Gary Kubiak isn’t ready to say who his starting quarterback is for the playoffs.
Choosing between Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler, though, is a nice problem for him to have.
“I would say it’s enjoyable because of where we’re at,” Kubiak said Monday.
That would be atop the AFC playoff bracket.
The Broncos (12-4) host a divisional round game Jan. 17. They avoided slipping into the wild-card round when Manning rallied the Broncos to a 27-20 win over San Diego on Sunday in his first relief appearance in 21 years, three months and 11 days.
“In this business you work really, really hard to get in the position that we’re in right now and to be a part of this next month,” Kubiak said. “There’s always going to be tough decisions to make.”
Like sticking with Manning – providing his left foot held up OK – or going back to Osweiler, who was coming off his best game, a comeback from a two-touchdown deficit against Cincinnati, when he got the hook Sunday.
Manning began the game as a backup for the first time since his freshman year at Tennessee, when he replaced an injured Todd Helton against Mississippi State.
Osweiler hit Demaryius Thomas for a 72-yard TD just 31 seconds into the game. At that point, it looked as if Manning’s only hope to get into the game would be mop-up duty to test his playoff readiness.
Emmanuel Sanders, however, fumbled at the 10-yard line following a 46-yard reception on the next drive and the Broncos began to unravel.
After their fifth turnover – only one of which could be pinned on Osweiler – Kubiak noted a sense of desperation and turned to Manning to provide a spark.
When Manning trotted out with 8:18 left in the third quarter, so did veteran Tyler Polumbus, replacing a rattled right tackle, Michael Schofield.
“I thought everybody was cheering for me,” deadpanned Polumbus.
Although Manning completed just 5 of 9 passes for 69 yards – including just 1 of 4 throws of more than 15 yards – the five-time MVP settled down the team, driving the Broncos to two TDs and two field goals.
Changing the call at the line of scrimmage, Manning kept putting the Broncos in the perfect play and Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson combined for a season-high 212 yards rushing.
Manning also got rid of the ball quicker than Osweiler, although he did sustain a vicious hit from Damion Square that left him wondering how his body would feel this week.
Kubiak gave the players three days off, so they won’t reconvene until Thursday, when he’ll likely make his QB choice known. The longer this drags out, the bigger the distraction for a team that doesn’t need any more drama.
Manning was certainly sore Monday. Kubiak said he isn’t worried Manning’s health, saying, “I think he’s OK.”
Nor was he concerned about Osweiler’s confidence being churned.
“Oh, I guarantee you he knows I’ve got confidence in him. And he knows his team has confidence in him,” Kubiak said. “He’s a tough young man and I know he’s done a great job. Everybody knows we wouldn’t be in the position we’re in had he not done the job he’s done.”
Officially, Osweiler went 5-2 as the starter and Manning 7-2. Sunday’s win went on Osweiler’s record, so Manning remains tied with Brett Favre for most wins in the regular season by a starting QB at 186.
“I’m proud of both of them,” Kubiak said. “Peyton did a great job earlier this season before he went through the injury. Brock did a great job with this football team. Yesterday it took both of them. It’s taken all of us all year long.”
Kubiak played a hunch Sunday so it follows that he’ll go with his gut again for the playoffs rather than go over stat sheets and all the analytics over the next 72 hours.
“I’ll do what I think is best for the football team,” Kubiak said.
Kubiak said Denver’s opponent – Chiefs, Texans or Steelers – won’t factor into his decision, either.
“I don’t worry about who we play,” Kubiak said. “I’m worried about our football team, our mindset, our direction.”
Brady to have treatment for right ankle but ‘I’ve had worse’
The bye week will come in handy for New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who could use the rest after Miami defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh landed on his right ankle in Sunday’s game.
Brady threw only 21 passes for a season-low 134 yards in the 20-10 loss to the Dolphins – the Patriots’ fourth loss in their past six games. The reigning Super Bowl MVP was sacked two times and hit a half-dozen more, including a late shot from Olivier Vernon and the hit from Suh that left Brady limping.
