ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) – It looks like Peyton Manning will be the healthiest quarterback in Denver this weekend. His counterpart is nursing a sprained right shoulder and his backup a sprained right knee.
“I obviously haven’t played a ton here in the last few weeks,” Manning said Wednesday. “I needed that time in order to get healthy certain parts of my body. At the same time, other parts of your body take advantage of that, right? Not getting hit and not getting pounded on, you try to take advantage of that and feel better for it.”
Manning, who missed the equivalent of seven weeks with a left foot injury, makes his first start since Nov. 15 when the Broncos (12-4) host the sixth-seeded Steelers (11-6) on Sunday.
Ben Roethlisberger promises he’ll do everything he can to be there for the Steelers. He was injured on a sack by Cincinnati linebacker Vontaze Burfict in the second half of Pittsburgh’s 18-16 wild-card win.
Brock Osweiler was injured against San Diego two weeks ago before Manning’s epic cameo secured the AFC’s top seed and earned him his starting job back.
Osweiler worked on the side with strength and conditioning coach Luke Richesson on Wednesday while rookie Trevor Siemian split snaps with Manning. Coach Gary Kubiak said he anticipates Osweiler being healthy enough to serve as Manning’s backup against Pittsburgh, however.
“I want to be out there (Sunday), unless I’m going to hurt the team,” Roethlisberger said. “If you can’t throw the ball 25, 30 yards downfield, I think you’re hurting your team. So, I don’t think we put ourselves in that situation. But if we can find any way possible to get out there, whether it’s with pain medicine, whatever it is, if I can deal with the pain and make plays, even if I have to be in a lot of pain the next day, then I’ll deal with it.”
Manning is healthy enough to run Kubiak’s offense from under center like he did on 40 percent of his snaps against San Diego. He mostly worked out of the pistol or shotgun formations earlier this season when he was dealing with a torn plantar fascia in his left foot. It’s an injury he figures won’t be 100 percent until the offseason.
“I think we do a good job when we can do everything we have in our playbook,” receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. “We go in the shotgun, we go under center, Peyton’s foot is healthy so we can do under center, do anything we need to do.”
What they need is for Manning not to add to the 17 interceptions he threw in just nine starts.
“Offensively, we just have to take care of the football, but I think we can do what we need to do, use everything we have,” Sanders said. “Peyton’s healthy, we’re ready to go.”
Roethlisberger’s health and availability are a bit murkier.
The two-time Super Bowl champion said he felt “something kind of crunch” when Burfict drove him into the turf. He went to the locker room but returned to lead the Steelers on their winning field goal drive in the final minute.
“That’s just who I am. I think that’s just who my family is,” he said. “You want to be a tough guy.”
Steelers All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown remains in the NFL’s concussion protocol, and starting running back DeAngelo Williams is still a long shot to return from a right foot injury.
So the Steelers could be without their top rusher, receiver and passer against the NFL’s No. 1 defense.
“We’ve kind of been through this before, and that’s the benefits of being at this point in the journey,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said, noting the loss of running back Le’Veon Bell to a torn ACL and the five starts Roethlisberger missed. “It’s not something we’re unused to.”
Brown dominated a depleted Denver secondary for 189 yards and two touchdowns in the Steelers’ 34-27 win last month in Pittsburgh.
Even if they’re at full strength, Roethlisberger said the Steelers will face a tougher test in the rematch. Denver’s strong secondary was missing safeties T.J. Ward, Darian Stewart and Omar Bolden at Pittsburgh, the only time all season the Broncos allowed a 30-point game or a 300-yard passer.
“We didn’t face them at full strength and we know that,” Roethlisberger said, “and that’s why we got lucky last time.”
NOTES: OLB Von Miller and G Robert Myers Jr. were sent home sick before practice. … Manning, the focal point of Al Jazeera’s report on drugs in sports last month, had this to say about the announced shuttering of the Al Jazeera America cable news network: “I’m sure it’s going to be just devastating to all of their viewers.”
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