Man­ag­ing to win

Play-it-safe QB Siemian of Bron­cos meets an­other in K.C.’s Smith

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Nick Groke

Call­ing a quar­ter­back a “game man­ager” is like say­ing Santa Claus is a good eater. It’s a back­handed com­pli­ment, equal parts put­down and praise. A game man­ager is sta­ble, steady and un­ex­cep­tional.

“I’ve heard ‘game man­ag­ing’ quite a bit,” Bron­cos quar­ter­back Trevor Siemian said Wed­nes­day from his locker at Dove Val­ley. “I don’t re­ally know (what that means). If it means not turn­ing the ball over? It gets thrown around a lot.”

But game man­agers win. And the Bron­cos, at 8-6 and in des­per­a­tion mode, can only hope first-year starter Siemian is up to man­ag­ing a mea­ger of­fense to two nec­es­sary vic­to­ries to keep play­off hopes alive.

Foot­ball par­lance set­tled on the term “game man­ager” to de­scribe a quar­ter­back who, with lim­ited abil­ity, wins games by lim­it­ing mis­takes. They might not light up the stats sheet, but they don’t give games away.

On Sun­day, Siemian will line up un­der cen­ter op­po­site the gold stan­dard of game man­agers, Kansas City Chiefs quar­ter­back Alex Smith. A No. 1 pick of San Fran­cisco in 2005, Smith went 13-3 with the 49ers in 2011 to reach the NFC cham­pi­onship game, then lost his job the next sea­son to Colin Kaeper­nick, a quar­ter­back with more verve.

Smith then landed with Kansas City, where he com­bined to throw 61 touch­down passes to just 20 in­ter­cep­tions in his first three sea­sons. This sea­son, he is still keep­ing his in­ter­cep­tions to a low num­ber, with six, but his TDs have dropped to just 12 with two games left. He does not of­ten win a game sin­gle-hand­edly, but he rarely loses them.

“You want to play smart,” Smith said Wed­nes­day. “As frus­trat­ing as it is to not move the foot­ball, you don’t want a neg­a­tive play that gives the game away.”

Trevor Siemian is Alex Smith. They each rely on a de­fense that will nearly al­ways hold scores low. They each avoid mis­takes enough to keep their teams alive in the fourth quar­ter. They each rank near the bot­tom third among NFL quar­ter­backs for scor­ing but among the top 10 for fewest turnovers.

In their first meet­ing Nov. 27 in Den­ver, Smith and Siemian slow­played through three quar­ters like ro­bots. Both teams punted on their first four drives. Nei­ther of­fense scored a touch­down in the first half. But in the fi­nal 15:30 of reg­u­la­tion, both teams scored two touch­downs.

Siemian threw two touch­down passes in the fi­nal eight min­utes as the Bron­cos took an eight­point lead. Smith coun­tered with a touch­down pass and a two­point con­ver­sion throw to tie the score with 12 sec­onds re­main­ing. And Kansas City drove just far enough, twice, in over­time for two field goals to win the game.

“We lost the game about three dif­fer­ent times,” Den­ver coach Gary Ku­biak said. “That’s the type of team they are. I think they’ve been in 10 or 11 one-score foot­ball games this year and have won eight of them. That’s what they do, and that’s why they’re in the po­si­tion that they are in.”

Against New Eng­land on Sun­day, the Bron­cos gave Siemian con­trol of the of­fense to be­gin the game, us­ing a hurry-up, no­hud­dle scheme that re­lied on the 24-year-old quar­ter­back to make de­ci­sions on the fly. It worked to a point. But Den­ver man­aged just three points.

The Bron­cos last sea­son leaned on Pey­ton Man­ning as a deft man­ager of games. Af­ter mul­ti­ple neck surg­eries eroded his raw abil­ity and in­juries took away six games in the reg­u­lar sea­son, Ku­biak turned him into a chess player.

The Bron­cos fin­ished 12-4, with Man­ning re­turn­ing just in time to lead his team to a Su­per Bowl ti­tle by win­ning field-po­si­tion bat­tles.

Siemian and Smith play in a sim­i­lar way. Siemian has thrown 33 passes this sea­son longer than 20 yards, 12.6 per­cent of his to­tal passes. Smith has thrown 36 passes longer than 20 yards, 11.8 per­cent. Each has among the low­est deep-pass per­cent­ages in the NFL.

At 10-4, though, Kansas City is two games bet­ter than Den­ver. If that owes to the Chiefs and Smith be­ing bet­ter game man­agers, the dif­fer­ence is slight.

“I think it’s hard enough to play in this league, so just do your best and do what you’re coached to do” Siemian said. “That (game man­age­ment) hasn’t been the mes­sage in our room at all.”

Helen H. Richard­son, The Den­ver Post

Quar­ter­back Trevor Siemian scram­bles dur­ing the Bron­cos’ first meet­ing this sea­son against the Kansas City Chiefs be­fore throw­ing a touch­down pass to wide re­ceiver Jor­dan Tay­lor.

Jamie Squire, Getty Images

Kansas City Chiefs quar­ter­back Alex Smith rolls out to throw a pass against the Oak­land Raiders at Ar­row­head Sta­dium dur­ing the first quar­ter of a game Dec. 8.

John Leyba, The Den­ver Post

Bron­cos quar­ter­back Trevor Siemian throws a pass dur­ing over­time against the Kansas City Chiefs last month at Sports Author­ity Field at Mile High. The teams meet again Sun­day at Kansas City.

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