The Denver Broncos didn’t waste any time announcing who the starting quarterback would be for their first playoff game next week.
Quarterback Brock Osweiler started the Week 17 game against the San Diego Chargers. But Peyton Manning came in to spark the team to a key victory that secured the Broncos the AFC's first-overall seed in the playoffs.
So entering this bye week, questions swirled around the quarterback position. But instead of keeping the playoff starter a secret, the team revealed that it would be Manning.
Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak immediately addressed the decision on Thursday.
“Obviously, we’re looking forward to Peyton leading our football team. I feel very good about that. It’s best for our football team.”
Kubiak added his thoughts on Osweiler:
“I also know that Brock will be ready to play. He’s proven that throughout the course of this year.”
The veteran coach understands that football is the ultimate team game, and it’s going to take an entire effort from the squad to advance through the postseason.
“I’ll just make the comment like I’ve made all along. It’s taken all of us, and I think it will continue to take all of us as we embark on this second season. We’re excited about it.”
And the Broncos are excited about the possibilities the playoffs bring while looking forward to what Manning can do as the starter.
After coming in to save the day against the Chargers, many wondered how Manning’s body would respond to the physical beating he took. The partially torn plantar fascia that knocked him out of action in November is a tricky injury to recover from. It takes time to heal, but it also can be easily aggravated.
Against the Chargers, Manning took some big hits and had to move around in the pocket a bit as the pass-rushers closed in on him. He looked good during the game, but how would his body respond to the punishment afterward?
Kubiak said he feels confident about Manning’s health:
“Other than taking one heck of a shot in the chest on the particular play, I think he was fine. That’s a step forward—getting back, getting hit a little bit, those type of things, getting the soreness out. I know he was in here Monday in the training room himself, but he’s feeling good and practiced very well today.”
Manning was succinct when talking about his foot.
“It’s fine," he said. "There were no issues coming out of the game on Sunday.”
Offensive Line Changes Because of Manning?
The most important changes the Broncos make leading up to the playoff game might be what they do on the offensive line. Starting right tackle Michael Schofield has struggled most of the year in pass protection. Like Osweiler, Schofield was pulled in the Chargers game.
Veteran Tyler Polumbus came in for Schofield, and he did a much better job at keeping pass-rushers at bay. Polumbus took over at the same time Manning entered the game.
Kubiak admits the changes up front do not have to do with Manning being named the starter.
“No, I don’t think so. It’s just about what we think is best for our group, our best five and how do we play the best? It’s kind of been that way all year long. I don’t think that yesterday was any different.”
The coach would not reveal who would be starting at right tackle in the playoffs, but logic would dictate that we would see Polumbus again the next time the Broncos play.
Kubiak said earlier this week that the team would not be kept in the dark regarding the quarterback. They were the first to learn about his decision, and they have responded positively to the news.
Osweiler honestly answered when asked about the quarterback change:
“I would say that there’s a little bit of disappointment as a competitor, as someone that loves being on the field with his teammates and loves giving everything that he has to this sport. It’s hard to hear that you’re not going to be the one playing.
“However, I’m a big team player. If Coach feels that Peyton gives this team the best chance to win in the playoffs, I fully support that. I stand behind Peyton, I stand behind Coach and I stand behind this team."
Again Osweiler said, "If Coach thinks Peyton gives the team the best chance, then I fully support that.”
Meanwhile, running back C.J. Anderson is ready and focused on the task at hand.
“Kubiak told us that Peyton was going to be the starter going into the playoffs. He also said that Brock will be ready because you never know what’s going to happen.
“We’re just happy no matter who’s at the helm. They’re going to lead us where we need to go. We have to do our job behind them.”
Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders was lighthearted when talking about the move at quarterback.
"Today, DT [WR Demaryius Thomas] and I were teasing him a little bit, saying, ‘Man, we haven’t seen you smile like that in about five or six weeks.’ I know that he’s happy to be back, and everybody is happy for him.
"Peyton has been a stand-up guy to this whole team and this entire organization. You guys want to make it about him, but we have a big-time playoff game coming up. We find out who our opponent is on Saturday, and I’m just looking forward to that."
Not only is Thomas happy, but he believes Manning looks like his old self.
"He looked like the old [No.] 18. He's healthy. That's all he had to do is come back and get healthy, and he did that."
Kubiak is going to do what is best for the team.
He had a decision to make, and he made it. Kubiak knows that responsibility is on him, but he is surrounded by a strong group of football guys.
“I have to make those decisions. I have a lot of great football people around me. Anything that I do in this business in any position, I have a lot of people that I trust in, pull from and listen to. But ultimately I have to go make a decision that I think is best for the football team.”
Is this the “last rodeo” for Manning? It may be, and even the veteran quarterback admitted he’s thought about that.
“I’d be lying to say I’ve never thought—I know people say I’m not thinking about that, I’ve never thought about that. That’s probably not the case, but I am excited to be thinking about who we’re going to play this weekend and to have the opportunity to help, to contribute in some way.”
Manning smiled and said, “As far as anything beyond that, there will be a time and a place for that, but sitting here on a Thursday, that’s certainly not the time.”
And there are millions of fans in Broncos Country who are smiling too due to Manning’s return.
All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via the Broncos' media department unless otherwise noted. Advanced stats via ESPN's employees-only database.