“I’ve had worse. I’ve had plenty of worse injuries than this one,” said Brady, who has had only one injury in his career that forced him to miss time – a season-ending knee injury in Week 1 of 2008.
“Suh’s a big guy. He just came down on the back of me and … 300 pounds, he just collapses the back of your leg, there’s going to be some residual damage from that.”
Brady said on his weekly radio appearance that he would be receiving treatment, “as always.”
After winning the first 10 games to spur talk of a second undefeated season, the mounting injuries have taken their toll on the defending NFL champions. The Patriots finished 12-4 – good enough for their 12th AFC East title in 13 years and their sixth straight first-round postseason bye, but one victory short of clinching home-field advantage through the playoffs.
“Our level of consistency hasn’t really been up to the standards that we need it to be,” Brady said. “This time of year is about how you play, not who you play or where you play or any of that. It’s how you play. Hopefully we’ve learned some lessons over the past couple of weeks, and we can play more Patriot-like football.”
Torn ACL ends season for Panthers CB Charles Tillman
Carolina Panthers cornerback Charles Tillman tore the ACL in his right knee Sunday, an injury that will end Tillman’s season and could end his career.
Tillman partially tore the ligament against the Tennessee Titans on Nov. 15 and missed the next four games. But after second-year corner Bene Benwikere broke a bone in his leg, Tillman returned and started the last three games.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said recently acquired Robert McClain would replace Tillman on the outside, with nickel corner Cortland Finnegan continuing to line up against the slot receiver.
Tillman was re-injured during a non-contact play on the fourth play of the second half of the Panthers’ 38-10 victory over Tampa Bay on Sunday.
Romo optimistic, but has few words for Cowboys’ lost season
Tony Romo paused a few times trying to find the words to reflect on a season ruined by his twice-broken left collarbone and a series of injuries to star receiver Dez Bryant.
The silence said it all.
“It was just a disappointing year for everybody,” Romo said.
The 35-year-old Dallas quarterback took a generally optimistic view a day after a 4-12, first-to-worst season ended with a 34-23 loss to Washington. The highlights from the veteran:
–Rehab work from his broken collarbone will give him a head start in the offseason, and he will be another year removed from back injuries that plagued him in 2013-14.
–The Cowboys should take a quarterback in the draft if the right one is there in the right spot, even though Romo also pointed out that he doesn’t “have to make those decisions and I’m glad.”
–Coach Jason Garrett showed he’s the right man for the job by keeping the team motivated through a seven-game losing streak that covered Romo’s absence from the first break of his collarbone.
Romo said motivation shouldn’t be an issue after the biggest drop-off in wins in franchise history following an NFC East-winning 12-4 record in 2014. The reversal brought back the standard of mediocrity Dallas has set since 1997 – a 152-152 record covering 19 seasons. Not that it ever came up with the Cowboys eventually buried in the standings after the injuries to Romo and Bryant, but this was the 20th anniversary of Dallas’ last trip to the Super Bowl following the 1995 season.
“When you don’t play well or you don’t play up to the standard of what you set, I think that it should burn inside of each guy really,” Romo said. “Our team obviously has got knocked down this year and without performing to expectations, like I said before, it’s a very easy time to look at yourself and say, `I need to get better.’ I think everybody on this football team needs to take that approach. And I think everybody will.”
Romo has endured three broken collarbones and three back injuries, two of which led to surgery. He played through broken ribs and a punctured lung four years ago. He had a broken finger on his throwing (right) hand in 2008.
McCoy to return to Chargers despite 4-12 finish
Mike McCoy will return as coach of the Chargers despite a 4-12 record this season.
The next big question is whether he’ll be coaching them in San Diego or Los Angeles.
“I’m very thankful for the opportunity to be back,” McCoy said a day after the Chargers lost at Denver to go winless in the AFC West for the first time since 1984, the year Alex Spanos bought the team.
