NFL

NFL AM: Broncos Pick Peyton Manning For Playoff Start

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The soap opera that is the starting quarterback position in Denver continued to unravel on Thursday, and brought us back to where we started, with Peyton Manning as the starter.

It came as little surprise after Manning rescued the Broncos from a second half deficit and led them to home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a 27-20 victory over the Chargers, but Denver made it official on Thursday, naming Peyton Manning as the starter for the team’s divisional round game against a yet to be determined opponent. Broncos coach Gary Kubiak informed both Manning and Brock Osweiler of his decision early Thursday, then addressed the team before making his decision public.

“I just do what I think is best for our football team,” Kubiak said. “I feel really good about this, about how far Peyton has come.”

Just a week ago it seemed a longshot that Manning would ever take another snap under center for the Broncos. After suffering a torn plantar fascia in his left foot during a Week 9 loss to the Colts, Manning had the worse game of his career in Week 10 against Kansas City and was replaced by Osweiler midway through the contest. He went on to miss the next six weeks recovering from the foot injury. In the interim, the Broncos went 4-2 under Osweiler and when Manning was ready to return last week, he was positioned as Brock’s backup.

However, a poor first half by the Denver offense last Sunday that left their chances at not only home field advantage, but also the AFC West crown, in peril forced Kubiak to make a decision to bring in Manning to save the day. That he did. Starting with an 80-yard drive in his first possession back under center, he led the Broncos to 20 second half points as they pulled out the win. For his part, Osweiler took the change in stride.

“We were flat-lining a bit offensively at that point in the game,” he said. “Coach felt like that was the best way to generate a spark, and it did. It helped the football team win the game.”

Now Denver believes that Manning is the man best positioned to help them win in the postseason. In what could be his last playoff ride, the 39-year-old quarterback is ready for the challenge.

“I’d be lying to say I’ve never thought it,” Manning said of this potentially being his last chance to win a title. “I know people would say, ‘I’ve never thought about that,’ and that’s probably not the case. But I am excited to be thinking about who we’re going to play this weekend, and to have the opportunity to help, to contribute in some way. As far as anything beyond that, there’ll be a time and a place for that, but sitting here on Thursday, that’s certainly not the time.”

PRO FOOTBALL HALL TABS 15 FINALISTS

As Manning gets ready to possibly cap a career that will no doubt end with him in Canton, the Pro Football Hall of Fame moved one step closer to naming its 2016 class, which is also sure to be headlined by an all-time great quarterback.

Brett Favre tops the list of 15 finalists now eligible for election when the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee meets next month to determine its next inductees.

Favre, who finished his NFL career in 2010 with many of the league’s all-time passing marks, which have since been eclipsed by Manning is the only real lock to get in on his first ballot this year. He is joined by two other first-time eligible nominees in the Final 15: wide receiver Terrell Owens and guard Alan Faneca.

Owens is easily the most polarizing of the 15 finalists. The five-time All-Pro ranks second all-time in receiving yards, behind only former teammate Jerry Rice, third all-time in receiving touchdowns and sixth all-time in receptions. But Owens’ locker room and off the field antics detract from his image and make him far from a sure thing to be inducted in his first year on the ballot. T.O. might also find himself waiting in line behind fellow wide receiver Marvin Harrison, who ranks seventh in receiving yards, fifth in receiving touchdowns and third in receptions all-time. This marks Harrison’s third year among the finalists but he has yet to receive the support to gain election.

Faneca, a six-time All-Pro and member of the Hall’s First Team of the 2000’s, is one of three offensive linemen to be selected as finalists this year, and he’s the only guard. Faneca is hoping to follow in the footsteps of Larry Allen, the last guard to go in on the first ballot back in 2013. His case to do so might be weakened by the presence of another high-profile offensive lineman on the ballot, tackle Orlando Pace, who was a somewhat shocking omission from the class of 2015 in his first year of eligibility. The last time two offensive linemen went in on the same ballot was also 2013 when Allen and tackle Jonathan Ogden were both elected. Long-time Redskins tackle Joe Jacoby, a two-time All-Pro who last played in 1993, is also among the finalists, but a longshot to get in over Faneca or Pace.

