Brock Osweiler celebrated his 25th birthday Sunday with a 17-15 win over the Chicago Bears in his first career start — a win earned in the frigid temperatures of Soldier Field.
Although his inaugural start under center prompted a polarizing response, with some fans commenting on social media that a “Brockpocalypse” was imminent, the quarterback delivered.
It didn’t take him long to get settled, either: Osweiler tossed a 48-yard touchdown pass on the team’s fourth play from scrimmage; the touchdown was Denver’s first passing touchdown in a first quarter this season.
Replacing the aging Peyton Manning, who is suffering from a host of injuries and could be out for an indefinite period of time, the Arizona State alumnus threw for 250 yards, completed 20 of his 27 attempts, logged two touchdowns and didn’t produce a turnover.
The latter accomplishment is perhaps most significant in the context of this season; much of the Broncos’ maladies have been byproducts of turnovers. Manning, now in his 18th NFL season, leads the league with 17 interceptions, including four in his last start against the Kansas City Chiefs.
With Osweiler’s passer rating of 127.1 — and Manning having yet to eclipse 102 in nine games this season — the obvious must be made unmistakably clear: this should be Osweiler’s team moving forward this season, in part, because he can take care of the ball.
The caveat that Manning’s among the best to ever play the sport goes without saying, but Manning has produced a game with a passer rating higher than 120 in five games since January 2014. Osweiler just did in his first career start, without the team’s second-leading receiver, Emmanuel Sanders.
Manning is the least mobile quarterback in the league, and to protect him head coach Gary Kubiak has re-calibrated the offense around shotgun sets. Sunday, Osweiler was under center more in the first half (20 times, per ESPN) than Manning has been in any game this season. It opened up running opportunities — Denver rushed for 170 yards, nearly 100 more than their season average — and receiving opportunities for tight ends.
Yes, Chicago’s defense is as atrocious as they come in the NFL (27th in Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Value Over Average). Yes, throwing fewer than 60 passes this season is a remarkably small sample size. But on a team with championship aspirations, a defense that can get them there and Manning increasingly regressing each week, the best thing he can provide is leadership on the sidelines and tutelage for Osweiler.
The Broncos have a difficult remaining schedule, including matchups with New England, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, and can ill afford to have turnover issues. With Osweiler, who has accounted for one interception in his career, the team can rest knowing it put its best opportunity under center.