NFL AM: Broncos Play To Win, Don’t


When Playing To Win Goes Wrong

Sunday night’s heavyweight AFC West battle between the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos certainly didn’t disappoint, as K.C. came away with a 30-27 victory in overtime.

This game featured dominating defense with two of the best pass rushers in football in Justin Houston and Von Miller, a fourth quarter where Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian looked like Tom Brady and a coaches decision that went awry.

With just 61 seconds remaining in the overtime period Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak had a decision to make.  His team faced a 4th-and-10 from the Kansas City 45-yard line.  Punting the football would likely mean that the game would end in a tie.  Kubiak decided to send kicker Brandon McManus out for a 62-yard field goal attempt, which he hooked left.

“It’s on me,” Kubiak said, explaining the move despite having a new long snapper. “We didn’t have any doubt that he could get the ball there. The thought process was on the other end: if we do punt, do we get the ball back?”

McManus was confident in his abilities.

“That’s still well within my range. I just kind of hit the ground,” McManus said. “From that distance, everything kind of needs to be perfect just because of how far you are away. It didn’t happen for me.”

Kansas City took over on the Denver 48-yard line and matriculated the football down the field, setting up a 34-yard field goal by Cairo Santos, which banked off the left upright and snuck through for the win.

“Cairo, he kept us all in suspense with that bank shot, or the chip shot, or whatever it is,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said.

Lost in the victory was the great play of Trevor Siemian, who was the best quarterback on the field.  Trying to find a comparison for him is pretty tough, but right now he seems like a mix between Tony Romo and Eli Manning.

The Chiefs may have found a legitimate playmaker in rookie Tyreek Hill.  He has game-breaking speed and it seems like the team is finding ways to use him.

Bucs Are Ahead Of Schedule

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers put themselves behind the proverbial 8-ball three weeks ago after they dropped a Thursday night game to the Atlanta Falcons, 43-28 and fell to 3-5.

There were questions about Dirk Koetter’s head coaching acumen, Jameis Winston’s leadership abilities and the defense was one of the league’s worst.

Since then, the team has ripped off three straight wins, including victories on the road at Kansas City last week and possibly even more impressive, Sunday’s victory over the Seattle Seahawks, where the Bucs completely throttled Russell Wilson and the ‘Hawks offense.

“We’re playing good team football right now and playing really good team defense,” Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter explained after Sunday’s victory. “Ever since the little mini-bye, the Thursday night game (against the Falcons), Smitty [Mike Smith] and the defensive coaches cut it back a little bit, simplified things, maybe doing a little bit less. Let these guys play faster and they’ve responded. We’ve got good depth.

The real question is how good are the Bucs?  In terms of being a legitimate contender.

The first obstacle will be getting to the postseason for the first time in nine years.  With there being a logjam in terms of Wildcard contenders and the team having to leapfrog over three teams for two spots, it appears that the Bucs easiest and most advantageous way to the postseason will be as NFC South champions.  They currently trail the Atlanta Falcons by one game in the standings with no head-to-head matchups left (they split the two meetings).

Assuming that they do make it to the postseason, how much damage can this team actually do?  If you compare this year’s Bucs to last year’s Carolina Panthers, you’ll find that Tampa is more than just a poor man’s version of the 2015 NFC champs.

Winston might not be the league MVP at season’s end, but he has shown the propensity to put an offense on his back and he’s best in crunch time.  Sure, Winston doesn’t run the read-option, but the Bucs do have a solid rushing attack led by the more than capable Doug Martin.

“We’ve got such great leadership starting with our quarterback,” Koetter explained. “We did overcome adversity, not just lifetime adversity but game adversity. There were plenty of times when things didn’t go our way today and we were able to hang in there and keep playing. That’s something we’ve been working on hard for a long time. So that was great to see.’’

The Panthers best receiver last year was Ted Ginn.  Tampa’s Mike Evans is significantly better.  The Bucs defense as a whole isn’t as good, but they have impact players on each level and the addition of Vernon Hargreaves has made them respectable.

“I always throw Mike the ball and I always talk about he’s my superstar,” Winston said. “Ya’ll always ask me why do you throw Mike the ball so much? I never understand those questions.”

If Tampa is in the postseason, they aren’t going to be a favorite by any means.  That doesn’t mean they should be looked past.  After beating the Chiefs in Arrowhead and the Seahawks, the Bucs have proved that there isn’t a game they’re going to enter not feeling confident.

NFL Bottom Feeders Serving As Bye Weeks

As the final month of the regular season approaches there are a handful of teams who have been without playoff aspirations for quite some time that are “playing for pride,” or “embracing the spoiler role.”

At least they should be.

That doesn’t seem like the case in 2016 as the NFL’s bottom feeders are simply serving as bye weeks for everyone else.

The 2-9 Jacksonville Jaguars have lost six straight games, and while not all of them were blowouts there’s a reasonable expectation that no matter how the game is going the Jaguars are going to find a way to grasp defeat from the jaws of victory.

“I think we’ve had a little bit of Murphy’s Law — if it can go wrong, it will go wrong, and at the most inopportune time,” Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles said. “But it’s up to us to make a play rather than leave it up to luck or a bounce or a call.”

One of the Jaguars two victories came against the Chicago Bears, who are also 2-9.  Chicago has dropped three straight games and are on their third starting quarterback, journeyman Matt Barkley.

We can’t talk about hapless teams without bringing up the winless Cleveland Browns.  Cleveland has gone into full tank mode and they’re probably not as good as their 0-12 record would suggest.

“Being 0-12 is probably … the hardest thing ever,” Browns head coach Hue Jackson said after their latest loss.

“I don’t like losing,” Jackson said. “I never have and never will. I’ve had my butt kicked up enough over my shoulders enough this season that I really don’t need my butt kicked anymore.”

Losing might be hard as Jackson suggests, but his team makes it look easy.  They’ve seemingly lost confidence and fight, and they simply aren’t talented enough to compete with anyone else in the NFL.

The fourth of the bye week bandits is the once proud franchise known as the San Francisco 49ers.  As bad as the Niners were last year to get their head coach Jim Tomsula dismissed, they’re much worse in Chip Kelly’s first year at the helm.  San Francisco is 1-10, and although they play hard, they don’t have the offensive weaponry to succeed.  The Niners have been outscored by 116 points this season, second worst to only the Browns (-155).

Any team that sees the Jags, Bears, Browns or 49ers on their schedule should feel fortunate.  Although anyone theoretically can beat anyone in the NFL, these four teams have a grand total of five wins, with exactly one win over a team that’s currently .500 or better.  It’s as close to a bye week as an NFL team can get.

About Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein is the managing football editor for Football Insiders and has covered the NFL for over a decade.  Charlie has hosted drive time radio for NBC and ESPN affiliates in different markets around the country, along with being an NFL correspondent for ESPN Radio and WFAN.  He has been featured on the NFL Network as well as Sirius/XM NFL Radio and has been published on Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated, ESPN as well as numerous other publications.