Loss opens door for Peyton Manning return in Denver

(Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire)

Anyone else not buying Gary Kubiak’s explanation of the Denver Broncos quarterback situation?

Funny how Brock Osweiler finally losing a game and doing it in a rather ugly fashion put a five-time MVP back into the conversation.

The Osweiler-led Broncos offense hasn’t found the end zone in seven quarters now, settling for just four field goals in the first half last Sunday in a 15-12 loss to Oakland.

Many of the issues were the same as when a banged-up Peyton Manning was piloting Denver earlier in the season, namely a subpar running game and a porous offensive line, but the real red flag regarding Osweiler was the five second-half sacks recorded by Raiders edge rusher Khalil Mack.

“We lost the line of scrimmage,” Kubiak said after the game. “There is no doubt we got pushed around.”

Remember the only reason this is a debate in the first place is because Manning may have finally come out on the short end of the stick against the one opponent we all eventually stumble against, Father Time. Unfortunately for the Broncos, though, there is no scoreboard in that matchup and defining the setback is hard for any great athlete.

There is little doubt that the embattled Denver O-line did Osweiler no favors against Mack and the Raiders, but Manning is experienced enough to sift through that type of situation, speed up his release time and aid a weak unit up front. Osweiler is not.

So, there are really only two answers to the conundrum as far as the Broncos are concerned. Either Manning’s foot injury was the reason for his sharply declining play or age and injuries have finally taken their toll and rendered the veteran unable to play the position moving forward.

If the former is the case, Manning is the Broncos’ starter without question when cleared by the doctors. If the latter is true, well Kubiak and John Elway have to more forward with Osweiler and try to win this thing with one of the NFL’s best defenses and hopefully a revived running game.

The problem is discerning which of those scenarios is taking place. Like most high-level athletes, Manning isn’t going to believe his skills have declined to the point that he can no longer play his position at a high level and a torn plantar fascia is painful enough to affect any player’s performance, star or not.

It’s a tough call and Kubiak’s default position of Manning will return when healthy can be massaged in many ways.

For now the first-year Broncos coach is playing the competitive-advantage card with the high-powered Pittsburgh Steelers next on the docket.

On Monday Kubiak claimed he wanted to talk to Manning before naming a starter against the Steelers.

“I have to see where [Manning] is,” Kubiak told reporters. “We have to talk through his situation and where we are. … We went through a good week last week and gave him the weekend off, so we’ll see where we are. We’ll have a plan in place by the time we get to Wednesday. We’ll see where we are today and kind of take it a day at a time.”

Obviously the head coach is going to have the phone number of his quarterback so if Kubiak really wanted to speak with Manning before addressing reporters to clear this up, he certainly could have and unless Manning can clear himself from injury, the conversation probably isn’t going to be all that productive anyway.

With a little time to think about that position, Kubiak was a little more defined when appearing on KOA Radio.

“Obviously everybody wants an answer every Monday,” the coach said. “…The question is over the next two days, I’m getting together with Peyton and with (trainer Steve Antonopulos) and we’re going to make a decision on how we proceed this week. Does that mean do we go to the practice field? Do we go any further? I don’t know, we’re going to make that decision.”

Kubiak simply wants Mike Tomlin to have to prepare for two significantly different quarterbacks for as long as possible.

And that’s what the Broncos coach should be doing but long-term this is about winning what is suddenly a watered-down AFC due to injuries in Cincinnati and New England.

When Manning is given the OK to practice, he will back under center for the Broncos.

Ironically Elway got his two Super Bowl titles late in his career when he was a shell of his previous self. If Manning has any gas left in his tank, he’ll be given the opportunity to garner his second Lombardi Trophy as the caretaker instead of the star.

— John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com and TodaysPigskin.com. You can reach him at jmcmullen@phanaticmag.com or on Twitter @jfmcmullen — Also catch John this season on ESPN Southwest Florida every Monday at 3 PM ET; on ESPN Lexington every Thursday at 6:05 ET, and live every Tuesday from 2 to 6 PM ET at the Golden Nugget Casino in Atlantic City for the NFL Wraparound on ESPN South Jersey.

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