ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Peyton Manning has won back his starting job after recovering from a left foot injury and rescuing the Denver Broncos.
Brock Osweiler is back on the bench.
Coach Gary Kubiak informed his quarterbacks of his QB decision and then his team Thursday morning when players returned from a three-day furlough.
Manning missed seven starts with a torn plantar fascia. He returned to action Sunday when he relieved Osweiler in the second half and led the Broncos to a 27-20 win over San Diego that secured the AFC's top seed.
That marked Manning's first game as a backup since his freshman year at Tennessee 21 years ago.
Manning went 7-2 as Denver's starter, although he struggled all season with his foot injury, which affected his throwing motion and led to right shoulder and rib injuries as well.
It also forced the Broncos to put Manning in the pistol or shotgun on most snaps. But on Sunday, he was under center 40 percent of the time, which did wonders for their ground game.
Manning went just 5 of 9 for 69 yards passing Sunday with no TDs and no interceptions.
For the season, he threw a career-low nine TD passes and his 17 interceptions nearly led the league even though he missed almost half the season. Osweiler threw 10 TD passes and had six interceptions.
Soon a free agent, Osweiler may very well have proven he's the future for Denver, going 5-2 with both losses coming down to dropped passes in crunch time or he could have been 7-0, maybe rendering Manning a backup for the playoffs.
Osweiler displayed the athleticism, acumen, accuracy and arm strength to run Kubiak's offense, but his inexperience also showed.
He failed to check out of a cornerback blitz Sunday in which he was sacked and stripped of the football, one of five turnovers following his 72-yard touchdown toss to Demaryius Thomas 31 seconds into the game.
Manning got the same look a couple of times and checked into run plays away from the pressure. His superior recognition and line calls helped the Broncos gain a season-best 210 yards rushing.
Manning also drubs Osweiler in the experience department: Osweiler has never taken a snap in the playoffs. Manning is 11-13 in the playoffs over his 18-year career. That includes an NFL-record nine first-game exits, three Super Bowls and one ring.
Osweiler has said he'll prepare the same no matter who's the starter.
Kubiak surely won't hesitate to go back to him if he has to.
On Nov. 15, Kubiak waited until Manning had thrown four interceptions and compiled a career-worst 0.0 passer rating before pulling him with Denver down 22-0 to the Chiefs. The Broncos lost 29-13.
Kubiak said afterward that he made a mistake in going with Manning that day. He named Osweiler his starter the next morning while Manning went to see a foot specialist in North Carolina. He returned in a hard cast and walking boot he wore for 10 days before beginning a long and arduous rehab program.
After a setback a couple of weeks ago, Manning suited up Sunday for the first time since the injury but Osweiler kept his starting job.
Kubiak said Osweiler didn't do anything to deserve a demotion but he felt the team needed a jolt.
With Denver in danger of losing to the Chargers and slipping into the wild-card round and a road game at red-hot Kansas City this weekend, Manning entered midway through the third quarter.
His return energized the stadium and the Broncos as he led Denver on four scoring drives in five possessions.
Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton .