ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Maybe folks just didn’t remember. Or maybe, just maybe, they thought it was a throwaway quote after a dismal 16-point loss in mid-November.
But when Denver Broncos coach Gary Kubiak told his quarterbacks and his team Thursday morning that Peyton Manning would be behind center for the playoffs, Kubiak was simply following through on what he's said the past two months.
If Manning is healthy enough to play, Manning will play.
When Manning suffered a tear in the plantar fascia near his left heel in the Broncos’ Nov. 8 loss to the Colts, it made an injury that was already bothering him worse. When he went 5-for-20 passing for 35 yards and four interceptions on Nov. 15 against the Chiefs, Kubiak pulled him from the game.
And immediately following that game, Kubiak said: “Peyton's our quarterback. If he's healthy and ready to go, Peyton's our quarterback."
Just over seven weeks later, the Broncos believe Manning is healthy and ready to go, so he’s going to be their quarterback.
Kubiak’s decision to insert Manning in Sunday’s win over the Chargers midway through the third quarter turned out to be the audition. Kubiak said he had gotten more “comfortable" with the idea of Manning, who had missed six consecutive games, being ready to play again.
Manning played 29 snaps against the Chargers, and afterward said he wanted to see how his foot felt Monday and beyond. Kubiak gave the players three days off -- Thursday was the team’s first day back since the regular-season finale. But Manning, like the other players dealing with injuries, received treatment the past three days.
The Broncos obviously like what they’ve seen from Manning, and they like what they've heard from the medical staff. Manning also did his part, by how he played against the Chargers.
He was under center for 40 percent of his snaps Sunday, a far higher percentage than early in the season -- another indication he feels better physically.
Manning has said on multiple occasions the foot had bothered him for “some time," which was at least part of the Broncos' reason for putting him in the shotgun or pistol rather than under center most of the time. On Sunday the Broncos ran for a season-best 210 yards, had their second 500-yard day of the season, and scored on four of their second-half possessions -- a preview of what their offense can look like if Manning can function under center.
Should Manning have rested more early in the season? Probably. Should he have been held out of the Chiefs game? Certainly, and all involved have said they made a mistake there.
Osweiler went 4-2 starting in Manning’s place, and the team earned home-field advantage in the AFC as a result. Sure, he wants to be the starter. But as the Broncos head into the postseason, it’s clear Kubiak believes Manning gives them the best chance to win.
And it’s clear he took Manning out the lineup because of an injury, and it's clear he’s putting Manning back in the lineup because that injury is better. Just like he said he would.