Arnie Stapleton, AP pro football writer
DENVER (AP) — Gary Kubiak didn’t get back to the playoffs a year after pushing all the right buttons in leading Denver to its Super Bowl parade. Yet, he made what might be the best call of all when he summoned John Elway to his hotel room on Christmas Eve in Kansas City.
Kubiak asked that Elway listen as his buddy, not his boss. And he told him he’d decided this 100-hour-a-week coaching gig was taking too big a toll on his health, so he was going to walk away after the season.
“I can’t tell you how many times I thought about putting my boss hat back on and putting my selling process back in there and see what we could do to try to make it work,” Elway said.
But, as a friend, “I understood exactly why he’s doing what he’s doing.”
Kubiak, 55, and his wife, Rhonda, are heading back to their ranch in Texas, leaving behind the pressure cooker that sent him on an unexpected trip to the hospital on Oct. 9, his second health scare in three years.
“I’m getting out of coaching, but I have a lot to give,” Kubiak said. “I’m going to find something else to do and I’m going to wake up with that same passion and do that, just like I’ve coached for the last 20-something years. It’s time for me to step away from the coaching field.”
Other coaches didn’t leave on their own terms: Jeff Fisher in Los Angeles, Gus Bradley in Jacksonville, Mike McCoy in San Diego, Chip Kelly in San Francisco and Rex Ryan in Buffalo.
If Bills interim head coach Anthony Lynn doesn’t get the permanent job in Buffalo, he’ll be a hot head-coaching candidate elsewhere even though his debut Sunday was forgettable. The Bills’ season ended with a 30-10 loss to the Jets that epitomized Buffalo’s 7-9 season that unraveled at the end.
New York’s Doug Middleton recovered a kickoff in the end zone after Mike Gillislee allowed the short kick to bounce and then, when it skittered in to the end zone, got away from the football as though it were a punt.
No, that’s a touchdown .
This embarrassment capped a week in which Ryan was fired and quarterback Tyrod Taylor benched.
Despite owner Terry Pegula’s insistence there is no dysfunction within his organization, the Bills appear a team without direction. That was evidenced during an end-of-season news conference on Monday, when general manager Doug Whaley raised more questions than answers.
Whaley used the phrase “not privy to” on numerous occasions in saying he was not aware Ryan was on the hot seat, had no input in the decision to fire him, and had no reaction when instructed by Pegula to find a new coach.
Denver cornerback Aqib Talib, who threatened during the 2016 season to whoop an opponent, shouted down a teammate and shoved another, capped his colorful season by snatching Michael Crabtree’s gold chain off his neck Sunday.
The two jawed after Talib broke up a pass in the first half of Denver’ 24-6 win, then Talib snatched Crabtree’s chain, breaking the clasp .
“He’s just been wearing that chain all year man,” Talib explained. “It’s just been growing on me. I said, ‘If you wear that chain in front of me, I’m going to snatch it off.’ He wore it in front of me, so I had to snatch it off.”
Talib, who provided a re-enactment on Denver’s sideline for his teammates’ benefit, said Crabtree complained to the officials but never said anything to him.
“That makes you tough?” Crabtree said. “You snatch the chain in front of the police (official) and take off running? Childish, man.”
Among the other notable decisions in Week 17 was Dallas coach Jason Garrett shaking the rust off Tony Romo , who showed confidence and accuracy after Dak Prescott’s cameo against the Eagles.
“He looked confident out there, handling the mechanics of the game,” Garrett said. “He hasn’t played in a little while. It sounds simple, but getting a call from the sidelines, handling the mechanics at the line of scrimmage — just wanted to see him do that, and he did a good job of that and obviously executed the plays very well.”
So, Dallas heads into the playoffs with two solid quarterbacks, while teams like the Raiders and Texans stumble in with huge questions under center .
The Broncos didn’t make it back to the playoffs and neither did the Carolina Panthers, who fell to 6-10 a year after going 17-2 and losing to Denver 24-10 in Super Bowl 50.
Cam Newton threw a touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin with 17 seconds left in Carolina’s finale against the Buccaneers. Instead of going back to him on the 2-point play, Newton threw to tight end Greg Olsen, who slipped in the end zone, allowing safety Bradley McDougald to bat away the ball as Tampa Bay escaped with a 17-16 victory and its first winning season in six years .
“Me and football got a love-hate relationship and we’re not on good terms right now,” Newton said.
While Robert Mathis got his 47th strip-sack in the final game of his career, Steve Smith Sr. wore colorful cleats in his farewell game. Written on them were the names of people who have meant so much to him during his 16 NFL seasons.
AP sports writer John Wawrow contributed.