Alex Spanos’ son, Dean, the team’s chairman, wants to move the Chargers to the Los Angeles area. The team was expected to file for relocation Monday, along with the Oakland Raiders and St. Louis Rams. NFL owners could decide next week whether any of the teams move to Los Angeles next season.
Dean Spanos wants to partner with the division rival Oakland Raiders to build a stadium in Carson. Rams owner Stan Kroenke wants to build a stadium in Inglewood.
Asked if he’s the right guy to lead the Chargers into the nation’s second-biggest market, McCoy said: “Without a doubt. I can’t wait for the opportunity. We’re all ready to roll.”
Then, he added: “I’m ready to be the coach wherever it is. I’m excited just to be the head football coach of the Chargers. It’s all speculation up to this point in time what’s going to happen. In a couple of weeks we’ll figure out what we’re going to do.”
McCoy is 23-27 in three seasons, including a playoff win and loss in his first season, 2013. He has one year left on his contract.
The Chargers failed to beat a team with a winning record in posting their worst record since also going 4-12 in 2003. Overall, they’ve lost 18 of their last 26 games under McCoy.
Eagles interviewing offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur
Before they look outside for a new coach to replace Chip Kelly, the Philadelphia Eagles will consider their own assistants.
Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, who led the Eagles to a season-ending win over the Giants as interim coach, interviewed on Monday. Running backs coach Duce Staley interviewed last Friday.
“I’ve been here now for 13 years under two different regimes,” Shurmur said. “I told the players (Saturday) night that I probably learned more in the last three years than I’ve learned in any stretch of my coaching career.
“I think we constantly refine ourselves and we become a better version of ourselves every single day. You learn something new every day.”
Shurmur was 9-23 as Cleveland’s coach in 2011-12. He joined Kelly’s staff in 2013 and got the chance to be in charge for a week after the Eagles made an abrupt change last Tuesday.
“I enjoyed this opportunity,” Shurmur said. “It’s kind of bittersweet. Then I think back that maybe had I been a better assistant that this wouldn’t have been the case.”
Shurmur began his NFL coaching career on Andy Reid’s staff in Philadelphia in 1999. He spent 10 seasons under Reid before going to St. Louis to be offensive coordinator in 2009-10. Shurmur worked with Sam Bradford in the quarterback’s rookie season with the Rams, and they were reunited in Philadelphia this year.
“The quarterback-head coach relationship is extremely important in any organization,” Bradford said. “Given the history I have with Pat, I think it would mean a lot to me. I would love to play for him. I really enjoyed playing for him today. If he is a candidate, I hope that he gets serious consideration.”
Bradford isn’t a lock to return to Philadelphia, however. He can become a free agent in March and wants to know who will be the coach before he signs a new contract. There’s no guarantee a new coach wants him to be the quarterback, either.
Pagano’s status unknown as Colts players campaign for coach
Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano still has his job – for now.
After Pagano and team owner Jim Irsay met most of Monday afternoon, team spokesman Avis Roper said no announcement was expected to come before Tuesday.
The 55-year-old is not expected to return to Indy next season with his contract set to expire. Pagano turned down a one-year extension last offseason.
Meanwhile, as Colts players cleaned out their lockers Monday afternoon, they were still lobbying to keep their coach.
Linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said no announcement means there is still hope Pagano will be back.
In four seasons with Indy, Pagano is 41-23 with three playoff appearances, three playoff wins, two division titles and last year’s appearance in the AFC championship game.
But the Colts (8-8), a trendy preseason Super Bowl pick, missed the playoffs this season.
Lions coach Jim Caldwell in limbo after finishing season 7-9
Jim Caldwell was cool and confident as he deflected questions about his future.
Even though the Detroit Lions left their coach in limbo a day after they won at Chicago to finish 7-9 in his second season in Detroit, Caldwell insisted he was conducting business as usual.
