No one should ever be asked to make a decision like Denver football coach Gary Kubiak had to make Sunday night in the Broncos’ wild overtime loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Tie game, 1:08 left in OT, Denver has the ball on the Chiefs’ 44-yard line, 4th and 10.
What is Kubiak to do? There are three choices:
▪ The Broncos can punt and pin Kansas City deep in its own territory with many yards to go and only one timeout to use. Yes, this is conceding a tie, but you never know. Perhaps the Chiefs muff the punt or turn the ball over in their haste to get down the field.
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▪ Denver can go for it. The Broncos had been 9 for 20 on third down previously and converted its only fourth-down attempt. Denver quarterback Trevor Siemian had passed for 368 yards and three touchdowns and the Broncos were clicking on big plays. They’re also paying receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas a lot of money.
▪ The Broncos could try a field goal, sending 25-year-old Brandon McManus on the field in 38-degree cold to attempt a 62-yarder, five yards longer than his career best. McManus had been 55 of 61 during his career on field-goal attempts inside 50 yards, but only seven for 14 on kicks 50 yards or longer.
Denver had no timeouts, so Kubiak’s decision had to be quick and, I presume, well thought out. He’s in practice every day with McManus and knows his capabilities better than any of us.
I suspect Kubiak’s brain was firing in every direction as he attempted to come to a conclusion and here, I believe, are some of the thoughts that he was going through:
“What do I do? WHAT DO I DO? I’ll ask Wade Phillips . . . no, he’s a defensive guy. I’ve seen McManus kick 62-yarders . . . or was that Matt Prater when he was here.
“OK, OK, calm down. If I punt I’ll get crucified by the fans. A tie? At home? Against the Chiefs? But is a tie so bad? 7-3-1 sure looks a lot better than 7-4. Doesn’t it? I need to throw up.
“McManus can do this. The ball is flying here tonight. Absolutely flying. He’ll make the kick and this will be one of the biggest wins of the season. I’ll look like a genius. My wife might even be a little frisky when I get home.
“But what if he misses? McManus has never kicked a 62-yarder. I’m not sure he can even see the goal post from 62 yards. And what if it’s blocked? My wife is gonna hate me if we kick this thing.
“All right, we’re going to go for it. Fourth-and-10 is doable, especially the way we’ve been making big plays. Siemian has been unreal . . . OMG, Justin Houston. He’s a beast. He’ll probably knock down three of our pass blockers and sack Siemian and the Chiefs will only need one first down to set up a field goal. I’ll look like a fool.
“I just looked up at (John) Elway. He looks angry. I don’t know he would be angry, but he sure doesn’t look happy that we’re in this situation against a team that couldn’t move the ball against our defense for three quarters. And here we are in a tie game in overtime against Alex Freaking Smith.
“We gotta punt the ball. OMG, Tyreek Hill. He’s been killing us. You think I’m gonna give the ball back to the Chiefs so Hill can run 90 yards for a touchdown? There’s no way.
“Breathe, Gary. Breathe. You got this. Let’s go with McManus and try the field goal. Hey, stranger things have happened than him actually making this. I’m trying to think of something more strange. Come on, COME ON, think. Well, there’s Trump being president. So, yeah, McManus can do this. I mean, what could possibly happen? He misses and the Chiefs kick one off the left upright to beat us? Ha ha, sometimes I’m pretty funny. OMG, McManus? Why’d we ever get rid of Prater? (Note: Prater is 4 for 4 from 50-plus yards this season, by the way, for the Detroit Lions and 33 of 42 in his career).
“I feel good about this. Brandon is such a great kid and this will really be good for him . . . Oh no. NO, NO, NO, NO, NO!!! He didn’t even get the ball to the post. What was I thinking? We’re gonna lose this game and not get into the playoffs and my decision is going to be debated for the rest of history. I’m a fool, an absolute fool. Don’t look at Elway, whatever you do. DO NOT LOOK AT ELWAY!”
By the way, I’d have punted and taken a tie.