All it took was five turnovers and a paucity of points for Peyton Manning to go from being on the bench to playing quarterback again for the Denver Broncos.
Now the question becomes: Will Manning or Brock Osweiler start in the playoffs?
Coach Gary Kubiak was not prepared to provide an answer right away.
With Osweiler at the helm, Denver’s offense certainly has not looked good lately. On Sunday, the Broncos had nearly as many giveaways (five) as points (seven) by the time Manning — a backup for the first time in his pro career — came in midway through the third quarter against the San Diego Chargers.
Denver proceeded to score two TDs and two field goals on Manning’s first five possessions, coming back to win 27-20 and wrap up the No. 1 seed for the AFC playoffs. That’s not to say the 39-year-old Manning was Peytonesque in his first appearance since Week 10: He was only 5 of 9 for 69 yards and no scoring passes.
And let’s not forget just how terrible the five-time NFL MVP was when he was the unquestioned starter this season, including the hard-to-believe 17 interceptions, 59.9 completion percentage and 67.6 passer rating.
Indeed, Manning himself noted that, while the home fans roared when he was on the field Sunday, “I’m pretty sure everybody was in their same seats when they were booing my butt off against Kansas City back about six weeks ago.”
Troubled this season by a series of injuries, Manning now gets two weeks to rest and heal thanks to his team’s bye.
Asked whether he feels as if he’s now his team’s starting quarterback — a question that, as recently as a few months ago, would have seemed preposterous — Manning’s reply was: “I don’t know. … I’ve got to see how I feel tomorrow.”
In case you missed it, here are the other top topics after the NFL regular season’s 17th and final Sunday:
PLAYOFF MATCHUPS: Here’s the schedule for next weekend’s wild-card round: Saturday will be the AFC day, with Kansas City at Houston at 4:35 p.m. ET on ABC/ESPN, and Pittsburgh at Cincinnati at 8:15 p.m. ET on CBS; Sunday has the NFC games, with Seattle at Minnesota at 1:05 p.m. ET on NBC, and Green Bay at Washington at 4:40 p.m. ET on Fox. The top seeds in the AFC, with opening-round byes, are No. 1 Denver and No. 2 New England, while in the NFC, it’ll be No. 1 Carolina and No. 2 Arizona.
BLACK SUNDAY: It’s come to be known as “Black Monday” — coach and GM firings announced the day after the regular season ends — but this time, the moves started coming Sunday. Mike Pettine and Ray Farmer out in Cleveland. Jim Tomsula out in San Francisco after just one season.
CHAMPS OR CHUMPS?: The defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots are hardly playing like the team to beat right now. A 20-10 loss to Miami means the Pats have lost four of their final six games after starting 10-0. For the first time all season, Tom Brady didn’t throw a TD pass. The offensive line is a sieve. All the injuries to skill-position players have added up. Still, Brady insisted: “Nothing over the last six weeks is going to matter.”
OH, FITZ: The Jets had a win-and-in scenario Sunday, but they blew the chance to clinch a playoff berth by losing 22-17 to old pal Rex Ryan’s Buffalo Bills. New York was done in by QB Ryan Fitzpatrick’s return-to-reality moment: Its last three possessions each ended with an interception. “It’s the hardest and most difficult end to a season I have ever had,” said the Harvard-educated Fitzpatrick, who never has reached the playoffs in 10 years in the league.
WE’RE NO. 1!: The close of the regular season isn’t only about playoff berths; it’s also about draft order. The Titans “earned” the No. 1 overall pick by finishing 3-13 and closing with a four-game losing skid (Cleveland, also 3-13, gets the second pick). A year after taking Marcus Mariota with the No. 2 choice, the Titans wound up one spot worse. Or better, depending how you look at it.
Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich. AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and AP NFL Twitter feed: http://twitter.com/AP_NFL