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Clayton: Brock Osweiler's team? It's growing on Denver


SAN DIEGO — It took only three starts, but the Denver Broncos have become Brock Osweiler‘s team.

The coronation isn’t official, and Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak won’t announce it. Osweiler also has too much respect for decorum to claim he’s the present and the future for the franchise at quarterback. The transfer of ownership at quarterback has only one caveat — Osweiler might have to move aside in a few games if Peyton Manning becomes healthy and shows Kubiak and team president John Elway he might give the Broncos a better chance to reach the Super Bowl.

But after three-and-a-half years of waiting, Osweiler can be comfortable with his status in Denver. He knows the starting job is his until Manning recovers from his plantar fascia problems. The team knows Manning may or may not be healthy enough to offer his services as early as Week 16 or Week 17, so all Osweiler has to do is go on the field each week and win.

We don’t know what the rest of the season holds. But beyond this season? The question has been answered. And in the mean time, Osweiler’s team knows they can win with him running the show on offense.

“He’s been playing every well,” tight end Owen Daniels said. “He’s our starter right now. He’s in control. I think the way he looks at his position is that the starting quarterback is in control. He’s one of the leaders of the team. The way he’s playing and the way we’ve been playing with him I think it’s his to lose at this point.”

In Sunday’s 17-3 win over San Diego, Osweiler wasn’t at his best, but he was clearly good enough to raise hopes that he can take this team deep into the playoffs. Kubiak opened the game by letting Osweiler do more rollouts and bootlegs. Those plays negatively affect opposing defensive ends, give Osweiler different launching points for his throws and open things up for the running offense — the Kubiak offense.

An eight-play, 76-yard touchdown drive in the Broncos’ first possession gave them a 7-0 lead that basically decided the game. (That’s not hyperbole when you look at the final score.) On that drive, Osweiler completed three of four passes for 40 yards and a touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas. After that, though, Osweiler completed only 13 of his next 22 passes for 126 yards. He even threw an interception.

No problem. The Broncos were in control as a team the entire game. A ridiculously talented defense dominated Philip Rivers and the Chargers’ offense. That unit forced three turnovers and linebacker Danny Trevathan added the team’s fourth interception return for a touchdown this season. The Broncos’ defense is so good that all Kubiak asks his quarterback to do is win the possession battle, get a touchdown drive or two and not turn the football over. His current QB keeps doing just that.

“I think he continues to grow,” Kubiak said. “I think he did some young things today. But the thing I really like about him is he learns from mistakes. He had some very good conversations with me. He wants the ball in situations. When you talk to him about this or this, he’s always wanting to take the aggressive approach. For him to win on the road in two out of three weeks and find a way to get it down with this team, I think he’s making some good progress.”

Here’s the situation: Osweiler is 3-0 as a starter. He’s winning friends and winning the confidence of teammates. He has beaten Jay Cutler and Rivers on the road and Tom Brady at home. He’s completing 61.9 percent of his passes and has five touchdowns in three games.

More importantly, he fits perfectly in the offensive scheme Kubiak wants.

Meanwhile, Manning just removed the walking boot and isn’t expected to practice this week, so Osweiler will start against the Oakland Raiders. He will probably start again at Pittsburgh on December 20. That buys time for Manning to return to practice but also leaves Osweiler at the reigns for more potential success stories. Kubiak and Elway could decide to start Manning against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 16, but what if Osweiler is 5-0 by then?

The season closes against San Diego, and the Broncos could use that season finale as a test track for Manning. But they don’t have to do that. Osweiler has things under control.

After the game, I talked to several Broncos offensive players and asked them the same question: “Is this Osweiler’s team?” Answers were positive and non-political.

“Right now, when Peyton’s healthy, this is his team, but I’m not [going] to make that call,” running back Ronnie Hillman said. “But if they make that call, it is what it is. I’m comfortable with whoever is back there. We’re winning. Brock is a great quarterback. He’s smart. He’s dedicated to the game. That’s all you can ask from a quarterback.”

“Brock can be real good,” fellow running back C.J. Anderson said. “If we continue to do our job and execute, Brock can be amazing. The good thing is we are executing better since the bye week, and we’ve concentrated on that.”

Osweiler is still learning. In the third quarter, leading 17-3, Osweiler forced a throw toward the end zone from his own 27 for Emmanuel Sanders, but it was picked off.

“He’s got to learn from those situations,” Kubiak said.

Point taken. But with Osweiler, the Broncos are winning, and he has been under center while the running attack has been revitalized. Until further notice, the team belongs to him. And the growing sense is that Broncos players and coaches are comfortable with it.

Inside the Huddle

Road teams won eight games Sunday. Home-field advantage barely exists. Home teams are winning only 53.4 percent of their games this season, the lowest percentage since 2006.

The one-possession game is a trend that continues. Games decided by eight points or fewer are at about 55 percent. Seven-point games are 52 percent. And 25 percent of games are three-point games, the highest figure since 1999.

With roughly three-quarters of the high-profile college head-coaching openings filled, Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly isn’t going anywhere if it involves the college ranks. Owner Jeffrey Lurie isn’t expecting to fire him, so unless Tennessee offers some trade package to link him with Marcus Mariota and the Tennessee Titans, Kelly will be coaching the Eagles next year.

The 37-3 loss to Cincinnati should open the door for Johnny Manziel to get some starts if he practices well. The Browns are 2-10 and and would pick No. 1 overall, and Memphis QB Paxton Lynch could be on the Browns’ radar. If the Browns draft Lynch, don’t be shocked if they trade Manziel to Dallas for a third-day draft choice.

Here’s how much the injuries are catching up to the New England Patriots: They have lost two in a row, and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniel even designed a play that had Tom Brady catch a downfield pass Sunday. With Cam Newton coming from behind to beat New Orleans, 41-38, he may have jumped Brady in MVP voting.

Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones questioned why Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan didn’t call fades or jump balls in the red zone during Atlanta’s 23-19 loss to Tampa Bay. The Falcons have lost six of seven games, and quarterback Matt Ryan doesn’t look comfortable in Shanahan’s offense minus the no-huddle he prefers. It’s a mess.

New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin is taking a lot of heat for bad coaching decisions. Coughlin said he came into the season wanting to be aggressive with play calling, but going for it on fourth down and failing instead of taking a field goal with a 20-10 lead hurt. At 5-7 and with too many blown fourth-quarter leads, the Giants have wasted too many chances. I still expect Coughlin to be back next year, but late-game problems will define the season.

St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher seems to be at a loss for reasons why his 4-8 team has collapsed, particularly on offense. If he doesn’t figure things out soon, he could lose his job.

Russell Wilson is on fire. The Seattle Seahawks have scored 138 points in their past four games and could get to 10-5 with winnable games against Baltimore, Cleveland and St. Louis coming up. They are as dangerous in the NFC as the Pittsburgh Steelers are in the AFC.



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