“We are still working,” he said. “Still under contract.”
The Lions have been searching for a new general manager since firing Martin Mayhew midway through the season, and will begin interviewing candidates this week. They plan to let the new GM decide whether Caldwell stays or goes.
If Detroit decides to fire Caldwell, he will be on a short list of relatively successful coaches to lose their jobs after two seasons.
Caldwell has led the Lions to an 18-14 record and one playoff appearance.
Just eight coaches – only one in more than half-century – lost their job in the league with a winning record in the regular season over two years with at least one postseason appearance, according to STATS. The last one was Chan Gailey, who was fired by the Dallas Cowboys after the 1999 season.
Lions safety Glover Quin said players did as much as they could to make a case for the franchise to keep Caldwell by winning six of the last eight games after a 1-7 start.
“He’s a great, great man,” Quin said after cleaning out his locker. “Great leader. Great coach. He holds players accountable and I think he has everyone’s support in the locker room.”
The Lions might lose a key assistant coach while they look for a new GM, and possibly a new coach.
Caldwell confirmed Teryl Austin is scheduled to interview this week with the Cleveland Browns, one of “several teams” interested in Detroit’s defensive coordinator.
“He’ll be an exceptional head coach,” Caldwell said. “He’s a motivator. He’s very, very good strategically, technically in terms of football. He knows football inside and out.”
Titans start search for new GM and coach, Mularkey candidate
The Tennessee Titans are looking for a new general manager and coach with no timeline to fill either job.
The man running the searches for both positions just had the interim tag taken off his own job after coming out of retirement a few months ago.
This franchise has won just five games the past two seasons – its worst stretch since 1983 and 1984.
Yet, the Titans have Marcus Mariota at quarterback and the top overall draft pick in the 2016 draft.
Titans president and CEO Steve Underwood said they were “overrun” by requests from people wanting to be interviewed for either general manager or coach once news broke about the positions. Now they need to hire the right people.
“We already have one of those pieces, or at least we strongly believe that we do in Marcus,” Underwood said. “We need to find people to surround him with that will help him mature as a NFL quarterback and lead our franchise to the next success.”
Underwood relieved Ruston Webster of his job as general manager. Interim coach Mike Mularkey will stick around while the Titans search for a coach to replace Ken Whisenhunt who was fired Nov. 3. Mularkey is a candidate for the job.
Controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk said in a statement that the Titans have fallen far short of the goal to be one of the NFL’s elite franchises.
“We share our fans’ frustration about the team’s recent performance, and we are committed to doing everything we can to return our team to a perennial postseason contender,” Strunk said.
Trent Baalke will remain 49ers general manager
San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York is retaining Trent Baalke with the idea that the general manager will hire a new coach and turn around this once-proud franchise in a hurry.
York made the announcement that Baalke would stay one day after firing first-year coach Jim Tomsula after a 19-16 overtime victory against the St. Louis Rams to finish the season.
“Trent understands that I’m not satisfied with the current state of this team. Trent’s role is to find the next head coach and continue to build this roster and get us back to championship form,” York said in his first public remarks to the media this season. “Trent has the skills to do this and get this done. He’s built championship rosters in the past. He’s got respect from folks around the league and his peers.”
San Francisco went 5-11 and missed the playoffs for the second straight season after going 8-8 a year ago in now-Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh’s fourth and final season before what the team called a “mutual” parting.
“I think it’s well understood what effort we made to keep him here,” York said.
Harbaugh went to Twitter on Sunday night after Tomsula’s firing with a post reading: “Do not be deceived. You will reap what you sow.”
Tomsula is owed $10.5 million for the remaining three years on the deal he signed last January, and York said the team would “eat” that money to pay him whatever he is owed and the difference if he receives an assistant job elsewhere for a lower salary.
“When you’re 5-11, it’s not all coaching,” Baalke said. “We finished 5-11, which we all know is not good enough, not here.”
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