ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Peyton Manning is back — as Brock Osweiler’s backup.
Manning’s injured left foot has improved enough for him to be in uniform and available Sunday for the first time in seven weeks. A fifth consecutive AFC West title and fourth straight first-round bye is on the line when the Broncos (11-4) host the Chargers (4-11).
Both quarterbacks were thrilled with coach Gary Kubiak’s announcement Wednesday before an evening walkthrough.
Manning said he was glad to get back on the field with his teammates.
"I’m happy to be more of a part of it now than just being in street clothes and kind of quarantined in the indoor facility and work on out on my own," said Manning, whose last full practice was Nov. 13.
Osweiler said it was a vote of confidence to keep his starting job with the league’s only five-time MVP available.
"Obviously it means a lot," Osweiler said. "It shows that Coach believes in me. … It feels good, but I have a job to do this week and that’s where my focus is."
Rookie Trevor Siemian will serve as the third QB.
Manning last worked out with his teammates on Dec. 17, doing 7-on-7 drills and running the scout team. But he had a setback that week in his recovery from a torn plantar fascia that forced him back indoors working out with the strength coaches away from the team.
This marks the first time Manning has been a backup since taking over the starting job at Tennessee in 1994 when Todd Helton, already starting for an injured Jerry Colquitt, suffered a knee injury. Manning, a freshman, stepped in and never surrendered the job.
The No. 1 overall pick by the Colts in 1998, Manning started 13 years for the Colts before missing the 2011 season following neck fusion surgery and joining the Broncos, where he went 49-15 before being sidelined.
Manning said it’s been a frustrating month and a-half and returning to the football field "sure beats being in the indoors by yourself and being in street clothes" on game day.
Manning also addressed once again Al Jazeera’s report last weekend that suggested he obtained HGH through his wife from an Indianapolis anti-aging clinic where he received post-operative treatment in 2011. Manning has angrily denied the accusations made by a former pharmaceutical intern who has since recanted his story.
The NFL has said it will look into the allegations against Manning and others, including Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers of the Green Bay Packers, who also have vehemently denied the accusations.
Manning called the league’s probe "appropriate," adding, "I’d be glad if they came in here tonight and tomorrow and do it and get it over with."
"The report wasn’t true Sunday. It’s not true today and it won’t ever be true," Manning added. "And I’m still angry about it. And if the league has to do that, I’ll co-operate. The sooner the better, though, if they’re listening."
Manning said he hasn’t decided whether to pursue legal action against Al Jazeera, saying, "I don’t want to deal with that until after the season."
Kubiak told The Associated Press he’s confident Manning can compartmentalize his emotions, and he said he has no doubt Osweiler will handle just fine having a five-time MVP waiting in the wings.
"I think he’s hardened up and he’s toughened up," Kubiak said of Osweiler. "I think he’s handled himself like a champ."
The unflappable Osweiler is 4-2 as Denver’s starter and could be undefeated but for some key dropped passes.
Osweiler has led Denver to wins after falling behind by two touchdowns against New England and Cincinnati, both in overtime.
Manning refused to look beyond the upcoming game.
Asked if he felt he’d have a chance to get the starting job back in the playoffs, Manning insisted, "I haven’t thought about that."
"I just want to be able to get through this week at full capacity," he said.
Manning said he was encouraged by the way his foot held up during last week’s workouts.
"But to get back out there with some people around you, linemen around you, defensive linemen, throwing to your receivers against a defence, that’s the only way to really get back into it," he said.
Osweiler has a sore left elbow but his sore left shoulder is doing better as is his left eye, which was infected last week.
"A lot of guys are beat up this time of year," Osweiler said. "As far as my personal injuries, I feel great and I’m very excited to go play this Sunday."
He won’t be peering over his shoulder, either.
"I’m not really going to think about who the backup is this week," Osweiler said. "My focus is 100 per cent on the Chargers defence."