DENVER – During Week 17 of this NFL season, Broncos fans were given a pleasant surprise as they witnessed their future Hall-of-Famer quarterback return to the playing field. Former rumors had spectated that Peyton Manning’s career was over after a plantar fascia injury was added to his already injured right shoulder and ribs.
Manning had already announced that this year would be his last season, and the deluge of injuries made it seem as though he had already played his final game with the abysmal showing against the Kansas City Chiefs. In this game he recorded a 25% completion percentage, 35 yards, 0 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, two sacks, and an embarrassing 0.0 passing rating (per ESPN.com). The single positive from this game was his record-setting of the career passing yards total, surpassing the 71,838 passing yards of Brett Favre.
Other than the record-setting moment, the Chiefs game was one to forget for Manning, except that it soon seemed as if it would be his final NFL game. Such a farewell would’ve been a tragic ending to a fantastic career.
Such fears about the end of Manning’s career were further solidified when his backup, Brock Osweiler, proceeded to lead Denver to three impressive victories over the Bears, Patriots, and Chargers. It appeared as though the Manning era had finally come to a conclusion.
Having been given the opportunity to shine, Brock Osweiler took immediate advantage against Chicago, New England, and San Diego. He threw for 686 yards, 4 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, and a total passer rating of 92.1. Most importantly, he led the Denver Broncos to three straight victories. This was a win streak that Denver was in dire need of, with its starting quarterback on the sidelines.
However, things started heading downhill after that as the Broncos proceeded to lose their next two games against the Raiders and Steelers. Denver fans begin to wonder and question about whether it was possible for Manning to return to help get his team’s season back on track.
Fortunately for Denver, Manning ended up making a return in the final week of the season after the Broncos offense committed five turnovers against the weak San Diego defense. He made his appearance in the second half, marching the Broncos down the field for a one-yard rushing touchdown by CJ Anderson. From that point on Denver never looked back as it snatched the game away from the Chargers and claimed the #1 seed in the AFC.
So Why Manning?
Around midday this Thursday, Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak announced that Peyton Manning would be leading the Broncos during the divisional round playoff game. When asked what had caused this decision, Kubiak stated that it was thanks to Manning’s improved health.
However, it is evident that even if Manning weren’t completely healthy, Kubiak would have chosen to “ride the hot hand”. Over his long, distinguished career, Peyton Manning has started in 24 NFL playoff games with a total passer rating of 88.5 (pro football reference).
These stats go to show that Manning has much more playoff experience than the young Osweiler. This experience is very useful, especially when an important game is on the line. In those cases, the coaches can trust that the wiser quarterback will keep his cool and make a better decision.
Some critics may say that Kubiak should start Osweiler in order to develop the young quarterback for his post-Manning career, but this year is not the one to do so. The Denver defense this year is the most dominant in the NFL, and there have been multiple games in which it has carried the offense on its back on the way to a win.
This sort of defensive dominance doesn’t come around for a team all that often, so the Denver Broncos ought to take full advantage of this opportunity and “put their best foot forward”.