In QB battle, Brock Osweiler outperforms Jay Cutler

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Before Sunday, Brock Osweiler last started a football game on Dec.  22, 2011, against Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl.

He was playing for Arizona State back then, and, at 6-8, he was the tallest quarterback in the college game. He’s still 6-8, only now he’s the tallest quarterback in the NFL.

That and $3.89 will get you a grande latte at Starbucks.

But Osweiler arrived in Chicago for this game against the Bears — he recalled, without detail, having been here twice before, once for St. Patrick’s Day — and played like a guy who saw the pro game from on high.

His stats were not those of a backup lucking into the starter’s role because of injury. Even though that was the case.

He completed 20 of 27 passes for 250 yards and two touchdowns, with no interceptions, for an outstanding 127.1 passer rating in the Broncos’ 17-15 victory. His leadership put him in Peyton Manning territory, which is interesting because that’s whom he was replacing. And it makes one wonder if the replacement might go on and on, like Steve Young after Joe Montana or Aaron Rodgers after Brett Favre.

Indeed, Manning might not just be suffering from a foot problem. At 39½, with more dents in him than an old school bus, the first-ballot future Hall of Famer might be approaching total rust-out.

Osweiler mopped up for him last week after Manning threw four interceptions in 2½ quarters in a 29-13 loss to the Chiefs. Manning’s passer rating for that game was 0.0.

We can speculate all we want about Manning’s future, and first-year coach Gary Kubiak didn’t exactly take a stand on the matter. Would Manning be back in the saddle next week?

‘‘Like I said, we are going to enjoy winning today,’’ said Kubiak, a former quarterback who was shrewd enough to play nine NFL seasons in Denver, while throwing only 298 passes.

The thing about Osweiler is that even in this oddly coached, low-scoring affair, he outplayed Jay Cutler, who supposedly had finally put it all together.

Cutler threw for 265 yards and had a couple of nice scrambles, but he did the old self-detonation thing twice. He threw a pass in the third quarter that linebacker Danny Trevathan picked off in the middle of the field and ran back to the Bears’ 25.

And with less than three minutes to play, with the Bears at the Broncos’ 33, trailing 17-9, Cutler fumbled while trying to pass, and the Broncos recovered.

Cutler ended up with a low-class 70.4 rating, ending his seven-game stretch of 88.0 or higher.

What did Osweiler do that Cutler didn’t?

First and foremost, he didn’t turn the ball over. It helped, perhaps, that the Broncos were always ahead, if just by a little, and Osweiler didn’t have to lead a comeback.

But he likely could have done that, too. In the fourth quarter, when his 10-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Cody Latimer gave the Broncos a critical eight-point lead, he was 4-for-6 for 56 yards, no picks and a TD.

Cutler, once again, was the master of too little, too late. (Don’t get me started on some of coach John Fox’s calls, please.) He wasn’t helped by the Bears giving up 170 rushing yards. But you expect Cutler, at this point in his career, to actually muscle up and win some games that seem doubtful.

At this point, Osweiler can relax and let his future come to him. The dude’s batting 1.000 as an NFL starter, you know.

And, brother, is he thankful for having learned at the feet of the onetime master, Mr. Manning, whose TV commercials these days outstrip his play afield for entertainment and professionalism.

‘‘I was comfortable from the very first snap,’’ said Osweiler, who’s only 25, though in his fourth year in the NFL. ‘‘[But] today is not about me.’’

We’ll disagree there, even if the tall guy never starts another game in his life. His strong arm, vision and athleticism were all about him on Sunday.

‘‘Aw, man,’’ Bears linebacker Pernell McPhee said, ‘‘he had better pocket awareness than I thought.’’

Osweiler might have turned down a basketball ride to Gonzaga, but he gained a football grad degree from Manning.

‘‘The list of things I’ve learned from Peyton is endless,’’ he said. ‘‘I don’t know if anybody believed me [the last few years], but I really was telling the truth: I have not wasted a single day sitting behind him.’’

Sorry, Bears. If only he’d been dozing.

Follow me on Twitter @ricktelander.

Email: rtelander@suntimes.com

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