DENVER -- The decision to put quarterback Peyton Manning back into the Denver Broncos’ offense was made in the moment -- a “gut feeling" Broncos coach Gary Kubiak called it -- but the information used to make the call was gathered for a week. In the end, Kubiak had to live the oldest of scouting adages and trust his eyes.
It was the way Manning looked and acted in practice, the way he expressed his readiness to play. Those factors convinced Kubiak to put Manning in in the third quarter of the Broncos’ 27-20 victory over the San Diego Chargers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High,
“A couple weeks ago, I wasn’t yet comfortable," Kubiak said. “Was I comfortable going into this week? Yes I was."
Kubiak said he even told Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway “I could feel the difference."
Manning hadn’t played since he was removed from the lineup in a Nov. 15 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs because of a tear in his plantar fascia near his left heel. But after five turnovers Sunday and the Chargers leading 13-7 with 8 minutes, 18 seconds left to play in the third quarter, Kubiak decided Manning was ready for the moment. Brock Osweiler was pulled from the game and Manning went in.
“He’s the ultimate professional," Kubiak said. “It’s been a weird year a little bit for me too, I’m going to tell you that. What he went through physically, which was tough on him because he wasn’t himself, there were hard times through this. And mentally he stayed there with this team."
“You never quite know what to expect, it’s been a different year, certainly," Manning said. “A different week, a different approach, you try to get ready to play."
Manning practiced Thursday and Friday last week and Kubiak said he liked what he saw. Manning ran the scout team at times, took a smattering of snaps with the starting offense at others. Two weeks before, Manning had not made it through a week of practice, and was forced to take a step back in his rehab after just two days of work on the practice field before the Broncos played the Pittsburgh Steelers.
As a result, Manning was not in uniform for the Broncos’ win last Monday night over the Cincinnati Bengals. But he showed enough progress in throwing sessions with practice squad wide receiver Jordan Taylor as well as members of the team’s equipment, strength and conditioning and operations staffs to be named this past week as the backup for Sunday’s game.
And in something he had never done before in his time with the Broncos, Manning was on the field early Sunday, long before most of his teammates, for a 30-minute throwing session with Taylor and the others, putting himself through the paces before a game he likely didn’t expect to play in.
When all was said and done Sunday -- Manning was 5-of-9 passing for 69 yards as the Broncos piled up 503 total yards of offense in the win over the Chargers, including a season-best 210 yards rushing -- Manning was asked how his left foot felt.
“It held up OK, I didn’t have to move a ton," Manning said. “... I’ve been patient, I’ve worked hard in that rehab. It’s been a frustrating injury. Get better a little and then you start practicing and not feel as well."
“He’s worked really hard to stay there for us and he couldn’t have picked a bigger day to be there for us," Kubiak said. “Just a gut feeling."