As it stands now, half a loaf would have been better than none.
A mere 45 years after the regrettable Lou Saban era, the late Denver Broncos coach was finally justified with his infamous decision. Against the terrific, up-and-coming Miami Dolphins in the 1971 season opener, Saban chose to settle for a 10-10 tie by calling Floyd Little runs rather than Don Horn passes in the final seconds.
“Half a loaf is better than none,’’ Saban explained afterward.
That didn’t go over well in this town. But even with all the bread loaves that littered the Mile High Stadium field in the Broncos’ next home game, accepting a tie wasn’t Saban’s worst decision. See the careers of Willie Brown with the Oakland Raiders and Curley Culp with the Kansas City Chiefs.
As a practical matter, the odds overwhelmingly told Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak he would have been better off punting the ball from the Kansas City 44-yard line with 1:08 left in overtime on Sunday night, rather than have Brandon McManus attempt a 62-yard field goal.
I’m not sure what Mitch Tanney, Mark Thewes and the Broncos’ analytical team computed upstairs, but using my own common sense, Kubiak’s predicament broke down this way:
Attempt the low-percentage field goal and the Broncos would have 25 percent chance of winning, 50 percent chance of losing and 25 percent chance of the game ending in a 27-27 tie.
Those percentages say it was foolish to try. Too much risk of defeat, not enough odds for victory.
It is to the credit of McManus’ talent that I give him a 25 percent chance of making it from that distance. It’s not just the leg strength and altitude on kicks that far away. It’s leg strength and keeping the flight of the ball between the uprights.
The 50 percent chance of losing stems from giving Kansas City the ball on the Broncos’ 48 meant they basically would have needed just one first down to get into field goal range. That I gave the Broncos a 25 percent chance to fight off the Chiefs for a tie is testament to the Denver defense, which is still very good, if no longer great.
The problem is Kubiak’s best second option still offered an unsavory result. Punt the ball and the Broncos would have had – again according to my own logic -- 10 percent chance to win (must give some odds for a turnover), 70 percent chance for a tie and 20 percent chance the Chiefs would have drove against the Broncos’ soft coverage into field goal range.
Kubiak went for it and got burned. McManus’ kick was short and wide. The Chiefs picked up two first downs and Cairo Santos banked in the winning field goal. Broncos lose.
If Kubiak punts, takes the tie and the Broncos are 7-3-1 today instead of 7-4, they are leading Adam Gase’s 7-4 Miami Dolphins by a half game for what would be the sixth and final AFC playoff spot. That’s because if the season ended today, the Dolphins would have the tiebreaker because they are 5-3 against conference teams while the Broncos are 4-3 within the AFC.
The season doesn’t end today. There are still five games remaining. Still, if the Broncos miss the playoffs on a tiebreaker with, say, a 10-6 record, then the machismo of going for the win will run counter to the big picture ramifications of making the playoffs.
Try telling that to the guys who just battled for 74 minutes in a hard-hitting, back-and-forth, AFC West football game.
Or sell that to the fans who would have repeated history by smuggling in bread loaves to the Broncos’ next home game, Dec. 18 against New England.
I still would have made the same decision Kubiak did. Big picture be danged.
Say Kubiak did punt. Now picture the quiet deflation on the Broncos’ sideline.
Von Miller would think, “I guess coach doesn’t trust our defense to stop them.”
McManus would think, “I guess coach doesn’t think I can make it from 62.”
Trevor Siemian would think, “Coach is taking a tie rather than letting us go for it on fourth and 10?” (A third option).
John Elway wouldn’t think. He’d have taken the express elevator down to the locker room, closed Kubiak’s office door behind him and say, “You accept half a loaf one more time and you’ll be standing in the bread lines!’’
If that sounds unreasonably harsh, see what eventually happened to John Fox after the kneel down.
The sellout crowd would collectively groan and social media would fire off mass outrage.
Who knows the emotional damage a tie would have done to all of Broncoland? Saban’s Broncos lost their next three games after he took the tie against the mighty Dolphins. He was fired after week 9 that season with the Broncos at 2-6-1.
Not accepting the tie may cost the Broncos a playoff spot this year. But given the choice of going for victory and losing, or not going for the win to avoid defeat, the Broncos’ odds are better doing it Kubiak’s way.