The Brock Osweiler era? In reality, the Gary Kubiak era has truly begun

CHICAGO -- Brock Osweiler took a size-17 step toward starting the Osweiler era for the Denver Broncos, but that era won't belong to him alone.

It will also belong to Gary Kubiak. By beating the Chicago Bears and former Broncos coach John Fox 17-15, the Kubiak era came into focus. With Peyton Manning back in Denver getting treatment for his multiple injuries, the Broncos officially shifted away from the on-the-field control of Manning to the all-encompassing control of the coach who happens to be the friend John Elway hired to be on the sidelines.

Elway and owner Pat Bowlen are all about winning, so it was important to form a plan this past offseason in case age and injuries caught up with Manning this year. In other words, this was expected. When Elway fired Fox and brought in his trusted friend, Kubiak, it was expected that as a former quarterback Kubiak could work closely with Manning, but also map the transition away from Manning. Kubiak installed an offense that didn't totally fit Manning's style, but Elway knew Manning would be professional enough to work with Kubiak.

It was all a compromise, essentially. There was hope for Manning, but also a hedge against his physical decline.

Today, we saw the hedge. Osweiler, a 6-foot-8 former second-round pick, had waited three-and-a-half years for his first NFL start. Kubiak made it work against the Bears, and Osweiler offered short- and long-term hope for the Broncos.

"What we needed to do was go play clean football as a team," Kubiak said. "We've had many turnovers, hurting ourselves and the message this week was let's protect the football and play. We'll play great defense. We're consistent in what we're doing there. And let's not hurt ourselves as a team. I think that's what we ultimately did."

Osweiler was clean, unlike Manning, who has had turnovers all season. The offense had zero turnovers on Sunday. He completed 20 of 27 passes for 250 yards, and was 6 of 14 on third downs. Most significant of all? He truly ran the Kubiak offense, not the Manning version. To make it work with Manning, Kubiak compromised and let Manning do many of his running plays out of pistol, which doesn't work as well in the Kubiak scheme.

Manning works best with at least three receivers and out of the shotgun. Osweiler ran Sunday's offense with a number of two- and three-tight end looks. The running game returned. Ronnie Hillman rushed for 102 yards on 21 carries. C.J. Anderson pitched in 59 yards on 12 carries.

"Probably 70 percent of our plays were in at least two-tight-end sets and we had some three-tight-ends out there," Broncos tight end Owen Daniels said. "Kub loves doing that. It creates mismatches on the field. They've got to make a decision personnel-wise whether they want to have big personnel or nickel personnel out there to defend the pass. With me, Vernon Davis and Virgil Green out there, three pretty athletic guys who can make plays and can also block."

As for Osweiler's overall performance, it's fair to say he's off to a great start. He stood tall in the pocket and controlled the middle of the field. He dropped back from center to pass 17 times, more than Manning has done in his 57 games in a Broncos uniform. Thirty-four of the running plays came from behind center, which didn't happen under Manning. Osweiler was near perfect throwing between the numbers, completing 15 of 18 passes for 207 yards and two touchdowns. Tight ends caught 12 of the 20 completions.

"Brock can do everything," Kubiak said. "He's a very composed young man and the more he plays, I think, the better he's going to get. We booted a little bit, not a lot. They were up the field quite a bit, but the threat of us doing that, I think, helped us run the football a little bit. He's a sharp young man. He has a lot of confidence in himself and he should obviously gain some more through this experience."

One win doesn't make this Osweiler's team. What it should do is not make Denver worry at all about pushing Manning back. It doesn't mean Manning won't get another chance to start in what could be his final year. Because this is now Kubiak's team, not Manning's, the coach will take this on a week-by-week basis making decisions on who starts.

But Manning must get healthy, because the key to remember with Manning is that he has to practice to play. Kubiak gave him Wednesdays off, but if Manning can't make it for Thursday and Friday practices, Osweiler automatically gets the start. A lot can also be based on the opponent and the standings. At 8-2, Denver has a three-game lead over the Kansas City Chiefs and are either going to be the second or third seed in the AFC. They are going to win the division, which gives Kubiak the chance to experiment.