Among the other finalists are a pair of offensive stars from the 2000’s who finished their careers together with the Arizona Cardinals: quarterback Kurt Warner and running back Edgerrin James. Warner is in his second year on the ballot and James his third. James is one of only two running backs deemed eligible this year, along with former Broncos star Terrell Davis.

On the defensive side of things, there are just three players eligible for induction this season, safeties John Lynch and Steve Atwater and linebacker/defensive end Kevin Greene. Lynch, a two-time All-Pro, is the most recent retiree of the bunch and is a finalist for the third straight year, while Atwater, also a two-time All-Pro, has been waiting a decade longer and is a finalist for the first time. Greene is a finalist for the fifth straight year and among the favorites to gain election.

Rounding out the list of finalists are a kicker and a pair of coaches. In his sixth year of eligibility, Morten Andersen is a finalist for the third straight time, aiming to join Jan Stenerud as the only kickers to have not played another position to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame. The two coaches up for enshrinement are former Cardinals and Chargers coach Don Coryell and former Buccaneers and Colts coach Tony Dungy. Among the two, Dungy is considered the favorite to gain election, boosted by his Super Bowl ring earned with the 2006 Colts.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee will narrow the 15-man list of finalists down to six inductees during Super Bowl 50 weekend and the Class of 2016 will be announced at NFL Honors that evening in San Francisco.

COLTS NAME NEW COORDINATORS

After the team’s surprising reversal this week, to give coach Chuck Pagano an extension when it seemed he was on the way to being fired, the Indianapolis Colts have moved quickly to finalize Pagano’s staff.

On Thursday, the Colts announced that Rob Chudzinski, who took over the offensive coordinator duties from Pep Hamilton in November, will remain on as the team’s OC for 2016. In addition, Indianapolis announced they have hired Baltimore Ravens linebackers coach Ted Monachino as their defensive coordinator.

Both men have strong ties to Pagano, who appears to be taking control of personnel — at least on the coaching staff — with the new found security of his contract extension. Chudzinski’s relationship with Pagano dates back to their time on the University of Miami coaching staff in the 1990s. The playcaller received high praise from Pagano for the team’s performance for the brief time they were at full strength health-wise under his command.

“[We] make a change [at OC] and go beat an undefeated Denver team with our starting quarterback,” Pagano told the Indianapolis Star this week. “I think everybody saw a glimpse of what could be the vision we all had and where this team could go.”

Shortly thereafter, however, quarterback Andrew Luck went down with an injury that put a halt on the progress of the Colts offense. Indianapolis ran through four more quarterbacks over the final weeks of the season including journeymen Josh Freeman and Ryan Lindley in Week 17 as they fought for their playoff lives, so the performance of Chudzinski’s offense down the stretch is to be graded on a curve. It seems likely that with Luck back at full strength next season, the Colts will discard some of the older pieces added to their roster last offseason and go with a youth movement to try to get back to the top of the AFC South.

To get there, they’ll also need a better performance on defense after ranking near the bottom of the league in most defensive categories this season. Enter Monachino, who has been the linebackers coach in Baltimore for the last six seasons, including his first two under Pagano when he was the defensive coordinator in Baltimore. Monachino will be charged with turning around an aging defense that has performed well below average in recent years and Pagano thinks his experience in Baltimore makes him the right man for the job.

“Ted brings a wealth of experience with 25 years of coaching all on the defensive side of the ball,” Pagano said in a statement released by the Colts. “He has overseen one of the league’s best linebacker units for the last six years and I had the privilege of coaching with him for two of those seasons. Ted is very familiar with our scheme. He is a great motivator and is extremely respected by the players he has coached.”


About Devon Jeffreys

Devon Jeffreys