This is Brock Osweiler’s team – for now, at least. And everybody’s on board, including Peyton Manning.
The five-time MVP hobbled by an injured left foot met with Osweiler at halftime Sunday night to go over things he’d seen on TV while watching the Patriots-Broncos game from an auxiliary area outside the team’s locker room.
He gave his long-time apprentice tips on how to beat Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the previously prefect Patriots (10-1).
Osweiler did the rest, leading the Broncos (9-2) back from a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit to hand New England its first loss. He checked to a run in overtime and C.J. Anderson scampered 48 yards down the left sideline for a 30-24 win that tightened the AFC race.
“Peyton just had some great ideas about what he saw watching what was going on,” coach Gary Kubiak said Monday. “He had our game plan with him. He started pointing out some things to me about some of the things that he felt good about, and he was echoing that to Brock.
“He and Brock sat there at halftime before we actually go through our list of what we’re coming out with,” Kubiak said. “(He was) just a positive reinforcement as we’re playing. We knew we were in a tough ball game and needed to play well in the second half. Having him there was a boost, I think, for everybody.”
Manning didn’t make the trip to Chicago for Osweiler’s first career start a week earlier so that he could continue getting treatment. A day after Osweiler won his starting debut against the Bears, Manning was fitted for a walking cast.
Manning, who will resume his rehab after the cast comes off sometime this week, met briefly with Brady on the field Sunday night before retreating indoors, out of the camera lens’ view.
“He could have been on the field. That didn’t make much sense to stand out there for three and a half hours,” Kubiak said. “He could have gone to the booth, so he’s got to go up and down with the cast on him. We settled on basically we have a nice, comfortable, warm spot for you here in the locker room.”
So, Manning had the same vantage point as millions of viewers across the country, watching Brady capitalize on the kinds of early mistakes that have doomed Denver before.
Brady threw TD passes to tight end Rob Gronkowski and Scott Chandler following Britton Colquitt’s shanked 25-yard punt and Osweiler’s tipped interception at his own 15-yard line before the Broncos came in at the half trailing 14-7.
Brady’s third TD made it 21-7 on the first play of the fourth quarter, but Osweiler kept his poise.
“The biggest thing is you don’t want to panic, I think down 14 points going into the fourth quarter against the Patriots, it would be easy to try to force things and Brock didn’t,” left tackle Ryan Harris said. “None of us did.”
On the winning play, Osweiler, who swears he never let a day go by where he didn’t learn a lesson from Manning, diagnosed the defense and checked into a run.
“If 18 was in there he would have done the same thing,” Anderson said.
That’s the point: there’s no drop-off with Osweiler.
Anderson bounced left and followed blocks by tight end Vernon Davis and Harris to give Denver one of its biggest regular-season wins.
“It means we can beat anybody,” linebacker Brandon Marshall said, “because it’s true.”
It also means the world to Osweiler’s growth as a quarterback, suggested Harris.
“You’ve got to be able to win situations in the NFL and once you’ve seen you can be successful in a situation I think it kind of gives any player – quarterback, lineman, receiver, running back – a lot of confidence,” Harris said. “And he’s learned that. That’s part of being a pro: getting in those situations, winning those situations and carrying it with you into the next week.”
That conviction is contagious, too.
“Brock’s doing exactly what we all expected of him,” Harris said. “It’s not just that he practiced with us (every Wednesday even when Manning was healthy). We could tell in the things that he says week to week, how he prepares. All of us prepare so hard and the last thing you want to do is play with someone who doesn’t do that.
“And Brock, even before he was starting was preparing very well. And that just gives everybody confidence that, hey, we do our job, we’re going to be in the right play, we’re going to be doing the right things, we can be successful.”
Perfect, Gronk gone
At least New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick doesn’t have to answer – or, more precisely, not answer – questions about an undefeated season anymore.
The Patriots’ quest for a second perfect regular season came to an end Sunday night with the at Denver. What’s worse, tight end Rob Gronkowski was injured late in the game, putting a scare into a team that had already lost many of Tom Brady’s offensive weapons.
“He is the best tight end in football,” Brady said. “It is so hard to see these guys get hurt this way. … It is hard to see your friends get taken down like that. It is part of this sport and we understand that, but I also have a lot of respect for guys that take the field.”
Gronkowski joins a list of injured that already included running back Dion Lewis, receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, and a slew of offensive linemen. So instead of thinking about 16-0, the Patriots can worry about playoff position.
The Patriots lead the AFC East by four games with five to play, and they could clinch their 12th division title in 13 seasons as early as Sunday. They have a one-game lead over Cincinnati and Denver for home-field advantage through the playoffs, but the Broncos now hold the tiebreaker.
“They’re a great team. They (were) 10-0 for a reason,” Broncos receiver Andre Caldwell said. “They’re a tough win, so we feel like we’ll definitely see them down the road.”
Gronkowski has been one of the most productive tight ends in NFL history – when he’s on the field. He was knocked out with season-ending injuries in back-to-back seasons in 2012-13, and Sunday night’s hit appeared as if it could do so again.
