3 Takeaways: Broncos vs. Chargers

The Broncos defeated the Chargers 27-20 in Week 17, clinching their fifth consecutive division title and the AFC's 1-seed. MHH Publisher Chad Jensen reveals three takeaways.

The Rumors Of Peyton Manning's Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

The storybook unfolded before our very eyes on Sunday afternoon. After five turnovers and down by a point at home, with the AFC West title and the No. 1 playoff seed at stake, Peyton Manning trotted out onto the field to take over for an embattled Brock Osweiler under center. 

Manning took the reins of a reeling offensive unit, calmed the storm and led the Denver Broncos down on an 80-yard scoring drive, capped off by a C.J. Anderson touchdown plunge. Some would discredit his influence on that drive, and the quarter and a half Manning played, by saying that the running game did all the heavy lifting. 

And that's partly true. But Manning's 18-year experience and his savvy at the line of scrimmage were key factors in the Broncos coming back to win. To ignore that would be dishonest. On his first drive of the game, Manning checked out of some plays, audibled and shifted the blocking scheme, in order to exploit the San Diego defense and give Anderson the opportunity to produce. 

These are attributes Manning brings to the table that Osweiler does not. At least, not at this point in Osweiler's development. There was a palpable difference in team tonality, once Manning took over. The team needed a leader — someone to take control of the situation and provide his teammates with the confidence and tools to execute and overcome adversity. 

“Sometimes you just—the feel is that the team is looking around for that guy or that tremendous leadership type of stuff," head coach Gary Kubiak said post-game. "That’s what I felt... Just my gut told me to turn it over to him and let him lead the football team. Just very proud of him. He’s worked really hard to stay there for us and it couldn’t have been a bigger day to be there for us. Just a gut feeling.”

Kuibiak's gut proved true. When Manning took the field and the home crowd at Sports Authority Field at Mile High errupted, it was enough to give any lover of football, or sports in general, the goosebumps. After all the adversity Manning's endured and overcome over the last two months — from his plantar fascia tear to Al Jezeera's HGH allegations — the Sheriff was champing at the bit to take action. 

Manning may have finished the night just 5-of-9 for 69 yards (with one drop), but his impact was felt on the scoreboard. The Broncos put up 20 points under his stewardship. The proof is in the pudding. Peyton Manning is back. And he'll get an extra week of rest before he finishes off his time in the Mile High City. 

All the stars are aligned for more storybook plot twists. As the AFC's No. 1 seed, the Broncos have homefield advantage throughout the playoff tournament. One more home win gets them to the AFC Championship game. Two more gets them to the Super Bowl. Three more wins and the Denver Broncos would be World Champions for the third time. 

We can only hope that John Elway's edict for a "kicking and screaming" football team doesn't fall on deaf ears. We can only hope that the Broncos won't lay an egg in the Divisional Round, like they have two out of the last three seasons. Thus far, Kubiak's squad has shown a penchant for coming through with the chips down, fighting 'til the bitter end. They've done it time and time again this year.

Three more times and Peyton Manning's legacy will have a very different hue. 

Better Late Than Never

You've got to feel for Brock Osweiler. With the exception of Demaryius Thomas' 72-yard touchdown catch on the Broncos second play from scrimmage, Osweiler's squad did little to help him out on Sunday. Receivers were dropping balls, tipping them into the hands of the defense. 


Only one of the five turnovers the Broncos committed on Sunday can be rightfully laid at the feet of Osweiler. He failed to recognize a nickel-blitz off the left side, allowing Chargers DB Steve Williams to come un-blocked for the strip-sack.

One turnover was the direct result of right tackle Michael Schofield, who allowed Melvin Ingram to tip Osweiler's arm as he released the ball, catapulting it into the arms of the waiting secondary. 

If I were Brock Osweiler, I'd point much of the blame for my benching on Schofield. Brock's much more classy than I, however. 

For the last month and a half, Schofield has been the worst right tackle in the NFL and he's cost the Broncos wins. He allowed four Khalil Mack sacks in the Broncos Week 14 home loss to Oakland. He couldn't block Cincinnati DE Carlos Dunlap in Week 16. He's been a liability and we all began to question Kubiak's wherewithal as a coach when he didn't make a change. 

But Kubiak finally fixed his mistake and it coincided with Manning's entrance to Sunday's game. Tyler Polumbus took over at RT and the Broncos reaped the rewards. The running game improved, as did pass protection. There's absolutley no reason to let Schofield back on the field again this year, barring injuries. 

Polumbus has plenty of experience in the zone blocking system Kubiak favors and he's a seven-year veteran. The Broncos stayed the course too long with Schofield. He is an Elway third round pick, after all. But Kubiak finally bit the bullet. Better late than never. 

McManus Was McClutch

Oh, how different Sunday's events could have unfolded, had Brandon McManus missed even one of his late-game field goal attempts. Those of you who listen and subscribe to the 'In The Huddle' podcast know I've been hard on McManus, especially of late. He has a huge leg, but has struggled with consistency and high-pressure situations. 

He missed the game winner in Week 16, at the end of regulation. But redeemed himself (somewhat) in overtime with what ended up being the deciding score. In Week 17, when McManus took the field to attempt his first FG with 13 minutes left in the fourth quarter and the Broncos protecting a one-point lead, I cringed. 

But he came through, knocking home the 48-yarder to extend the lead to four points. Later, after Philip Rivers led the Chargers on a touchdown drive, taking a three-point lead, McManus again came through with a tying 35-yarder, leaving 9:45 left on the clock.

The Broncos would eventually catch a break, when Shiloh Keo picked off Rivers, giving the Broncos the ball on the San Diego 23-yard-line. Ronnie Hillman provided the Broncos game-winning touchdown on the next play. 

But, in a dog-fight, where every single possession and every scoring opportunity is crucial, the margin for error is slim. Sunday's game was very much a playoff-like atmosphere, with far-reaching ramifications. Brandon McManus exorcised some poise demons and proved to the team, the fans, and most importantly, himself, that he can come through in the clutch. 

This is how the character of a true pro is honed. 

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Chad Jensen is the Publisher of Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @ChadNJensen.

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