It wasn't that Manning, who completed 21 of 37 passes for 273 yards, didn't throw a touchdown pass (one of his two games last season without one) or that the Broncos struggled (they didn't in a 47-14 win). It was that Manning, with a right thigh injury he had suffered just two games before, was even playing in the final game of the regular season since the team couldn't improve its playoff seeding.
Manning played deep into the fourth quarter of that Week 17 game and two weeks later looked less than 100 percent in the Broncos' playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts. And with his 39th birthday having arrived this week, getting Manning at least some rest in the coming season, whenever possible, is something that is at least on the table for discussion.
Coach Gary Kubiak said this week at the NFL's annual spring meetings, it is a topic he wants to address in some way as he and Manning begin their working relationship together when the Broncos open their offseason on April 13.
"It's interesting," Kubiak said in Phoenix. "He and I talked about that and I know his mindset is totally the other way but I have to get a feel for that. I think that as a coach you have to make those suggestions to players ... I don't know what that's going to be until I get involved with him on a day-to-day basis."
It is certainly a topic Kubiak has addressed before. He was the Broncos' offensive coordinator for John Elway's final four seasons at quarterback when Elway was 35-, 36-, 37- and 38-years-old and the Broncos were regulating Elway's practice time.
Manning himself wants to take every snap he can in practice, let alone missing any parts of practice. The Broncos did have him take Wednesdays off down the stretch in the 2013 season because of ankle injuries that had bothered Manning for much of that year.
So, Kubiak knows he may have some push-back from Manning.
"The great ones -- the reason they're great is you have to battle them on things like that because they are used to being a part of every day," Kubiak said. "They are used to having that under-control every day situation. So we'll see how it works out. We want to do what's best for him. I went through the same process with John late in his career. It was a battle for me and (former Broncos coach) Mike (Shanahan) to do some things with him. ... But he battled us too and that's why they are who they are."
Resting Manning would also give the Broncos an opportunity to check on their life-after-Manning plan. Brock Osweiler, who was a second-round pick by the Broncos the same year the team signed Manning in free agency (2012), got in just four games last season to attempt 10 combined passes.
Over the last three seasons Osweiler has thrown 30 passes combined with his long career touchdown pass coming in that regular-season finale against the Raiders when Manning remained in the game deep into the fourth quarter. Kubiak said he had gone through the video of Osweiler's work in games to go with the three years' worth of practice video.
"He's got a bunch of ability, he's a big, strong kid, he's smart, he can move around," Kubiak said. " ... Now I get a chance to get my hands on him, work with him. But the thing I'm so impressed with is how, I guess I'll use the word excited, he is wanting to get going. I know he wants to be a part of the Broncos organization. He sees himself as a starter, that's the most important thing."
The Broncos will face a decision about Osweiler's future at the end of the 2015 season when he is slated to become an unrestricted free agent. Both Kubiak and executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway have expressed the optimism with Osweiler's progress.
For the most part Osweiler has remained patient in his time as Manning's backup, save for the Broncos' game in Oakland when Osweiler's hand-wave reaction to Manning re-entering a 41-10 game with 40 seconds remaining in the third quarter was caught by the network TV camera.He has consistently expressed his desire "to learn everything I can and understand what a good situation I'm in."
Former Broncos coach John Fox said he was responsible for the communication mix-up that resulted in Manning re-entering the game. Kubiak said this week his message to Osweiler has been, and will be, to stay ready.
"He's had a chance to sit behind, learn behind a Hall of Famer," Kubiak said. "His opportunity is going to come at some point and it's our job to make sure he's ready. ... I always tell young players nobody knows if you're taking care of your business until you're thrown in the fire. ... he's handled his business well."