Gronkowski remained on the turf, writhing in pain, after taking a hit on the right knee from Denver defensive back Darian Stewart with 2:49 left in regulation. The big tight end needed help to get to a cart, which carried him off the field.
But after the game he was seen walking with only a slight limp. Asked Monday if the news was encouraging, Belichick declined to give details.
“We always hope for the best for all of our players,” he said. “That will never change.”
Backup tight end Scott Chandler had five catches for 58 yards and a touchdown for the Patriots against Denver, by far the best performance since he joined the Patriots this season.
“We will need to rely on him quite a bit,” Brady said. “He is going to be a major contributor for our team. It was good to see him do that and we will see how it will go going forward.”
Chandler said the team has no choice but to move on.
“I think if you sit there and dwell on it, it might be overwhelming,” he said. “But we can’t do that.”
Also Monday, the Patriots released receiver Chris Harper, whose fumbled fourth-quarter punt return helped the Broncos rally from a 14-point deficit.
Dolphins sack another coach
Bill Lazor is the latest Dolphins coach out of work.
The organization fired Lazor, cutting bait with the play-caller whose offense ranks 26th in yards (335.9) and 27th in scoring (20.5).
Zac Taylor, who has served as the Dolphins’ quarterbacks coach since 2012, will take over as offensive coordinator for the final five games of the season.
But it’s tough to see who, if anyone, on the Dolphins’ coaching staff will return in 2016. In the past two months, the Dolphins have fired their head coach (Joe Philbin), their defensive coordinator (Kevin Coyle) and now Lazor.
And yet, the team continues heading in the wrong direction. Their 38-20 loss to the Jets was the fourth in the last five games, and ended any realistic playoff hopes.
The move also ensures Ryan Tannehill will play under his third different offensive system in five years. Tannehill signed a big-money contract extension this offseason, but has regressed.
The Dolphins made one other move Monday, promoting Phil McGeoghan to wide receivers coach.
Optimistic outlook for Romo
While Tony Romo is done for this season after breaking his collarbone for the second time this year, the struggling Dallas Cowboys somehow still have a chance to defend their NFC East title and get to the playoffs.
Coach Jason Garrett said that Romo has a lot of football left to play in the future. But so do the Cowboys this season without the quarterback, and part of the message the coach has for his Cowboys (3-8) is that they still have a chance in the division race.
“It’s part of our message to provide perspective,” Garrett said. “Oftentimes you have to provide a perspective about where we are, where we are, where we want to go and how we want to do it. So that certainly will be part of the message when the players come back in.”
Dallas has five games left and is two games behind Washington and New York, both 5-6 after the Redskins beat the Giants on Sunday.
The Cowboys play next Monday night at Washington, giving them an extended break after playing Thanksgiving Day. They host the Redskins in their regular season finale Jan. 3, and have already split their two games with the Giants.
Romo will not have surgery after getting hurt again in their loss to undefeated Carolina in the Cowboys’ traditional holiday game. But Garrett believes the collarbone will heal and that the 35-year-old quarterback still has plenty of games left to play.
“We think Tony has a lot of football left in him. … He’s got a lot of football ahead of him,” Garrett said. “Tony’s a great competitor, Tony wants to play as much as anybody, wants to play at a high level and help our team.”
For now, Romo will stay involved with the team and connected with quarterbacks Matt Cassel and Kellen Moore.
The Cowboys are 0-7 this season without Romo, including four games started by midseason acquisition Cassel during Romo’s first absence after Brandon Weeden lost three. Weeden was released when Romo returned, and Garrett anticipates Moore being brought up from the practice squad to be Cassel’s backup.
“One of the things I thought (Romo) did a really good job of when Brandon was playing and when Matt was playing earlier in the year was just staying involved and staying engaged,” Garrett said. “But at the same time you’ve got to go let those guys go take charge of the football team and understand what that balance is. I thought he did a good job understanding that day to day and certainly on Sundays.”
Garrett believes Cassel’s experience with the Cowboys in those earlier four games will benefit him the second time in the starter’s role.
“He came in, had to learn quickly, had to learn during the season,” Garrett said. “So there’s a lot of things you’re kind of catching up on when you come into a football team at that position at that time.”
Colts lose Bradshaw
Colts running back Ahmad Bradshaw will miss the rest of this season after injuring his wrist in Sunday’s 25-12 victory over Tampa Bay.
Indianapolis announced Monday that Bradshaw had been put on the injured reserve list. The Colts (6-5) re-signed running back Zurlon Tipton to replace Bradshaw on the roster ahead of Sunday’s game at Pittsburgh.
Tipton was cut last week when the Colts claimed another running back, Daniel Herron, off waivers.
Bradshaw spent 2013 and 2014 with Indy, but he finished both seasons on injured reserve. The Colts re-signed Bradshaw on Oct. 14. He played in six games, had 31 carries for 85 yards and caught 10 passes for 654 yards and three TDs.
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