ENGLEWOOD, COLO. — Let the debate begin: Brock Osweiler or Peyton Manning?
For the first time since Osweiler moved into the starting lineup a month ago, Denver Broncos coach Gary Kubiak didn't lay out a definitive plan for his quarterbacks when he met with the media Monday.
Kubiak said that because of Pro Bowl voting and film review of Denver's loss to Oakland, he hadn't met with his quarterbacks yet. So, he wasn't prepared to say if Manning would return to practice this week or whether Brock Osweiler would definitely start at Pittsburgh this weekend.
"I have to see where he's at," Kubiak said of Manning. "We have to talk through his situation and see where we are. I'll talk to (head athletic trainer Steve Antonopulos). We went through a good week last week, gave him the weekend off, so we'll see where we're at. We'll have a plan in place by the time we get to Wednesday."
Two hours later, on his weekly show on KOA 850, the team's flagship radio station, Kubiak clarified his comments.
"Obviously everybody wants an answer every Monday at 1 o'clock. I had just gotten out of a team meeting, we're doing some Pro Bowl voting and what I said was, as of today nothing has changed," Kubiak said. "The question is over the next two days, I'm getting together with Peyton and with (Antonopulos) and we're going to make a decision on how we proceed this week. Does that mean do we go to the practice field? Do we go any further? I don't know, we're going to make that decision. That's the way I answered the question and nothing's changed."
So, Osweiler is expected to stay the starter, but for how long?
Osweiler is coming off his first 300-yard passing game, one that was ruined by Khalil Mack's five sacks, his receivers' buttery fingers and a leaky line in a 15-12 loss to the Raiders.
While Denver's offense has struggled behind both quarterbacks, tight end Virgil Green said the Broncos (10-3) believe they can win with either one.
"Both 17 and 18 are great quarterbacks. Teams have to prepare for both of them differently. I have a lot of faith in both of those guys," Green said. "Brock is definitely a competitor and Peyton, I've seen him pick defenses apart like it's nothing."
Manning has been sidelined for a month with a left foot injury. He said it had been hurting for some time before he tore the plantar fascia in a game against Indianapolis on Nov. 8, then overestimated his readiness to play the following week against Kansas City.
He was replaced by Osweiler after throwing four interceptions and posting a career-worst 0.0 passer rating on the same day he broke Brett Favre's NFL record for most career passing yards.
Manning resumed throwing last week on his own under the watchful eyes of the strength and conditioning staff. But he has yet to practice with the team since having his hard cast removed and ditching his walking boot two weeks ago.
Manning watched the game from the sideline Sunday, the first time he's done that.
He has said his doctors can't say when he'll be able to return to action this season. The only certainty is that he'll have to make it back to practice before suiting up again for a game.
"That's the next step is that he's coming back to practice. And if you're coming back to practice, then you're working toward getting back on the field and playing," Kubiak said. "So, let me see where we're at."
After Denver squandered its historically great defensive effort Sunday — minus-12 yards in the first half — cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said, "I'm hot. We're not supposed to lose that game. Defensive-wise, we played great." He also took a shot at newly signed safety Shiloh Keo for blowing the coverage on Michal Rivera's game-winning touchdown grab.
Still, Kubiak said Monday he's not concerned about the locker room splintering.
"Frustration is a part of football," Kubiak said. "I don't mind frustrations at all as a coach because we work hard at what we do. But you get over those real quick and you go to the next week and that's what we'll do."
Green said he's never sensed animosity from the defensive players, and linebacker Brandon Marshall said the league's top-rated defense doesn't hold any grudges against the NFL's 24th-ranked offense.
"We're a team, we're brothers," Marshall said. "Just because your brother isn't doing so well that doesn't mean you have the right to get on him. We just know we have to be hitting on all cylinders by ... actually by about right now. Right now is the time."