HOUSTON — Before Brock Osweiler was ever a $72 million lightning rod who cashed in with the Texans after a run of seven starts last season that helped push the Broncos to the Super Bowl, he was a backup biding his time behind one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history in Peyton Manning.
Which meant he had a lot of time to bide.
Snaps were scarce during Osweiler’s first few years in Denver, so he found other ways to stay sharp. One was looking around the league for quarterbacks he wanted to emulate. He’d set aside one day every week to study a different quarterback.
“A lot of times, it just so happened to be Tom,” he said.
Whenever Osweiler watched film on Tom Brady, he peeled back a new layer of greatness.
“I think the thing that really stands out with him, when you watch Tom, his competitive fire jumps out to you,” Osweiler said. “He’s one of those guys that no matter what, he’s going to play the full 60 minutes. He’s a tough guy, you can hit him but he’s going to keep getting up and he’s going to keep firing the ball downfield. So I have a lot of respect for what he’s been able to accomplish in this league.”
Seeing the film come to life whenever the Patriots and Broncos faced off only made it more compelling.
“It’s a lot of fun to watch him play,” Osweiler said. “He’s one of those guys when you’re playing against him, you usually don’t sit down on the bench to have too many conversations when he’s out on the field because you want to see what he’s going to do.”
With Manning battling injury a year ago, Osweiler got his chance to take the reins. He had one professional start under his belt last season when he was tasked with dueling with the quarterback he’d watched for years. Brady threw for 280 yards and three touchdowns on 23-of-42 passing, but Osweiler completed 23 of his 42 passes as well, throwing for a touchdown and an interception, but he navigated the Broncos to a 30-24 win.
It was the start of Osweiler making a name for himself, and the genesis of a mild controversy over whether he should remain the starter when Manning returned. It was also when the now-26-year-old embraced the idea of being a starter in the NFL.
But as he prepares to take the Texans into Foxborough on Saturday to face New England in the divisional round of the playoffs, the win over Brady and the Patriots isn’t something Osweiler brings up in the locker room.
“I believe that it’s something that occurred with a different team in a different year, but certainly it’s in the back of my mind,” Osweiler said. “Believing in yourself and having confidence, there’s proof in the pudding there for myself. So the thing I would say to that is different team, different year, but there are some things that correlate.”
While Osweiler helped the Texans to a 4-2 start, he struggled protecting the football, throwing at least one interception in each of the first six games. When the Texans went on a midseason slide, losing four of six games, Osweiler faced the inevitable criticism about whether he was worth the contract the Texans gave him. Things reached a tipping point Dec. 18, when he was benched midway through a 21-20 win over Jacksonville in favor of backup Tom Savage. The decision seemed justifiable. Osweiler’s two interceptions in that game gave him more picks (16) than touchdown passes on the season.
“We don’t make decisions on how much a guy gets paid,” coach Bill O’Brien said at the time. “We make decisions on what’s the best way to win a game.”
But when Savage suffered a concussion in Week 17, opportunity knocked for Osweiler. He took advantage by leading the Texans to a 27-14 win over the Raiders in the wild-card round, completing 14 of 25 passes for 168 yards and a touchdown.
“I could definitely sense he was having fun out there,” said offensive lineman Jeff Allen. “He was playing free. It was as if we were little children.”
But what Osweiler showed most was a commitment to making good decisions with the football, going interception-free in the win. Against the Patriots, keeping turnovers to a minimum will be critical.
“We emphasize that we can’t give the opponent any extra opportunities,” said offensive coordinator George Godsey. “We can’t give them a short field, we can’t give them anything where they can get momentum. He understands that.”
For Osweiler, the confidence he picked up a year ago the first time he faced Brady and the Patriots will be key when they meet again Saturday.
“I think having confidence and believing in yourself and your teammates is huge in any game,” Osweiler said. “So, this game is no different. If we’re going to be able to go up to New England, a place that is very difficult to win in . . . it starts with believing and developing confidence.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @julianbenbow.