From the two bombs that gave Denver what appeared to be an impenetrable lead to the final play of regulation that saw a Kansas City play fall short of a game-tying touchdown by a few inches only to be correctly overturned on replay to give the Chiefs the TD by a few inches to the trading of opening overtime field goals to an inexplicable Denver possession late in OT that finished with a missed 62-yard field-goal attempt to the wildest field-goal finish of the year that saw a drilled left upright somehow carom a Cairo Santos kick just inside the right upright as time expired.
Insanity. There’s too much to cover, so let’s start at the ending and work backward:
1. The Santos field goal, from 34 yards out, was hardly a gimme, especially given the three shanked, short kicks that have happened in the two ties the NFL has already seen this season. It looked like there’d be another when Santos’s kick looked like it’d go wide left then plunked the upright with so much force it sounded like a subway drummer hitting a bucket. But somehow, a split-second after the plunk, which surely was going to bounce the ball back toward the field, fans (and players) saw the shocking sight of the official under the right upright raising his hands to signal that it was good. Replay showed the ball scooted in, moving completely horizontally, by a few inches.
2. That field goal was set up by Gary Kubiak sending out kicker Brandon McManus for a 62-yard field-goal attempt with 1:08 remaining in overtime. Michele Tafoya reported before the kick that McManus told her before the game his limit was 60 yards. Given that those kind of conversations are like talking to someone who just went fishing — people always round up quite liberally — you figured McManus probably was good from only 55. That made going for it football suicide, as the miss gave Kansas City the ball in Denver territory, needing about 15-20 yards with plenty of time (and a timeout) to get into comfortable field-goal range.
3. It was a bold, bad decision — one that presented a classic risk-reward scenario for Kubiak. The risk was obvious, as stated above. The reward, also obvious. But the odds of the reward (despite the thin air of Mile High, figure McManus has a 20 percent chance of making one of the longest field goals in NFL history, one that was 5 yards longer than his previous best) didn’t outweigh the risk, which was virtually assured to give Kansas City a far better chance of winning the game than Denver had putting McManus in for the boot. A tie, while not preferred, is better than risking a loss, particularly when it’s the difference between second and third place in a stacked AFC West. A tie leaves both teams at 7-3-1 and in a footrace to the end of the season. The loss puts Denver at 7-4, behind 8-3 Kansas City and 9-2 Oakland. The Broncos are almost certainly out of the AFC West race now and will have to rely on a wild card to make the postseason. Plenty of people will say Kubiak punting means he was giving up on the game and not playing to win. Maybe. But if he ties, his team controls its own destiny for the playoffs. With that loss, they no longer do, slipping behind Miami for the moment. It’s not about one night, it’s about the long game. That’s playing to win.
4. Less hyped but equally bad was Denver’s decision to throw on third-and-10 with 1:12 left. If Kubiak had already decided to kick the field goal, why not run the ball, gain a few yards (Kansas City would have been sitting back to defend against a deep pass and the middle of the field would have been clear for a couple steps), run the clock down and then kick the field goal with 20 seconds left? In that case, the risk would have outweighed the reward. McManus would have been a few yards closer and Alex Smith would have had less time to orchestrate the final drive.
5. The NFL was *thisclose* to its third tie of the season, which would have been the most since the league introduced overtime in 1974. It was already leading to chatter about how the new rules in the extra session (the kicking team can match an opening field goal) are leading to too many ties and what, if anything, can be done about it. Plenty can be done but nothing should. Ties are a necessary evil and a penalty for teams that can’t make a kick or play good enough defense to prevent one. While Kubiak’s decision seemed foolish in the moment and was confirmed seconds later, there’s some excitement that he recognized the value in a win and not playing for a tie. (He was wrong, but it was nice to see.) That game doesn’t have the classic finish if they would have kept playing after 75 minutes.
6. In the ever-changing sport of football, there’s always been one constant: People love to rip on the officials. They’re calling too many penalties, they’re not calling enough, they’re biased against your team, they’re biased against any team that’s not the Cowboys, they can’t even get replay review right after looking at it for four minutes and they’re so myopic they miss the most obvious calls in front of their faces. So, when they get it right, give them credit. The overturning of the Chiefs pass play with 12 seconds left — which moved the spot from the half-yard line to inside the goal line all because Tyreek Hill bobbled the pass as he was falling backward into the end zone and only gained possession once he was clearly inside — was far more difficult than it looked to viewers on TV. There’s a certain aversion to go against the call on the field, especially in a game-changing situation (as evidenced by the fourth-down spot in the Ohio State/Michigan game). For that, Pete Morelli deserves his props.
7. There was some talk on Twitter that Bennie Fowler, who hauled in a 76-yard touchdown with three minutes remaining and the Broncos up one, should have pulled a Brian Westbrook and taken a knee before the end zone so Denver could have milked the clock without giving the ball back to Kansas City, who had no timeouts. Eh. First, it’s hard to criticize a guy who had eight receptions for 59 yards entering Sunday’s game then all of a sudden found himself with the the ball placed in his arms like it was dropped from on high and nothing but green and an end zone in front of him. But more importantly, it would have been the wrong move. Operating under this theory, the Broncos would have kneeled with three minutes left, snapped on second down with 2:20 left, had the clock stop at the two-minute warning and then kneeled on the next play, leaving approximately 80 seconds for the Chiefs to march down the field after Denver went up four (on a theoretical Broncos field goal). It wouldn’t have been a smart play, it’d have been a disaster.
8. It was a brilliant fourth quarter by Trevor Siemian, the once-ignored man on the Denver depth chart who was at various times behind Brock Osweiler, Mark Sanchez and Paxton Lynch. The Northwestern product threw for 99 yards on two passes to Emmanuel Sanders on the go-ahead touchdown that put the Broncos up 17-16. On the next drive he threw that perfect ball to Fowler that should have landed in the hands of Bennie Fowler like it had been gently dropped from a cloud. He was less efficient in overtime but still should never have walked off that field without a tie.
9. Welcome to the NFL, Tyreek Hill. The disgraced Oklahoma State receiver who went to West Alabama for his senior season and was taken in the fifth round by the Chiefs became the first rookie with a rushing, receiving and return TD in a single game since Gale Sayers in 1965.
10. What will the Chiefs and Broncos do for an encore? We’ll find out four weeks from tonight when the teams meet in Denver again at 8:30 p.m. ET. The date? December 25th. Merry Christmas.