For example, it might not be a bad idea to start Osweiler against Tom Brady and the Patriots next Sunday night. Elway and Kubiak would then get an idea of how the team might do in the playoffs if Osweiler was behind center. Plus, it would give Kubiak the chance to test out his offensive concepts against the top team in football.

The locker room would view that decision as a wise one. Osweiler won over some teammates on Saturday night by telling how well they would do Sunday against Chicago. He then backed it up.

"I was comfortable from the very first snap," Osweiler said. "If anything, I think I was more anxious last night than anything. I was just excited and ready to play football."

Elway and Kubiak still have a lot to learn about Osweiler, Remember, if they were dead certain he was the long-term answer to replace Manning, they wouldn't have tried to sign Tyrod Taylor. But Sunday's win proved the Broncos can win without Manning. If Osweiler keeps it up, he could get a contract extension. He's in the final year of his rookie deal. But he has a ways to go.

The Osweiler era may be beginning, but the Kubiak era is now in full swing.

Inside the Huddle

  • Having six backup quarterbacks playing on Sunday impacted scoring. Even though Osweiler, Matt Hasselbeck, and T.J. Yates were all a part of wins, the six backups led teams that averaged just 18 points per game. Not counting the Sunday night game, no quarterback threw for 300 yards in Week 11.

  • Early in the season, Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons were winning the close games, aided by an easy schedule. Now, they've lost three in a row by a total of seven points. At 6-4, the Falcons could be blowing a wild-card run. Matt Ryan's fourth-quarter pick-six to Colts linebacker D'Qwell Jackson was a killer.

  • The AFC South is starting to gain respectability. The Houston Texans' win over the New York Jets with Yates starting was a good one, and the Colts comeback over the Falcons with Hasselbeck kept them in position to win the division. The Colts and Texans are tied at 5-5, and the Jacksonville Jaguars are within range at 4-6.

  • A week ago, a blowout loss by New Orleans cost Rob Ryan his job. Though no changes are expected in Philadelphia after an ugly 45-17 loss to Tampa Bay, you wonder if Chip Kelly is moving onto the hot seat, particularly with so many good college jobs available. Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis called it the worst defensive day he has ever had, and Kelly was trying to keep Mark Sanchez out of a verbal confrontation with halfback Darren Sproles after a pick. The Eagles are a mess.

  • Lovie Smith summed it up perfectly. "We've talked a lot about being relevant again," the Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach said after whipping the Eagles. "I think we're relevant." He's right. Rookie Jameis Winston threw five touchdown passes and now has 15 for the season. Halfback Doug Martin had 235 yards rushing and now has 941 for the season. The Bucs are 5-5. Welcome to relevancy.

  • Even though the Baltimore Ravens got the 16-13 win over the St. Louis Rams, they lost quarterback Joe Flacco (torn ACL) and halfback Justin Forsett (broken arm). With wide receiver Steve Smith, center Jeremy Zuttah, linebacker Terrell Suggs, tight end Dennis Pitta, safety Matt Elam and others out for the season, the Ravens are in the mix for one of the top picks in the draft. The attrition is just incredible.

  • The big winners in the Packers' 30-13 win over Minnesota was halfback Eddie Lacy, who had a 100-yard rushing game, and the defense, which dominated. According to ESPN Stats & Information tracking, Adrian Peterson had only 19 yards after contact in his 45-yard day. Teddy Bridgewater was pounded for six sacks and way too many hits.

  • A hot defense has allowed the Kansas City Chiefs to claw into the wild-card race. Philip Rivers completed only one of eight passes that went 10 or more yards downfield in a 33-3 loss to the Chiefs. The Chiefs have allowed only 73 points in their past six games and have won four in a row.

  • What's happening on Revis Island? DeAndre Hopkins had a five-catch, 118-yard game mostly against him in a 24-17 loss to Houston. Coming into the game, he had allowed just 20 completions on 50 attempt with one touchdown on passes thrown into his coverage, but he struggled Sunday.

  • Tony Romo did exactly what was forecast in the Cowboys' 24-14 win over Miami, but at 3-7 the Cowboys are still a long-shot to make the playoffs.

  • Derek Carr simply didn't have a good day in the Oakland Raiders 18-13 loss to Detroit. Oaklnad's chances of making the playoffs are shrinking at 4-6. Carr completed only 13 passes for 169 yards and couldn't get the ball outside the numbers.