By Arnie Stapleton, AP pro football writer
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Long before he confronted the difficult decision of trying a 62-yard field goal in overtime, Gary Kubiak made another call that would come back to haunt him.
The Broncos coach didn’t go for two after Bennie Fowler’s 76-yard touchdown gave Denver a seven-point lead over Kansas City late in the fourth quarter Sunday night.
A 2-point conversion would have made it a two-score game.
“No, we’re going up by eight there,” said Kubiak, who sent Brandon McManus out for the extra point that made it 24-16.
With this defense, an eight-point lead late in the game seems downright insurmountable.
In last year’s AFC championship, the Broncos surrendered a touchdown throw from Tom Brady to Rob Gronkowski with 12 seconds left but Bradley Roby intercepted Brady’s 2-point conversion attempt, sealing the Broncos’ 20-18 win that propelled them to the Super Bowl.
This is largely that same defense that brought home the Lombardi Trophy two weeks later, save for the departures of Malik Jackson (whom the Broncos will face in Jacksonville on Sunday) and Danny Trevathan.
“If you give us an eight-point lead, I would bet my game check that no one would score on us,” said cornerback Aqib Talib, who pulls in $500,000 a game, before taxes. “So, I would have been in debt right now.”
Here’s what made that seem like such a safe bet:
—After the touchback, the Chiefs had 75 yards to go. They had averaged a mere 12 yards per drive on their first dozen possessions to that point.
—They had three minutes and no timeouts remaining.
—The Broncos were the fresher team, coming off a bye.
Yet, after Derek Wolfe sacked Alex Smith for a 7-yard loss on first down, the strength of Denver’s team suddenly couldn’t find the game-saving plays that have defined them as one of the best clutch defenses ever.
Kayvon Webster was whistled for holding, Von Miller jumped offside, T.J. Ward was flagged for illegal contact.
Even after forcing three incompletions from their 14, the Broncos couldn’t stop the Chiefs on fourth-and-10 with 15 seconds remaining. Tyreek Hill caught an 11-yard pass on Roby, who had inexplicably lined up behind the first-down marker.
Hill hauled in the touchdown pass on the next play, the ball rattling off his shoulder pads before he secured it while sitting on the goal line when a clean catch probably comes up short and time runs out.
Instead, it’s 24-22 and 6-foot-7 tight end Demetrius Harris lined up across 5-10 cornerback Chris Harris Jr.
“I had never even heard of him,” the Broncos’ Harris said of the Chiefs’ Harris, who played basketball at UW-Milwaukee but had to play club football because the Panthers don’t field a football team.
Smith hit Harris for the tying 2-pointer that sent the game into overtime, which Kansas City won 30-27 on Cairo Santos’ banked field goal as time expired .
The debate ever since has centered on Kubiak’s decision to try a 62-yard field goal knowing it was a low-percentage shot in the cold November night and that a miss would likely mean a loss because the Chiefs would take over at the Denver 48 needing just one first down against a gassed defense.
A punt essentially concedes the tie — and maybe loses the locker room.
How do you tell a team that’s fought hard for 74 minutes that you’re not going to send out a kicker who’s made 70-yarders in camp and had hit from 62 yards in pregame?
A tie would be better for them in the standings — now the Broncos are scrambling for a wild card at 7-4 — but going for the win was worth it, Kubiak figured. If McManus makes it, the Broncos are breathing down the Raiders’ backs with a sixth straight AFC West crown in sight.
“There’s a lot of football left to play. It was a divisional football game and we need to win our divisional football games and we had a chance to do it with something that our kicker has done before. He did it before the game,” Kubiak said. “It’s me showing confidence in him and confidence in our defense if it doesn’t happen.
“I believe in our football team.”
And his players trust their coach.
“I like the fact that we went for the win,” said Fowler, suggesting there’s a stronger resolve than ever to reward Kubiak’s faith in them now.
“Yeah, definitely, we’ve got Kubes’ back and he’s got our back. So, we’re in this together.”