Fri Jan 01 01:45pm EST
That appears to be the case. In a case of dysfunctional interdynamics and exceptionally bad timing, Denver Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels has benched receiver Brandon Marshall for the team's regular-season finale against the Kansas City Chiefs. The reason Marshall's riding the pine (or in the NFL vernacular, "coach's decision)? He won't play through a minor hamstring injury when the team has a wild-card berth on the line. Benching a guy because he won't play seems a tad redundant until you consider the history between Marshall and McDaniels. As part of the personnel purge that came along with McDaniels' hire, Marshall was the odd man out in the preseason when he was suspended by McDaniels for insubordination. The "tough love" approach seemed to work for a while -- Marshall put his general unhappiness and contract-related whining aside and got to work. Through the 2009 season, he's been the team's most consistent offensive weapon, catching 101 passes for 1,120 yards and 10 touchdowns.
How much have the Broncos relied on him? In a 28-16 Week 14 loss to the Colts, Marshall caught an NFL-record 21 passes, and that's over half the season total for Denver's second-leading receiver -- Jabar Gaffney(notes), with 40. Eddie Royal(notes), Marshall's former elite complement, has caught only 37 passes for 345 yards and no touchdowns, and he'll be out for this game as well.
Marshall has a bad history and the need for coaching discipline is duly noted, but the Broncos are living in Scenarioville right now when it comes to their playoff hopes. It's entirely possible that Marshall would have unstuck his head in time -- the precedent is there -- but now, McDaniel has put himself in a position where he can't un-suspend his star player without losing a lot of credibility (McDaniels has also benched tight end Tony Scheffler(notes) for the Chiefs game over attitude concerns). And while the Chiefs are terrible this year, they've also presided over the occasional upset -- they beat the Steelers in overtime and pretty much upended Washington's season.
The Broncos and Chiefs last faced off in Week 13, the game before Marshall's dance with history, and Denver dominated the game on the ground in a 44-13 win. Maybe McDaniels thinks he doesn't need Marshall for the rematch, and he can deal with the playoffs next week ... but he'd better be right about that. Missing the postseason after a 6-0 start would not reflect well on McDaniels, especially in the wake of this decision. The Broncos need to beat the Chiefs and get help if they're to avoid a very negative and noisy offseason.
Update: The Denver Post has Marshall's response to McDaniels' decision, and his assertion that there are "a lot of players that play with things that are more difficult to play with than what he has."
"I don't think coach ever played in the NFL, so for my hamstring to be feeling the way it felt, it's tough for me to go out there and expect to play at a high level," Marshall said. "So, I have battled through a lot of injuries before. I played last year with a tear in my hip, so I don't think my toughness is in question here.
"I just have got to do my best to get back to 100 percent, and hopefully things fall into place where it should be and hopefully we'll get into the playoffs and I'll be there with my teammates."
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