DENVER – You’re Denver Broncos coach Gary Kubiak. Make the right call.
Your offense faces a fourth-and-10 in a tie game against the Kansas City Chiefs, with 1:08 left in overtime. The ball is on the Chiefs’ 44, so it would be a 62-yard field-goal attempt. There are a ton of peripheral factors to consider, too – a tie still leaves you a game-and-a-half behind the AFC West-leading Oakland Raiders with five games left, all your players are exhausted after 74 minutes of intense football, kicker Brandon McManus’ field-goal percentage at that moment was 88.5 for the season, and so forth. McManus, as usual, figured out his range after kicking in pregame. Tonight, he says his range is about 68 yards. He has hit 60-yarders in practice.
And you have to make this decision in about two minutes (you get a little extra time since you used your last timeout) with millions watching at home and 76,819 in the stadium waiting. Good luck.
Here are your three realistic options:
1. Go for it
This is probably the least popular option, but it is an option. A first down ensures you’re in field-goal range. An incompletion does save 8 yards of field position, in comparison to a missed field goal. And maybe you pick up some yards but don’t get the first down, pushing the Chiefs a little further back for their last drive. Most people would probably settle on one of the final two choices, however.
This virtually ensures a tie. A tie leaves you at 7-3-1, tied with the Chiefs for second place in the AFC West. It would be hard to live with a tie if you finish a half-game behind the Raiders, or a half-game out of a playoff spot. A half-win isn’t the worst thing, however, and there’s only a small chance you lose in the final minute after the punt.
3. Try a 62-yard field goal
McManus’ longest NFL field goal is 57 yards, though he is a solid long-distance kicker (7 of 13 on 50-yard field goals in his career, before Sunday night). You’ve seen him hit field goals from 60 yards and longer in practice, though that’s obviously not the same as kicking in a game.
“That’s still well within my range” McManus said of trying a 62-yarder.
The NFL record for a made field goal is 64 yards, though it was set by Matt Prater in this stadium, with the help of altitude.
So what would you decide? Kubiak went for the field goal, the riskiest of the three options. McManus said he hit the ground a bit as he kicked, and the attempt was way off. The Chiefs took possession on the Broncos’ 48-yard line, gained 32 yards and Cairo Santos banked in a 34-yard game-winning field goal as time expired for a 30-27 win. The Broncos are now two games back of the Raiders in the AFC West with five games left.
Kubiak took in all the factors in a short time – he said he hadn’t determined what he would do before an incomplete pass on third down – and boiled it down to one thing: He’ll play to win.
“My thing is we’re going to try to win around here,” Kubiak said. “I made that decision. It just didn’t work out.”
Kubiak said one factor that weighed heavily into the decision was that Denver had no timeouts left. There was no chance of the Broncos punting and then using timeouts to stop the clock and get the ball back.
“If you did have your timeouts, you know, maybe – maybe – you think about punting it down there and seeing if you can get the ball back,” Kubiak said. “I don’t know. We’re going to try to win. I’ve seen ‘B-Mac’ do that many times in practice.”
It’s a gutsy decision that would have been praised if it worked. And it will be criticized by many because it didn’t, even though everyone seemed to agree the kick was in McManus’ range.
Kubiak will be second-guessed, but his players were on his side.
“I’m with it,” outside linebacker Von Miller said. “’B-Mac’ is one of the best kickers in the National Football League. I’m cool with that one. What, are we going to play for the tie? Or are we trying to win the game? I’m 100 percent behind ‘Kub’ right there.”
“We have confidence in ‘B-Mac,’” cornerback Chris Harris said. “We’ve seen him kick 60-yarders. We know he has the leg strength for it.”
Kubiak’s decision didn’t lose the game. There were numerous special-teams problems. The defense allowed a long game-tying drive at the end of regulation and couldn’t get a stop after McManus’ overtime miss. The offense didn’t do much before the fourth quarter.
“We did everything we possibly could to lose the game,” Miller said. “We did everything we possibly could in every phase of the football game. And guess what? We lost.”
But it’s Kubiak’s decision that can be easily debated. There doesn’t seem to be one technically correct choice he could have made. Some Broncos fans wouldn’t have been happy punting and accepting a tie. Some fans are undeniably upset the missed field goal, just 2 yards shorter than the longest in NFL history, set the Chiefs up for a win.
Kubiak has been in the NFL as a player and a coach for a long time. He understands the ramifications when a decision like that goes wrong.
“It’s on me,” he said.
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