NFL Sunday Night Football. Kansas City at Denver in a AFC West showdown. Game is in overtime with just over a minute remaining. Denver ball, fourth-and-10 at the Chiefs’ 44 yard line. Broncos’ head coach Gary Kubiak has one timeout left. He uses it. He needs to think it over. Should he let his kicker, Brandon McManus, attempt a game-winning 62-yard field goal? Should he punt the ball to force Kansas City a longer drive, with under a minute on the clock, to attempt its own game-winning field goal? Or should he run a fourth-down play in an attempt to get McManus a shorter kick?
Here are some other factors. McManus’ career long field goal is 57 yards. We later learned he has made a 70-yarder in practice in much warmer conditions. It was 38 degrees in Denver on Sunday night. Another factor is Denver’s position in the AFC West pennant race. As Kubiak pondered the decision, Oakland (9-2) was 1.5 games up on Denver and Kansas City (both 7-3), and the Broncos had the worst division tiebreaker situation, at just 1-2 in the division. Among the three teams, a tie between the Chiefs and Broncos would help Oakland the most and hurt Denver the most. A loss, obviously, would hurt more than a tie.
For those who stayed up past midnight Sunday night and watched the drama, you witnessed what happened. Personally, I would have done what Kubiak chose. He went with his kicker. The snap was good. The hold was good. McManus, in trying to get a little extra on the kick, hit the ground first, and the resulting line drive hooked left, long enough but nowhere near splitting the uprights. Kansas City took over at the Denver 48 yard line and marched down the field in short order where it kicked a game-winning field goal.
So, what would you have done?
Remember the skepticism surrounding both Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota before the 2015 draft? Winston was turnover prone on the field and his personal life off the field left a great deal to be desired. Mariota was a product of a system in Oregon in which the quarterback didn’t think much while running a system. Still, they went 1-2 in the draft, Winston to Tampa Bay and Mariota to Tennessee. So let’s see how they are doing in year two.
Winston has the Bucs at 6-5 entering December; they’re a game in back of first-place Atlanta in the NFC South. He’s 10th in the league with 2,900 passing yards after Tampa’s 14-5 upset of NFC West-leading Seattle on Sunday. Mariota and the Titans are 6-6 heading into their bye week. After a slow start, Mariota is 5-3 and one of the hottest quarterbacks in football over the last half-season. His rating in the past eight games is 117.7; his touchdown-to-interception differential is 21-3. Even more impressively, in his year-and-two-thirds, he’s thrown 32 red zone touchdowns with zero interceptions.
Arizona (4-6-1) and Carolina (4-7), last year’s NFC Championship Game participants, both lost on the road Sunday. The results all but eliminating them from playoff contention. It’s rare and somewhat amazing, really, how quickly the demise has taken place for both franchises. Both teams need to shore up their offensive lines if they are to be in playoff contention again next season.
Kirk Cousins of the Washington Redskins will get his money. The Skins’ quarterback put up some huge numbers over the past three weeks and has clearly cemented himself as a top-10 quarterback in the NFL. During the span of time while playing Minnesota, Green Bay, and Dallas, Cousins, who remember was the second quarterback drafted by Washington in 2013 (RG III), has completed 72% of his passes while amassing 362 yards a game. His TD-INT ratio was 8-0. Here are what the top quarterbacks are making. Where do you think Cousins will fall? Andrew Luck’s ($24.6 million) and Drew Brees’s ($24.3 million) average deals are at the top, followed in a cluster by Joe Flacco, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson and Ben Roethlisberger, all between $21.8 million and $22.2 million. Then come six veterans between $20 million and $21 million annually, and then Cousins’ one-year deal at $19.95 million. Cousins’ average is 13th now. Since he won the Washington starting job to open the 2015 season, Cousins is second among all NFL quarterbacks in accuracy (69.18 percent passing), fourth in passing yards (7,706) and fourth in passer rating (101.5).
Being born and raised near Detroit, I love what the Lions are doing this season. Detroit is in first place within the NFC North with a 7-4 record. Did you know that the Lions have trailed in the fourth quarter in all 11 games. Here is the breakdown. • Trailed by one with 10 seconds left in the fourth quarter. (WIN) • Trailed by one with 10 seconds left in the fourth quarter. • Trailed by 14 with 4:00 left in the fourth quarter. • Trailed by 11 with 2:00 left in the fourth quarter. • Trailed by two with 1:30 left in the fourth quarter. (WIN) • Trailed by seven with 6:30 left in the fourth quarter (WIN). • Trailed by four with 30 seconds left in the fourth quarter. (WIN) • Trailed by 10 with 3:00 left in the fourth quarter. • Trailed by three with 20 seconds left in the fourth quarter. (WIN) • Trailed by three with 10:10 left in the fourth quarter.(WIN) • Trailed by three with 1:50 left in the fourth quarter. (WIN)
It looks like Denver did the right thing in letting quarterback Brock Osweiler walk away without offering him a big contract. Osweiler signed a huge contract with the Houston Texans and his first year as a starter is not faring well. Houston lost at home to the lowly San Diego Chargers and the Texans’ signalcaller finished with zero touchdowns and three interceptions. Osweiler now has 12 TDs and 13 interceptions on the season.
Let me close with this. I discovered over the weekend why the Cleveland Browns still do not have a quarterback. Cleveland used three draft choices while passing on Russell Wilson (75th pick overall) in 2012, three draft choices while passing on Derek Carr (36th) in 2014, and eight draft choices while passing on Dak Prescott in 2016.
Photos: Broncos Coach Kubiak, Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, and Kirk Cousins