ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Just days away from the AFC Championship Game, Denver Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway said on Thursday he knows he handed coach Gary Kubiak a hot seat at the beginning of the season. Elway also said that any decision about what happens next for quarterback Peyton Manning will be made by the team and Manning after the season is over.
The Broncos had won four consecutive AFC West titles and made a Super Bowl trip to close out the 2013 season. But with a bitter playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts last January, John Fox and the Broncos parted ways and Kubiak was hired.
"The hot seat that Gary stepped into was hotter than any seat in the league,'' Elway said. "We had great success before he got here and to be able, for him to come in ... the things he had to handle, not many guys would have handled it as well as he has.''
The Broncos finished 12-4, as they did in 2014, but this time Denver won in the AFC divisional round this past Sunday -- 23-16 over the Pittsburgh Steelers -- and have a chance for a spot in Super Bowl 50 if they defeat the New England Patriots on Sunday.
Asked Wednesday whether his new coach understood the situation last January, Elway pointed to Kubiak's experience as a player -- Elway's road roommate as the Broncos' backup -- and as an assistant coach on Mike Shanahan's staff.
"I think he knew what he was getting into,'' Elway said with a smile. "He knew the success that we had. ... I'm sure when he was thinking about taking the job or not that was part of the decision-making.''
Elway praised how Kubiak handled the "quarterback situation'' when Manning's injured left foot kept him out of seven starts and when Kubiak made the move to change again, from Brock Osweiler back to Manning for the playoffs. And Elway was quick to point out how the Broncos have done in close games this season to get to their current position as one of four teams in the league still playing.
With Sunday's win over the Steelers, the Broncos are 10-3 in games decided by seven or fewer points; they were 3-0 in overtime games this season, including wins over the Patriots and the Cincinnati Bengals.
"If you look at the team we've had this year, the games we've won and how we've won them, they've all been tough, hard-fought games, they've all been close and a lot of them we had to win at the end ... so the mindset to me is we play for 60 minutes,'' Elway said. "That's why this team is a tougher team, because it's mentally tough. ... That always gives you a chance. The guts of this football team is we've been in tough games and figured out how to win them.''
On Manning, who has a year remaining on his contract with a $21.5 million salary cap charge for the 2016 season, Elway said he will sit down with him after the season is over to see what the future holds.
Asked whether he had an idea of what would happen at this point, Elway said:
"I don't, but we're going to face that down the road,'' Elway said. "I think Peyton said, you know, he's not going to talk about it until the end of the year. So, once the year is over, hopefully that's in two or three more weeks, we'll sit down, like we did last year, and talk to Peyton about it.''
Manning is 39 years old and has dealt with ankle, thigh, shoulder and left foot injuries over the past three season. His seven missed games this season were the first time in his career he missed games in a season in which he started the opener -- he missed the 2011 season after spinal fusion surgery.
Manning has consistently called this season "unique'' and "really unlike any other season I've been a part of,'' and has said he would consider the future when it was over. The Broncos had asked Manning to take a $4 million pay cut before this season, and he can earn the money back in bonuses if the Broncos win Sunday and then win Super Bowl 50.
"I think what we're doing now is kind of staying in the moment,'' Elway said. "Everybody wants to know what Peyton's going to do, but I think he's staying in this moment right now; he's got plenty of time to think about what he wants to do in the offseason ... and if we can win this one, we've got one left."