Denver Broncos quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler. Photo by Shelley Lipton/UPI | License Photo
Denver Broncos: 3 takeaways as team enters AFC playoffs
1. The morning NFL shows and football pundits were full of commentary about the Broncos being quarterback Brock Osweiler's team now and that Denver was going to ride into the playoffs with its young signal-caller leading the way. Not so fast. It turns out that a now-healthy Peyton Manning has something to say about that after coming off the bench to help lead Denver past San Diego. The Broncos called on Manning to relieve Osweiler after his younger counterpart was at the center of three of Denver's five turnovers in the game. Manning led four second-half scoring drives and that was enough to fend off the Chargers 27-20, sending Denver into the postseason as the AFC's top seed. Coach Gary Kubiak wouldn't say yet whether the Broncos would elevate Manning into the starting role for the playoffs but the decision seems pretty clear cut. If Manning is healthy, he should get the call because as Demaryius Thomas said of Manning after the game, "I knew he still had it."
2. The Broncos offensive line seemed to block more effectively, in both the running and passing games, after Tyler Polumbus replaced struggling right tackle Michael Schofield late in the second quarter. The right side of the Broncos line has been a trouble spot in recent weeks, in terms of push for the rushing attack and pass protection. The team has a first-round playoff bye and time to consider whether to continue the personnel change going forward.
3. Safety Shiloh Keo was a late-season addition by the Broncos after injuries hit the back end of their secondary. After starting safety Darian Stewart went down with a hamstring injury, Keo came in to play a key role in the victory with his fourth-quarter interception of San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers leading to Ronnie Hillman's tie-breaking touchdown run. "He's a great example of if you think you can play, hang in there and keep battling and there's always an opportunity. He took advantage of his today," coach Gary Kubiak said.
1. Demaryius Thomas had five receptions for 117 yards and a touchdown. It was his 32nd career 100-yard receiving game, pushing him past Rod Smith for the most in team history. His 105 catches on the season are the third most in team history behind Smith (113 in 2000) and Thomas' personal high of 111 in 2014.
2. Brandon McManus converted both of his field-goal tries -- a 48-yarder and a 35-yarder -- to finish with 30 on the season, tying him for the second most in team history. Jason Elam kicked a team record 31 field goals for Denver in 2001 and 1995.
3. S Darian Stewart (hamstring) and OLB DeMarcus Ware (knee) both were knocked out of the game with injuries. Their status for the first playoff game for Denver, which has a first-round bye and the AFC's top seed, has not yet been determined.
4. Running backs Ronnie Hillman (15-117 yards) and C.J. Anderson (15-95) combined for 212 yards rushing. They just missed becoming the first Broncos tandem to each run for 100 yards in a game since 2011, when RB Willis McGahee had 163 yards rushing and quarterback Tim Tebow had 118 yards against Oakland.