For the first time since his disastrous outing against the Kansas City Chiefs on Nov. 15, quarterback Peyton Manning lined up under center for the Denver Broncos on Sunday against the San Diego Chargers.
Manning helped the Broncos to a 27-20 victory and the top seed in the AFC. He connected on five of his nine passing attempts for 69 yards.
NFL Network's James Palmer provided his view of the situation from Sports Authority Field at Mile High with Denver trailing 13-7:
Peyton Manning is heading into the game folks. Crazy turn of events here in Denver. Osweiler has a ski hat on.— James Palmer (@JamesPalmerTV) January 3, 2016
Standing ovation here in Denver with Peyton Manning entering the game. Obviously he quiets the crowd.— James Palmer (@JamesPalmerTV) January 3, 2016
USA Today's Nate Davis noted Manning's appearance in relief may have been his first as a professional:
"All the QBs who've played behind me, I finally understand how they've felt, not getting any reps," Manning said, per CNN's Rachel Nichols.
With a shot at home-field advantage throughout the playoffs on the line following the New England Patriots' loss to the Miami Dolphins, the Broncos had no choice but to hand Manning the keys to the offense following Brock Osweiler's shaky start.
Prior to being pulled, Osweiler completed 14 of 22 passes for 232 yards and a touchdown, but he tossed a pair of costly interceptions.
"Brock got some horrible breaks," Manning said following the win, per Mile High Report on Twitter. "Tipped balls... the offensive line blocked a little better when I was in there."
Manning's health should be watched closely after he spent several weeks inactive due to a torn plantar fascia, but as Pro Football Focus' Steve Palazzolo noted, Denver has been at its best with the future Hall of Famer at the controls:
With Peyton this year, his bad has been really bad, but his good has been better than Osweiler. He's always been Broncos' best chance— Steve Palazzolo (@PFF_Steve) January 3, 2016
According to BSNDenver's Adam Kinney, Manning didn't pump up his performance much as the Broncos' rushing attack carried them to a win:
Peyton "I really can't take credit for having a good handoff or others catching the ball."— Adam Kinney (@AdamKinneyRadio) January 4, 2016
Peyton said his foot "held up" and was just glad to contribute #broncos— Adam Kinney (@AdamKinneyRadio) January 4, 2016
Although the Broncos offense flashed promise under Osweiler's leadership during Denver's 30-24 overtime win against the Patriots, it has sputtered in recent weeks.
Denver managed just 17 points in a Week 13 win over the Chargers, scored 12 in a loss to the Oakland Raiders, failed to keep pace with the explosive Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 15 and needed overtime to reach 20 points against the Cincinnati Bengals last week.
And while Manning didn't exactly have the Broncos humming prior to his foot injury, his ability to analyze defenses and make adjustments at the line of scrimmage may be what they need with the big pressure of playing as a No. 1 seed coming up.