ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — So far this season, the magic number for the Denver Broncos to make a quarterback switch in a game is four.
Or five — take your pick.
Peyton Manning will start at quarterback for the first time since Nov. 15 in Sunday’s AFC division-round game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Sports Authority Field at Mile High. And that last start was the one, for the first time in his career, Manning was pulled from the lineup after a pile of interceptions.
Four interceptions, to be exact, as he tried to play with a tear in the plantar fascia near his left heel. Following that game both Manning and Broncos coach Gary Kubiak admitted it might have been a mistake to let Manning play.
Kubiak said at the time: “This is on me — I probably should have made the decision not to play him in the game.”
For his part, Manning said: “I thought I felt good enough to play. That’s what I thought. Maybe that was the wrong — maybe that was a false feeling by me or whatever that was.”
Which brings the Broncos and Kubiak to Sunday’s game, a win-or-go-home postseason affair with no room for error. Manning is set to make his first start in two months while backup Brock Osweiler has been treated for left shoulder, left elbow and right knee injuries in recent weeks.
And the knee injury Osweiler suffered in the regular-season finale was serious enough that he was visibly limping during Monday’s practice. Osweiler was replaced by Manning against the Chargers after the Broncos’ fifth turnover of the game.
Manning has said he has complete confidence he is healthy enough to play against the Steelers, and many of Manning’s teammates say they believe he is healthier right now than he was even in September. But how long would Kubiak wait in a playoff game to make a move if things don’t go as well as they hope?
“I don’t know,” Kubiak said. “I don’t think that way. I’m going in and we’re positive here with everybody that we have going to play. It takes great effort to win in the National Football League, period, but everything gets ramped up in the playoffs. Like I said, it’ll take a great team effort. It won’t be about one player for us if we’re going to be successful in this second season. We’re going to play a great team one way or another. We’re all going to have to play well.”
Manning, who played 29 snaps in relief of Osweiler against San Diego, has said his foot had bothered him for some time, even before he suffered the tear in the plantar fascia in the Broncos’ Nov. 8 loss in Indianapolis. He has also said that doctors have told him his foot won’t completely heal until the coming offseason.
“I’m just looking forward to being able to contribute,” Manning said. “I came out [of Sunday’s game] fine, couple days off helped everybody I’m sure … no issues coming out of the game.”
It has not gone unnoticed by the Broncos that all four teams with a quarterback with playoff experience won — all on the road — in the wild-card round. Manning has started 24 playoff games. Osweiler has not appeared in a postseason game.
“I think it’s just huge,” Broncos running back C.J. Anderson said. “If you look at [Sunday] — or this past weekend — you see everything. Home field doesn’t matter. It depends on how you play. Also, those teams had no experience at quarterback. That can hurt them, too, so I don’t know. It just changes everything.”
Said wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders: “Peyton, he’s healthy, ready to go. I don’t think he’ll have any issues.”
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