Kubiak’s endurance looks like a stress test
The Broncos have not been the same football team since the moment an ambulance hauled coach Gary Kubiak from the stadium in October, after a home loss to Atlanta knocked the aura of invincibility off the Super Bowl champs.
A mere coincidence? Maybe so. But I think not. Since Kubiak fell ill with flu symptoms that were quickly diagnosed as complex migraine condition, the Broncos have lost their mojo, gone 4-4 and now are in real danger of missing the playoffs.
This group of proud Denver players, like their coach, won’t stop battling. But the fight has taken something out of Kubiak and the Broncos. When Kubiak has talked about his team being fatigued, was the coach really addressing the fact that defending a championship is draining on everybody in the organization, including himself ?
December in the NFL is the time to
grind, when every playoff contender is beaten up. On Thursday, I asked Kubiak how much the pressure of games with playoff implications is a grind for coaches, as well.
“Actually, this is the fun time of year. Once you get to this point, all the games are so important,” Kubiak said.
“It’s time to cut it loose and play. There’s nothing left there at the end, if you don’t step up and find a way to be successful. This is what you work for.”
But the stress shows in the worry lines etched on Kubiak’s face. Chew on these facts, and ask if it wouldn’t give you indigestion as coach of the Broncos:
At the most important position in football, Trevor Siemian is about to make the 12th start of his pro career against Tom Brady, one of the greatest quarterbacks who has ever lived. Kubiak has no running game because general manager John Elway’s reconstruction of the offensive line was a botched job. And now linebacker Brandon Marshall, a glue guy on defense, is hobbled by a hamstring injury.
After a recent 13-10 loss at Tennessee, Kubiak said all the right things. But Kubiak was emotionally spent, as beaten up as a heavyweight fighter who had gone 15 rounds, when he said: “We’re going to keep battling. I’m a battler.”
Denver has all the markings of an average NFL team that Kubiak has coaxed into playoff contention, yet because the Broncos are defending champs, their fan base demands to know what went wrong? With an 8-5 record, I maintain that Denver has actually overachieved rather than been a disappointment.
The challenge that awaits Denver during the final three weeks of the regular season, beginning with New England, is daunting. The Patriots (11-2), Kansas City (10-3) and Oakland (10-3) will give the Broncos the toughest closing stretch any NFL team has seen since 1978.
Kubiak takes winning and losing very personally. It’s a trait that can’t be faked and a passion that genuinely endears him to his players. An NFL coach cannot be faulted for caring too much. But caring too much might not be best for a 55-year-old coach’s health. In 2013, while coaching the Houston Texans, Kubiak collapsed on the sideline at halftime of a game against Indianapolis from a mini-stroke, which is no small matter of concern if you’re a loved one of the football coach in the back of the ambulance.
So at a time when all the cool kids in Broncos Country are bashing Kubiak for stubbornly clinging to the same outdated offense that won Denver the Super Bowl less than 12 months ago, pardon me for not hopping on that bus to Hot Takeville.
It’s not the Broncos’ playoff chances I’m worried about here.
What I wonder about is how much longer the grind can be worth the stress to Kubiak.