Had the bold plans of the Denver Broncos come to fruition in the wildest NFL game of the season, we might be calling their iconic home Mile Long Stadium.
But the 62-yard field-goal attempt by Brandon McManus drifted wide left with 1 minute 8 seconds remaining in overtime Sunday night, giving the Kansas City Chiefs possession at midfield with enough time to counter with a field-goal drive that secured a 30-27 victory.
On Monday, Broncos Coach Gary Kubiak defended the decision to try the super-long kick — one yard shy of the league record — instead of going for it on fourth and 10 or punting and essentially playing for a tie. That kick was five yards longer than McManus’ career best.
“We need to win our divisional football games and we had a chance to do it with something that our kicker has done before,” Kubiak told reporters. “[McManus] did it before the game. I know it’s tough. I know it’s a tough kick, but it’s something he’s done. It’s me showing confidence in him and confidence in our defense if it doesn’t happen. I believe in our football team. We’re going out there to battle our tails off and try to win a football game.”
Both teams were well aware of what the runaway Oakland Raiders had done hours earlier, defeating the visiting Carolina Panthers, 35-32, for their fifth consecutive victory and tightening their grip on the AFC West with a 9-2 record. Had the Raiders lost, Kubiak might have been more risk averse when it came to that field-goal try. As it stood, though, a tie would have turned a good day for Oakland into a great one, with both the Chiefs and Broncos taking a half-step backward.
The Raiders have a difficult stretch run, facing all three division opponents on the road as well as home games against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday and Indianapolis Colts on Christmas Eve. Those road games might be particularly daunting for another team, but the Raiders are 5-0 away from home.
The Chiefs are a game back at 8-3, and finish with bookend road games sandwiched around a three-game home stretch. They play at Atlanta, then home against the Raiders, Tennessee Titans and Broncos before closing at San Diego.
The 7-4 Broncos, defending Super Bowl champions, have an uphill climb, with road games at Jacksonville and Tennessee the next two weeks before facing the New England Patriots at home, the Chiefs on the road and a finale against the Raiders. Oakland posted a 15-12 victory at Denver last December, with Khalil Mack sacking Brock Osweiler five times in the second half.
Even though San Diego is far off the pace at 5-6, the Chargers are always dangerous with Philip Rivers at quarterback and the league’s fourth-leading rusher in Melvin Gordon.
All four NFC West teams lost Sunday, with the Rams and Arizona Cardinals getting blown out on the road, the Seattle Seahawks scoring only five points at Tampa Bay and the San Francisco 49ers falling at Miami to drop to 1-10.
That said, the outlook remains good for the Seahawks, who at 7-3-1 have a three-game advantage over the second-place Cardinals, the biggest lead by any division-leading team.
Records-wise, the Seahawks have the easiest finish of any team in the league, with games against the Panthers, Green Bay Packers and division opponents the Rams, Arizona and San Francisco, teams that were a combined 17-36-1 heading into Monday night’s game between the Packers and Philadelphia Eagles. Through Sunday, none of those teams had won more than four games.
Marcus the marksman
Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota has thrown multiple touchdown passes in eight consecutive games. Only one quarterback in NFL history had a longer such streak in his first two seasons: Dan Marino, who strung together 10 multiple-touchdown games for the Miami Dolphins in 1984, his second season.
The Titans have a week off before playing host to Denver, which boasts the NFL’s No. 1 pass defense.