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Stafford Replaces Peyton Manning In Pro Bowl

ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Pro Football Writer

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — As Peyton Manning ponders his football future, he's concluded one thing: He won't play in the Pro Bowl next weekend in Glendale, Arizona.

Manning said his right thigh injury hasn't gotten much better in the week since the Denver Broncos were bounced from the playoffs by Indianapolis.

The five-time NFL MVP extended his QB record with his 14th Pro Bowl selection this season, tying center Bruce Matthews and tight end Tony Gonzalez for the most in NFL history.

Manning calls it "a great honor" to be selected to the game and he's "always taken the obligation to play in it very seriously."

"I've believed that, if healthy, it's a player's responsibility to play in the game because of what it means to be voted in by your peers and the fans," Manning said.

"I'm disappointed that I'm just not healthy enough this year to be part of it. It's going to be tough not being down there with the other guys, but it hasn't had enough time to heal."

The NFL was informed of Manning's decision Sunday. Detroit's Matthew Stafford was added to the Pro Bowl to replace him.

Manning was injured late in the first half of a 22-10 win at San Diego on Dec. 14 and missed a handful of snaps to get treatment just before halftime. He returned to play the entire second half and didn't miss any more time with the injury.

It clearly affected his play, however, culminating with eight overthrows in Denver's 24-13 loss to the Colts last weekend. He also had an incompletion into tight coverage on a third-and-5 play in which he bypassed the run even though he had a 20-yard gap between him and any defender.

Manning blamed the thigh injury on dehydration from a nasty flu bug the night before the game.

This is the first time Manning is skipping the league's annual all-star game for a reason other than preparing for an upcoming Super Bowl. He missed it in 2010 with the Colts and again in 2014 with the Broncos. He played in the 2007 all-star game a week after winning his only Super Bowl title.

Manning finished second in the league this year with 39 touchdown passes and was in the top five with 4,727 yards passing and a 101.5 passer rating. But he faded down the stretch when he was bothered by both the thigh injury and opponents clogging underneath crossing routes.

Manning was one of a league-high 10 Broncos selected to the Pro Bowl, five on each side of the ball. With such a star-studded roster, the Broncos had a "Super Bowl or bust" mentality as they sought to return to the title game and atone for last year's 35-point loss to the Seahawks.

Their flat performance in losing 24-13 to the Colts last weekend rocked the organization and led to a split with coach John Fox, who was hired Friday as Marc Trestman's replacement in Chicago.

That loss also led Manning to reassess his future. After saying in December that he planned to return for an 18th season in the NFL and fourth in Denver, Manning said after the game that he was unsure about returning or retiring.

Manning, who turns 39 in March, has two years and $38 million left on his five-year contract.

GM John Elway met with Manning on Monday and asked him not to make a rash decision. Elway said he'd check in with Manning during his search for a new head coach but didn't need a decision from his quarterback for a month or so.

Elway's search for Fox's replacement took him and team president Joe Ellis to Houston on Sunday along with other Broncos officials to meet with Gary Kubiak, the Ravens' offensive coordinator and former Texans head coach.

The sides were hashing out details of a four-year contract Sunday night, a person with knowledge of the negotiations told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team wasn't making any announcements Sunday.

Two other candidates, Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase and Bengals defensive backs coach Vance Joseph, met with Elway in Denver last week, Gase on Thursday and Joseph on Friday.

Kubiak was Elway's backup QB from 1983-91 and Denver's offensive coordinator from 1995-2005 under Mike Shanahan, and he helped devise the blueprints for Elway's back-to-back Super Bowl championships that capped his Hall of Fame playing career.

Hall of Fame finalist and NFL Network analyst Terrell Davis, Elway's co-pilot on those title runs, said "Oh, man, if it's Kubiak, that would be great. I'd love to see him back in Denver. John Elway said at the podium the other day that he knew what it took to win a championship. Well, who else was there when he won a championship? Kubiak."


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(© Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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