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How Broncos manage QB question could determine playoff fate

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – There is a time-honored football nugget that has been passed on to each generation of one-game-at-a-time coaches, it says if you have two starting quarterbacks you really don’t have one.

The thinking being two guys, who both think they can be the starter and have been the starter, without the benefit of a no-questions-asked pecking order, will quickly divide a locker room and ruin a season.

On the doorstep of yet another playoff run, the Denver Broncos not only have two quarterbacks, but they’ve needed them to earn the No. 1 seed in the AFC a and a bye week before they play their Jan. 17 postseason opener.

“We’ve handled it all season,’’ running back C.J. Anderson said. “We handled it the last eight weeks, six weeks of the season … I think we’re going to handle it pretty well. How do you all [the media] handle it, that’s the real question.’’

The Broncos’ quarterback situation has fueled countless hours of drive-time discussion and debate. Peyton Manning played on an injured left foot until it was clear the injury was too much. He was removed from the team’s Nov. 15 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, with 35 yards passing, after his fourth interception. Brock Osweiler started six games in Manning’s place, went 4-2, and he was removed from the team’s win this past Sunday after the Broncos offense had its fifth turnover in just over two quarters’ worth of work.

So, it’s not a stretch to say the most important thing the Broncos will do in this postseason is navigate their quarterback question at least as well in a one-and-done setting as they have to get to this point. Many players in the locker room would like to hear the decision this week, even as soon as Thursday, when the team returns to practice, but certainly before Monday when they begin specific preparations for their upcoming opponent.

“You know, I have no clue,’’ tight end Virgil Green said. “We’ll come back … and see what the coaches want to do. Like I said earlier last week, we always stand behind the coaches’ decisions and we’re a team that stands by each other.’’

Broncos coach Gary Kubiak has said both quarterbacks understand the Broncos have needed them and will need them both moving forward. His decisions will “always be what’s best for the team.’’

And the most important factors to make it all work will be:

  • The quarterbacks can’t just say the right things, they have to do the right things. At their best the Broncos can beat anyone. At their less-than-best they can throw the what-is-that clunker with the best of them. No player wants to be the guy who drags down a team with championship potential because he’s peeved about playing time. Whatever the decision is -- most players willing to privately give an opinion believe if Manning’s healthy he’ll be the pick -- the quarterbacks have to be all-in.

  • All involved have to be honest. Kubiak has to let the quarterbacks and the team know what the decision is, no nonsense. Make the call, live with it, go play. In the media swarm of the playoffs, to go into next week without making a call is a risk for any coach/organization. And Manning has to be honest in how his left foot feels. It was abundantly clear, as Manning struggled to his worst game as a pro in November, he wasn’t on the same injury page as the team in the days leading up to that loss. When it was over Kubiak and Manning agreed they had misjudged the situation. That can’t happen in the playoffs.

  • Everyone who isn’t a quarterback has to simply mind his business. Too often too many folks involved with an NFL team have given lip service to the notion that all they want is a chance at winning a Super Bowl and then they get one and proceed to worry about a long list of things that don’t have anything to do with winning a Super Bowl. In the locker room that means players who lead the way have to keep all of the eyes on the prize. Because, in the end, the Broncos are a team that has done enough to win five consecutive division titles, yet are still looking to find a way to close the deal.