Peyton Manning comes off bench to rescue Denver against San Diego

ByJeff Legwold ESPN logo
Monday, January 4, 2016

DENVER -- With five turnovers already committed and a division title and playoff bye hanging in the balance, Denver Broncos coach Gary Kubiak took what he has already called "a weird year'' and cranked it up another notch.

With 8 minutes, 18 seconds remaining in the third quarter Sunday and the San Diego Chargers leading 13-7, Kubiak sent Peyton Manning back into the Broncos' season. Manning led the team on four scoring drives as Denver closed out a 27-20 victory over the Chargers in Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

"Sometimes, the feel is that the team is just looking around that guy, for that tremendous leadership type of stuff,'' Kubiak said. "That's what I felt.''

In conjunction with theNew England Patriots' loss to the Miami Dolphins, the win gave the Broncos the AFC's No. 1 seed in the postseason, and the Broncos won their fifth consecutive division title.

In the end, Osweiler was a victim of bad luck and the Broncos' needing a win to give a battered roster a week off.

"I don't think Brock did anything wrong,'' Kubiak said. "We had, you know, some turnovers, but a couple of them he had nothing to do with. We could have helped him a lot, but just my gut told me to turn it over to [Manning] and let him lead the football team.''

Osweiler was 14-of-22 passing for 232 yards to go with a touchdown and two interceptions when he was pulled. One of his interceptions went through wide receiver Jordan Norwood's hands, while the other was tipped when Osweiler was hit as he threw.

Osweiler's fumble happened when a blindside rusher -- Chargers cornerback Steve Williams -- came unblocked to hit. Another Broncos fumble happened after Osweiler hit Emmanuel Sanders for a 46-yard gain to the Chargers' 5-yard line, and Williams ripped the ball out of Sanders' hands.

Still, when running back C.J. Anderson fumbled in Broncos' territory in the third quarter -- the Chargers recovered at the Denver 32 and scored to take the lead five plays later -- Kubiak had seen enough. Manning entered the game to the roar of a sellout crowd.

Manning had not played since he was removed in the third quarter of the Broncos' Nov. 15 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. In that game, Manning was just 5-of-20 passing for 35 yards and four interceptions.

"These fans were great that were cheering me, cheering loud, but I'm pretty sure everybody was in the same seats when they were booing my butt off against Kansas City six weeks ago,'' Manning said. "I understand how this works.''

Manning finished a pedestrian 5-of-9 passing for 69 yards. The Broncos' offense had two touchdown drives and two field goal drives with Manning in the game and finished with 503 total yards, including a season-best 210 yards rushing.

"I really don't think Brock was having troubles,'' Manning said. "I thought Brock was making good throws ... I thought Brock was seeing things well, playing well. He just had some bad breaks.''

"It's hard. As a competitor, you want to play, you want to give your team a chance to be successful,'' Osweiler said. "But at the same token, I completely understand what Coach Kubiak was trying to do. He was trying to generate a spark for this football team so we could secure that No. 1 seed, we could win that AFC West title. I completely understand what Coach's thinking was. No hard feelings or anything like that.''

Kubiak, who gave the players off until Thursday, said a decision about who will start at quarterback for the Broncos in a playoff game will be made later in the week.

"We'll sit down. We'll make a decision that's best for the football team,'' Kubiak said. "We'll be counting on everybody to do their part.''

"That's something that has not been discussed,'' Osweiler said. " ... I'll always be ready to go.''

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