of their faces. A chance at re­venge. An op­por­tu­nity to avenge one of their tough­est losses in a 12-4 sea­son.

Den­ver lost to the Steel­ers 34-27 in Pitts­burgh on Dec. 20 af­ter lead­ing 27-10. The Bron­cos are adamant the re­match won’t have the same re­sult.

“It’s a lot of stuff that’s dif­fer­ent. The 70,000 that are on our side this time. They got guys banged up,” said Bron­cos cor­ner­back Aqib Talib. “We got our farm­ers back, our bangers back. It’s a to­tally dif­fer­ent ball­game.”

“Farm­ers” and “bangers” re­fer to Den­ver’s free-roam­ing safeties — Dar­ian Ste­wart and T.J. Ward — who missed the first bat­tle with the Steel­ers be­cause of in­juries.

Pitts­burgh has in­juries too. Quar­ter­back Ben Roeth­lis­berger has a shoul­der in­jury that left him se­verely lim­ited at the end of the Steel­ers’ 18-16 vic­tory at Cincin­nati on Satur­day. Wide re­ceiver An­to­nio Brown is in the NFL’s con­cus­sion pro­to­col. Run­ning back DeAn­gelo Wil­liams missed Satur­day’s game and vis­ited a foot spe­cial­ist Mon­day. None are guar­an­teed to play Sun­day, but the Bron­cos aren’t pre­par­ing for their back­ups.

“Come on, man,” Talib said. “Ben will be there. And A.B. will be there.”

Brown had a great game against the Bron­cos on Dec. 20, catch­ing 16 passes for 189 yards and two touch­downs.

“That game we weren’t as phys­i­cal as we know we could be,” Ste­wart said. “We just didn’t tackle as well. We have to be great tack­lers again.”

The Bron­cos watched the film, then put the Dec. 20 game be­hind them. Ex­cept for one is­sue: a late hel­met-to-hel­met hit from Steel­ers cen­ter Cody Wal­lace on Bron­cos safety David Bru­ton. A few Den­ver play­ers want ret­ri­bu­tion. “I’m mad,” Ste­wart said of Wal­lace’s hit. The Bron­cos want to stick up for Bru­ton, but they watched Cincin­nati lose Satur­day be­cause it lost its com­po­sure. The Steel­ers have a rep­u­ta­tion of drag­ging op­po­nents into phys­i­cal games.

“They try to get un­der your skin,” de­fen­sive end Malik Jack­son said. “Con­niv­ing. They def­i­nitely know what they are do­ing.”

Brock Osweiler was back to back­ing up quar­ter­back Pey­ton Man­ning at Bron­cos head­quar­ters Mon­day. Man­ning is 2-3 in play­off starts, and 47-15 over­all, with the team. Steve Nehf, The Den­ver Post

Steel­ers run­ning back DeAn­gelo Wil­liams hur­dles Bron­cos in­side linebacker Danny Tre­vathan in Pitts­burgh on Dec. 20. Wil­liams was un­able to play Satur­day at Cincin­nati be­cause of a foot in­jury. AAron On­tiveroz,The Den­ver Post

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