ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Gary Kubiak isn’t ready to say who his starting quarterback is for the playoffs.
Choosing between Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler, though, is a nice problem for him to have.
“I would say it’s enjoyable because of where we’re at,” Kubiak said Monday.
That would be atop the AFC playoff bracket.
The Broncos (12-4) host a divisional round game Jan. 17. They avoided slipping into the wild-card round when Manning rallied the Broncos to a 27-20 win over San Diego on Sunday in his first relief appearance in 21 years, three months and 11 days.
“In this business you work really, really hard to get in the position that we’re in right now and to be a part of this next month,” Kubiak said. “There’s always going to be tough decisions to make.”
Like sticking with Manning — providing his left foot held up OK — or going back to Osweiler, who was coming off his best game, a comeback from a two-touchdown deficit against Cincinnati, when he got the hook Sunday.
Manning began the game as a backup for the first time since his freshman year at Tennessee, when he replaced an injured Todd Helton against Mississippi State.
Osweiler hit Demaryius Thomas for a 72-yard TD just 31 seconds into the game. At that point, it looked as if Manning’s only hope to get into the game would be mop-up duty to test his playoff readiness.
Emmanuel Sanders, however, fumbled at the 10-yard line following a 46-yard reception on the next drive and the Broncos began to unravel.
After their fifth turnover — only one of which could be pinned on Osweiler — Kubiak noted a sense of desperation and turned to Manning to provide a spark.
When Manning trotted out with 8:18 left in the third quarter, so did veteran Tyler Polumbus, replacing a rattled right tackle, Michael Schofield.
“I thought everybody was cheering for me,” deadpanned Polumbus.
Although Manning completed just 5 of 9 passes for 69 yards — including just 1 of 4 throws of more than 15 yards — the five-time MVP settled down the team, driving the Broncos to two TDs and two field goals.
Changing the call at the line of scrimmage, Manning kept putting the Broncos in the perfect play and Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson combined for a season-high 212 yards rushing.
Manning also got rid of the ball quicker than Osweiler, although he did sustain a vicious hit from Damion Square that left him wondering how his body would feel this week.
Kubiak gave the players three days off, so they won’t reconvene until Thursday, when he’ll likely make his QB choice known. The longer this drags out, the bigger the distraction for a team that doesn’t need any more drama.
Manning was certainly sore Monday. Kubiak said he isn’t worried Manning’s health, saying, “I think he’s OK.”
Nor was he concerned about Osweiler’s confidence being churned.
“Oh, I guarantee you he knows I’ve got confidence in him. And he knows his team has confidence in him,” Kubiak said. “He’s a tough young man and I know he’s done a great job. Everybody knows we wouldn’t be in the position we’re in had he not done the job he’s done.”
Officially, Osweiler went 5-2 as the starter and Manning 7-2. Sunday’s win went on Osweiler’s record, so Manning remains tied with Brett Favre for most wins in the regular season by a starting QB at 186.
“I’m proud of both of them,” Kubiak said. “Peyton did a great job earlier this season before he went through the injury. Brock did a great job with this football team. Yesterday it took both of them. It’s taken all of us all year long.”
Kubiak played a hunch Sunday so it follows that he’ll go with his gut again for the playoffs rather than go over stat sheets and all the analytics over the next 72 hours.
“I’ll do what I think is best for the football team,” Kubiak said.
Kubiak said Denver’s opponent — Chiefs, Texans or Steelers — won’t factor into his decision, either.
“I don’t worry about who we play,” Kubiak said. “I’m worried about our football team, our mindset, our direction.”
Notes: Going for MRIs Monday were CB Chris Harris Jr. (shoulder), who said he thought he’d be ready for the playoff run, OLB DeMarcus Ware (knee) and FS Darian Stewart (hamstring).
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